CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: The rich culture of Afro-Cuban Rumba in the SF bay area

Monday, May 23, 2011

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CongaDr

The rich culture of Afro-Cuban Rumba in the SF bay area

It's so very entertaining that every weekend in the summertime, there is a decent Rumba happening somewhere around the bay. Its just a matter of knowing where all the hits are.

We often just make it happen, thanks to Kitty and a few other generous music loving club owners, but rarely do we find ourselves Rumbaless.

It helps to have some of the best Rumberos in the country as dear friends, no doubt.

So, this particular Sunday, Mijail La Brada and Pedro called to see if we could play for a visiting AfroCuban dance teacher who was up from LA. It was a group of people related to Maestro Lazaro Galaraga's following down south.

But we all got stuck on the freeway in unusually bad traffic and missed the hour long class.. We got there just in time to catch the post class reception, wine and snacks, saying hey to some of the dancers. I did get a chance to shake hands with a European cat who is one of Lazaros students up to accompany the class... Ken i believe? He got really nice props from Mijail, and Ruskin called him 'a really knowledgable drummer'.. to bad we didnt get there in time, it would have been nice to play together.

There are so few Rumberos of European decent, I hope we have a chance to play together, exchange war stories at some point.. its not easy to learn and perform another's tradition and it's kind of a brotherhood of people who know just how hard it is to pull off effectively.

..but another Rumba called and we headed out after a glass of wine.

We picked up a player from the class, Lassel Silva, a recent Rumbero transplant from out east.

Lassel, a Cubano who honed his Rumba chops on the streets of NYC, has a good handle of the songs and plays a mean Cata. It's always good to have him around. (pictured below, second from left in group shot)

He is a classic east coast personality, with an in your face, says what he means, grumpy pain in the ass.. but he is instantly family here; a welcome brother and addition to the scene.

So, no class to play for.. no worries, off to Richmond to brother Tito's house where a Rumba was about to happen, just add us.

Mijail La Brada, Lassel Silva, Irish Rick and myself headed over with a car packed with gear.

Upon arrival, I was stoked to see Fito Rienoso, a serious bad ass Rumbero, Salsero and Sonero of the highest order. He is a good friend, and one of my favorite people in the tradition locally. He is always dressed as the actual royalty he is, always has a positive and warm presence, often thanking those around him for 'loving cuban music'.. He is a treasure, for sure. And this man is beyond talented.

Fito is one of the most knowledgeable Rumba singer in the bay, has one of the most gigging projects around, Fito Reinoso y su Ritmo y Armonia, plays a mean tres and is the definition of a true professional. This cat has so much to offer, one could spend a lifetime just studying with him.

Anyway, we show up and the party is slamming, with a huge roast pig and a massive spread of Caribbean fair. Tito is an amazing host, such a kind person, always greeting you with a huge smile (second from right in group shot below.)

Gotta love the Cuban method of communion... forget the cheap wine and bland crackers.. give me Roast pig, christians and moors (Cuban black beans and (dirty) white rice), yuka and a Mojito!!


The DJ was pumping and the tunes were slamming.. kids running around, every one enjoying one of the first nice weekend days of the year.

So, after a bit of relaxation, we busted out the Cajones and tried to figure out how to get a decent rumba going, with all the wannabes around.

Funny thing is, the more Cubans at your party, the bigger the chance some rookie wants to jump in a Rumba with sense of entitlement, and play all over the place like animal on the muppets.

Thankfully, we had the two masters Mijail and Fito, to get it rolling.

We did well, limiting the first couple songs to Fito, Mijail, Rick, Lassel and myself.. laying out some nice Rumba. To be frank, I wasnt on my game for some reason, and Mijail keept on me to keep things ripping. But I had a nice stint playing quinto cajon with Fito singing a Yambu.. always the highest of pleasurable honors....

When you play quinto with a cat like Fito, he starts and ends all his phrases in exactly the right spot, making it so easy to play in and around his singing... an experience i am often in search of, to say the least.

When we started playing, a tall and beautiful Cubana came out of the party to dance really well.. enjoy this clip. try to ignore the rookie quintero...

All in all, yet another great weekend of Rumba. Poco a poco.. or little by little, as they say.

Tony