If there is any wonder if this tradition has importance, or the importance of our personal role in it, the answer was clearly defined by this benefit show for our dear brother Cecil Carter.
Cecil has lymphatic cancer, and is in the fight of his life. He is one of our elders, here in the bay area Rumba and Latin percussion scene. He is also an elder in the Reggae and local Berkeley music scene as well.
Cecil is an amazing person, and is blessed with an uncanny ability to outwardly love.
He was one of the pioneers of Rumba in the US (Cecil is pictured above on the left, probably playing Mark Saunders dad's Junior Tirado tumba, and below with one of Sr. Saunders signature Chekeres - these are pics from his son Mark's amazing blog Fidel's eyeglasses, listed below, and highly recommended reading).
Cecil was a regular and an important cat on the Central Park Rumba scene in the 60's and 70's..
and an early contributor to the development of Afro-Cuban music in the SF bay area.
Cats like Cecil Carter, Marcus Gordon, Butch Haynes, Tabaji, Yagebe, Jose Luis Gomes and a few other important pioneers, along with cats like Chris 'flaco' Walker, Michael Spiro and John Santos.
You can see Butch playing as a kid in this old clip from a rumba in Berkeley in 1967:
So, the other day, after playing a long dance class, a few Rumberos and I went to visit Cecil. He was not in good shape, and we were not sure we would see him again.
We sung a Rumba for him a cappella, all packed in his small hospital room. Just Pescao, Pili and I, with Cec joining Rick in on coro, clapping clave .. it was so beautiful, and so powerful.
There is no mistake, Rumba unites, Rumba heals, Rumba strengthens and calms us in difficult times. We have community around this tradition, and it is strong.
After, Cecil reminded us of how important this tradition is, not only to us, but to the world. He urged us to be strong and carry the torch so this beautiful tradition can create and enrich community long into the future. I asked him if he would like to have a show in his honor, and he said he would like that.
Many people say kind things about a person when they are ill, but Cecil is exceptional. The man is almost saintly in his open kindness and heartfelt compassion for those around him.
Cecil is such an enlightened cat, in the true sense of the word.
I am trying to learn how to rise above a situation as well as Cecil. He blows 'small stuff'' things aside so easily, its quite incredible to witness. Yet he remains engaged, politically active and socially aware. Something brilliant to behold..
That is about personal mental strength, being able to control or reign in ones ill thoughts.. to quickly self correct and focus on love, kindness and awareness.. Cecil is solid and wise and someone from whom we can all learn.
He was surprised to hear how much of a leader he is to a lot of us. How he quietly sets such a rock solid example of how to treat others. Not looking for recognition, not looking to be the boss, or any more important than anyone else. And by doing so, becomes totally unique among us.
Our elder Cecil is struggling, and we, as a community, are here to help.
A benefit show we shall have, to raise funds for the man. And so the community would have something to do with the feeling of utter helplessness.
Its hard to watch a mentor and leader struggle so publicly, and the community is in need of help and healing as well.
I knew the show would be easier than most to put together, knowing Cecil has so many talented and dedicated friends.
That being said, these shows are a lot of work to pull off successfully.... more stress than a regular gig by far. Frankly, I am not very good at soliciting help and end up doing most of the work myself... I must enjoy complaining about the lack of help.. lol
The night of the show, I had amazing help from my dear friend Irma with setup and breakdown, Bob La Due and his friend Matt doing sound, and Consuelo running the door. Thanks guys!
So, as soon as Cecil oked the idea.. first thing I did was call La Pena to get a spot on the schedule, as time is of the essence.
We were fortunate to have an open spot less than two weeks out, due to a cancellation.
I wanted to have the show as soon as possible, to make sure Cecil had the opportunity to see it, and spend the funds we generated. But doing a show this quickly meant not being able to take advantage of the traditional print advertising for the show. (pic of Cecil playing at the La Pena Rumba in January of 2012)
It also meant that booking all the talent was going to be a race to the finish. I was confident that the Thursday night we were afforded would be available on most musician's schedule.
La Pena was very kind to donate the space for the evening, no less than a $400 gift to Cecil.
We had to pay for a house manager, but other than that, all of the funds would go directly to Cecil.
So, my first call was to John Santos, who due to being out of town, didn't get my message for a weeks time. Had me worried we'd have to do the show without Cecil's most famous friend, but as soon as John returned, he called to to say he was happy to do the show.
John Santos is a multi-grammy award nominee, and the only reason he doesnt have a grammy, is that the short sighted award show axed the Latin jazz category, pulling the red carpet from under the maestro, just as John was expected to win.
Now, it was a matter of seeing how much talent we could pull in around John, to make this show attractive as a fundraiser.
I called on the master musicians and folklorists that know and love Cecil Carter. Including Grand Master C. K. Ladzekpo, Master and elder Yagbe Oline, World famous Cuban percussionist Sandy Perez, Chris 'flaco' Walker, Javier Navarette, Trevion Leon and Pili Martinez.
Each and every one came out to perform for Cecil. Truly amazing and wonderful to see so many masters on stage together for brother Cecil.
To add to the fat linup, Cecils good friend and fellow performer Jah Levi stepped up to play a set, and to lead a set of Nyabhingi drumming to offer prayers of healing for Brother Cecil.
Ok, with the talent locked up and about a week till the show, no one even knew the show was on. I needed to hit social media and email blasts, along with phone calls, texts and word of mouth, the full press was on. I didn't stop promoting the show till an hour before we were to go on.
The show started with a Royal performance by Hassania Walker and her group - Beautiful Spiritual music from Morrocco. How lucky are we to have Hassania in our community. She is Royalty back home, and she is certainly a Queen to us here.
The set was a really nice way to start the gig. The songs sounding meaningful, spiritual and ancient.
Next up, Chris Walker was so kind as to play 'the warriors' on Bata with John Santos and Yagbe Oline.. a wonderful tribute and prayer for brother Cecil.
C.K. Ladzekpo then took the stage with Yagbe Oline along with several strong players such as Pili Martinez and Trevino Leon. Yagbe sang and the group laid down beautiful polyrhythmic bell work, along with C.K.s virtuoso thunder kicks on Bajo!
And if that wasnt enough for the first set, the Rumba crew hit the stage, let by Master Cuban percussionist Sandy Perez.
The Rumba included John Santos, Chris 'flaco' Walker, Yagbe Oline, Pili Martinez, Javier Navarette, Trevino Leon along with elders Bruce Williams (the MC for the evening), Butch Haynes, and Daniel Marimbula
At one point, Sandy got up and showed off his legendary dancing chops... something he would do on a regular basis on tour with AfroCuba de Metanzas back in the day... awesome!
So, after an intermission, Jah Levi and his Nyabhingi drummers took the stage for a long prayer session for brother Cecil
And then Jah Levi opened it up and let loose with a wonderful set of Reggae with guest master guitarist Ronnie Ray Padilla.
In the end, all the work payed off, and then some.. The place was nearly sold out, on a Thursday night.
And after all was said and done, we all came together as a community, thereby strengthening our traditions.. and we raised $1633 for our dear brother Cecil in the process. I was also able to get a copy to Cecil's bed side, and he is said to be watching it tonight or tomorrow morning. It will be so healing for the brother to see all of his friends come together in his support... it will be so good for him. Thanks to everyone who made this happen.
Well, you have to love it when things you dream about just fall in your lap.
I've been playing for Juan Pescao Stable at a local Rumba dance class... faithfully for a few months now. Often, we are jointed by Ricky Agular, Chris Flaco Walker, Trevino Leon Pili Martinez... the scene can be rather fun and often packed with dance students.
Fortunately, Juan and I work together often, but that is no reflection on just how professional this cat is. lol
He was a member of a group of professional Rumberos from Santiago de Cuba, and from Guantanamo. He has been a part of some really nice projects like Union Rumbera,
So, after class, Juan asks us all to join him on a new project he is recording in a studio in San Francisco. He wants to lay down six traditional Rumba tracks, and two Reggae Rumba songs. Looks like he might call in Erick Barbaria to sing, and Fito Rienoso to play some Tres
I've always wanted to play on one of these cats projects.. this is the first time I've been asked to lay down some tracks on a professional Rumba project. And, get to record with Flaco, one of my first teachers in this tradition... I'm beyond stoked.
Working with Pescao and Sandy, I have my hands full. We'll see if I have time to book my own project.
Upon returning from such an amazing trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, I wanted to reconnect with my Cuban family here in the bay.
I've been busy with other things, got detracted and forgetful. I have to remember the situation I am so fortunate to enjoy.
Being in DR reminded me of my love of Cuban culture, religion and music. Upon returning, I set out to reaffirm my Cuban connections here in California.
Playing a rumba downtown the day after I arrived, I had the great fortune to play and hang with Chris Flaco Walker, Butch Haynes, Fito Reinoso, Tito Gonzales, Javier Navarette, and Hector Lugo, among others. We are so lucky to have such close ties, and I feel so comfortable with my brothers and sisters in the Rumba scene here in the bay.
I quickly reconnected with dear friends Sandy Perez and Mejail La Brada, two of the heaviest Rumberos alive. We played a Guiro together this week.
Sandy talked about putting together a performance troupe this year.
He asked me to join him for weekly rehearsals with some other cats he has in mind for a new group, presumably with whom to gig and tour.
Working with the Maestro has always been a dream of mine, and at 44, time is short. This may be one of the best projects I will ever be a part of, should it materialize as Sandy believes.
I am looking forward to reapplying myself to my instrument, and seeing where that takes me.
I have an opportunity to really stretch out this year, with my group Rumberos de la Bahia, and if all goes well, as a member of Sandy Perez Y Su Lade. Who knows, I may get busy with some recordings as well, this year.
At the moment, I am producing a benefit show for a dear friend of ours Cecil Carter, who is battling cancer. I will do a post about him soon.
So, most of my free time is going to making sure this show goes over well. So far, John Santos and Sandy Perez, along with a large crew of talented musicians have committed to play the evening of Feb 23rd at la Pena Cultural Center. It should be off the hook, but these benefit shows are nerve racking. With all the musicians and volunteers donating their time, its not so easy to know they will be there for sure.
I hope it goes over well, and I will be very happy to see it earn some money for Cecil in his time of need.
How blessed to find myself in the Dominican Republic... totally beyond my comprehension.. it all happened so quickly.
With only two full days in Santo Domingo to locate and hit the folkloric experience we were seeking, the odds were slim. the idea, was to hang with the Paleros of the area, and to see the Dia de Altigracia festival celebrated in the touristless barrio.
I had serious doubts we could pull it off, knowing no-one in town, and only having 48hrs on the Island of Hispaniola.
It's totally incredible how things like this happen, but the short and sweet trip to the Dominican Republic was beyond sweet.
DR is one incredible place. Santo Domingo is rich in visual art, and bursting with live music. Seemly every functioning speaker in town is regularly employed, pumping Salsa, Merengue and Bachata through the narrow streets.
If one took a taxi through most any part of town on a sunny afternoon, you would hear someone pumping loud tunes each and every block.. out of post offices, hair salons, corner stores, cafes and peoples houses.. More music than Ive ever heard in any city in my life.
Santo Domingo's vibe is like an African city, hardly a smile between locals as they pass in the street. Hard looks from hard lives, gritting their teeth through the day.
The city, with its jovial artwork and music, is somehow incorporated into a more serious life. If you walked through a busy part of town with your eyes shut (not the best idea, actually, but) you would think people were smiling and dancing, given all the uplifting Caribbean music.. and if you plugged your ears and just watched the people, you would think the streets were absent of music.
As in most places like this in the world, when you meet the right people, they open their hearts and houses to you with unabashed hospitality.
When among friends and family, hugging, laughing, hanging out and telling stories loudly, much more Cuban like in the animated hand gestures and demonstrative conversation... the Dominican way that makes me feel right at home.
They are confident, comfortable with themselves and with other people.. highly social and tightly bound with their closest friends.
And with this, a heavy Spanish and Caribbean flavor to the food, the music, the chill tropical love of hanging out and drinking beer and rum.
The Latin blood, with its almost middle-eastern look, running like streams through the African landscape of the Dominican people. Beautiful and strong people, they are... fervent and determined.
Its a totally unique place, as every place is, I guess. But this part of the island has a very unique kick to its spice of life. Starkly different vibe, compared to the island of Puerto Rico.
Ive seen few places in the world so close, both being 'democratic', yet with such a different vibes on the street.
DR, outside the protected tourist zones, is a rough place. Not to say PR doesn't have serious crime.. but we met some tough cats in Santo Domingo who had some violent situations gave them cause for concern. And when cats who scare me tell me to be scared of a place.. I listen.
In the main squares of the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, there was about one police or military cat with automatic weapon on display for every visible US tourist.
At one point, while eating in the town square next to omnipresent police man with an ak47, and the military guy standing on the corner watching the policeman, a taxi drove up.
The driver got out, opened the trunk and pulled out a ozzi.. dropped it, clunk, on the cobble stone street.. said something to another police man who walked up, put it in the back of his Taxi.. must have been undercover I guess. Yea, these guys were not messing around.
Outside the protected zones, Santo Domingo resembles a busy African city to me, with modern roads and cars all around, lots of traffic and business being done. Many of the people on the street looked as though ancient life was not so long ago, perhaps from the countryside, or the very poor from the sprawling city.
The hard looks and the lack of a single smile on the street was stark.
This hard edge is expressed in many ways there, from the frenetic baseball games, to the rocket speed Palo played for festivals and ceremonies. Life is no joke, and without question, to be thoroughly lived.
I have to say, for a tropical place, these people were up and about, moving quickly around town.
Unfortunately, this trip, we had little time to seek out the Merengue of various styles across the Island, next trip will be packed with Merengue and Bachata, for sure. I had way too much fun with the Paleros this go to be enticed by the popular music scene. Short on time, we had to hit one or the other.
Arriving in Santo Domingo to a hotel in the best part of Zona Colonial, a very smart move not to have to find a place to stay, but be able to get to work, so to speak.
Dropped bags, filled safe, headed out. And within 15 minutes, was in the central park listening to Merengue
I was planning on waiting to talk to the cat on Tambora, seemingly the most experienced, when the guiro player got up and walked past me.
I stopped him, introduced myself as a Rumbero from San Francisco.. he was like.. 'hay! Im Jose Tanibora, a percussion instructor in town. Come with me..'
In another few moments, we are in a local music school just off the square, he talks to security, and takes us to a back room. Jose finds and opens cabinets containing the instruments of the school, showing us all the folkloric instruments they use, including what he called Ataback - tall almost straight drums, three sizes, all waist high, fiberglass, with thick cow hide on them... the Palo set for the school.
Jose immediately plays a Comparsa like Palo, most likely a form played in the Carnival in February. He played all three parts for me against the pulse, with song.. let me film it.. try to play some of the parts.. too fun.. and within an hour of touching down in Santo Domingo.
I get Jose's number, and we plan on seeing each other the next day.
Later that night, we see him passing by our open air eatery, and we yell for him to drink with us.
He stops, and joins us for some el Presidente, the local lager.
Jose and I talk at length about what I do back home, and how developed Santeria is in the Bay. Amazingly, he welcomes me to join him for a celebration for the Virgin Mary, at his place the following day.
Beyond stoked, I fumble to get the directions down, and ended up with barely a legible scribble, indicating the general neighborhood on the North end of the sprawling Santo Domingo.
We were to take Maximo Gomez out to never never land and take a left at the running chicken.. kind of thing...
I had serious doubts we would find this place, as it seemed Jose himself was unclear of the exact directions or address.
So, next day, with our scrap of information, we attempted to find Jose, among the 2,000,000 people in Santo Domingo.
We had a taxi take us where we thought we were supposed to be, an outdoor marketplace down a side street to the busy Avaneda Maximo Gomez, far out in the sprawling city.
We uneasily walked up and down the market.. the place felt dangerous, even in broad daylight.
Although we didnt encounter any difficulties, we didnt hear drumming or anything live coming from the neighborhood in several blocks in either direction, our phones were not working and could not find or contact Jose. So we decided to take a taxi all the way back to the hotel to regroup and try again.
If I were by myself, I would have stayed out in the area to try to find a place to make a call, but it was a good and safe call to head back to the hotel.
In the end, the person at the front desk was crucial in deciphering our directions. Finally we had a detailed three way conversation with Jose, our front desk guy and the taxi driver to finally work out where the this hit actually was.
Incredible.. this must be one huge city, and one very remote part of town. The experienced taxi driver diligently figured out the right neighborhood, but when it came to finding the right house, it took serious dedication on his part.
And after a long ride to the north side of the city, the taxi driver had to ask several people, call Jose twice and drive around for an hour.. until we finally found Jose, waving his arms trough the bars of a second story house.. packed with his people.
The house belonged to a German man who's Dominican wife is in Jose's religious house.
The place was right across the street from the only pub in the residential area, how convenient, so the tables set out into the street added to the festive atmosphere of this private Dia de Altigracia celebration for the Virgin Mary.
The 'pub' across the street was more like a convenience store with four items: light beer, lighter beer, both in on and two liter bottles. The larger bottles of the coldest kind kept making there way across the street to the Palo hit..
This spot had incredible atmosphere for the local patrons of this pub. And they came out in mass to enjoy the balmy evening. Dressed comfortably, stretched out into the streets in conversation with friends.
Jose brought us into the house, introduced us as someone of importance to all the right people. By how everyone greeted us, I immediately realized how important this cat was in this house.
As soon as we got settled in with a small plastic cup of beer.. Jose snapped his fingers, rounded up the cats as if to say.. at any time Brother, we can make the call and lay it down.... on the spot!
.. and did they ever..
Super fast and turbo charged, with fat breaks leading into even faster sections sending the guiro players into a frenzy of double time.
This frenzied sound had the dancers totally bugging out, with the women shaking there butts and rubbing them on whatever moved. too fun..
The celebration continued throughout the day, with four or five long sessions of playing, singing and dancing.. just amazing to witness, so comfortable and familiar. Just like back at home with my Cuban family.
The world of percussionists who worship the Orishas is so small.. In a very short time, a brotherhood between Jose and I developed... one that will continue for many years, Gods willing.
It was truly the wonderful introduction to the Dominican culture I was seeking. Everyone in the house was so warm and welcoming. Jose obviously has earned the respect of the whole community, and we were his guest of honor.. what a privilege it was.
Jose is a religious leader in his community, representing both his African, Indian and Spanish heritage with his practice.
Speaking of holy men, Brujo Jose was so kind to give us readings, and found I am welcomed into his religious house as a son of St Miguel. A beyond amazing, and a life changing event for me.
I will be returning to further my study of the religion and culture.. and to learn to play and sing.. to contribute to the continuation of the tradition, and the homage to the gods.
The next day Jose met us at the local Cathedral, for truly Dominican blending of African, Taino and European practice - a blessing of the reading by Mother Mary, Jesus Christ and the Christian Saints.. ..and a beautiful and powerful blessing it was.
It was a beautiful Cathedral, with many old and beautiful works of European Art. Jose was dressed with respect, wearing his best shoes.
How lucky am I, and how amazing is it, that I am cared for so well by our gracious Orishas. Taken by the hand, I am.
The Dominican Republic is a large and wonderful country, or so I hear. I was fortunate to see such a small part.