CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: September 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Salsa for OBAMA 10/09 at Jelly's

well, this is one way to keep a gun toting hockey mom away from the whitehouse....

Latin All-Star tribute to Hilton Ruiz, 10/5 YerbaBuena

Latin Jazz All-Star Tribute to Hilton Ruiz +
the Jesus Díaz Latin Jazz Ensemble

Date: October 5, 2008

Time: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Location: Esplanade


Jazz pianist and composer Hilton Ruíz, regarded as one of the most versatile musicians in jazz, died unexpectedly in New Orleans in 2006 while working on a Hurricane Katrina benefit recording. Our stage will be graced by Ray Vega (horns), Steve Turré (horns), Dave Valentín (flute), Arturo O'Farrill (piano), Yunior Terry (bass), Phoenix Rivera, (drums), Pete Escovedo (timbales), and Chembo Corniel (percussion).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Methods of study - brain storming

Talking to Mike had me thinking.

He is so professional in how he studies.

I made a comment to a student the other day that the craft of playing this style of music is interesting, in that you have to be a professional player, performer, and student - each skill with its own set of technical demands, and utilized talents.

Being a professional student is something i thought i left behind, once upon a foggy Santa Cruz morning in 97.

But i should know better.. i love the hunt.

I do think it's all a grand replacement for chasing down, killing and eating prey. All the patterns are there. These percussion troupes are like packs of hunting wolves, succinctly orchestrated to outwit the prey. Primal? sure...

The more i learn about this tradition, the more it is amazing and full of complexities. It must be nice to be cats like Carlos and Sandy, who have it all of it comfortably tucked away in their minds.

It reminds me of studying Economics at UCSC... it all seemed so confusing, in it's entirety, and then your mind finds the language, and the patterns appear, as if by magic.

I took a double major at the university, Econ and Environmental Studies. That was hard, for me anyway, as they were such different majors, but this AfroCuban tradition is very difficult, to state it lightly.

Becoming a master of this tradition is similar to a four year degree, seemingly. That is assuming on has preparation as a musician on the instrument since you were young, like they prepare one to read to succeed in college.

There are, of course, Triple Doctorates like Carlos around, but the designation of master of this tradition, does come with about maters level of work, as an American academic would look at it.

I have developed a system of working on learning a tradition other than the one you were born into. It involves listening, watching, reading and charting, private instruction, cultural assimilation, live performance and practice. Developing the awareness of what you need, is always the hardest part.

Rereading this post, i guess my goal is to master the tradition... i always seem to pick the elusive goals... Ill be lucky to pay my respects...


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Street Level Productions - new Latin Jazz blog

Brother Rafael writes to inform us of his new blog about latin Jazz, where he will regularly be posting rare video clips of the genera.

Way to go Rafi!

..he writes...

Sentimiento Manana has a new sister site...
Street Level Productions (rare latin jazz videos)

Also don't forget to visit (fat rumba blog, with an east coast swing Posting info about the scene out there, like this October Bomba and Plena festival in NY city.)

Super fat 13.5" Valje conga - Huge Super Tumba restoration

This fine drum came to me in need of some serious TLC.

When i first saw it, i had to gasp... it looks grotesquely huge in person. Like it's a cartoon rendition of a regular Valje tumba! It's so fat, i can barely get my legs around the tub.

This tub was made by Akbar, or Valje Drums in SF. It is a full 13.5", and yes, that is measured correctly. It was made custom to 29.5" tall, which makes it even more fat looking. This custom piece of art is one of the largest Valjes ever made, and there are less than a handful over 13" in the world. It is the fattest of Valje congas i have seen, having literally played over 30 or so.

So, this tub had major cracks going on... seven in total, most on the stave line. It had one of the worst repair jobs ive ever seen, with a crack totally filled with epoxy... ug... I had to actually saw the epoxy out with a hacksaw blade, and get the staves back to where there were originally. Im sure this mal-fix was the reason the other cracks developed.

If one crack is filled, instead of 'reset' and glued in the original position, it will put stress on all of the other joints. the weak link breaks, you can fix one after the other, but if you dont address the original mal-fix, you will be chasing cracks until you reglue every single stave line. The only way to fix this so it works, is to take the epoxy out, and get the staves to come thogether as much as possible. Pictured is a before and after this major fix. It was one of the most difficult repairs to make, and im really happy with how it turned out. not only does it look alot nicer, but the staves came together to the original shape, just as i had hoped. I re-epoxyed with two part, it to make sure it is super solid. The other cracks came together nicely and are next to invisible.

As far as other large Valje's in existence: There was a 14"er (supposedly... they are hardly ever measured correctly) and it sold on ebay last month, but other than that, this is the largest Valje Ive seen. Its one rare and fat tub. The "14" was not as fat bellied as this tub, missing a band, and not nearly as sexy looking. (pictured).

And there is this picture of a cat with a fat Valje tub, but not sure how big it actually is/was.

Post script: This cat Mike, from BC emailed to say, that is him back in the 70's playing these fine drums that are now for sale, actually. He sent this picture, along with measurements of the fat tumba pictured: 12.75-13.25" playing surface. I bet its a full 13.25, as it seemed Tom liked to make the .25 sizes, for some reason.

I put a sweet medium thick cow skin on it, it came out as close to immaculate as you can get. What a fun project this was!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mike Spiro - Master of the tradition

I had the great pleasure to speak with Michael Spiro yesterday, and had the opportunity to thank him for his inspiration. He is another of the humble masters. Mike is a very nice cat, and his easy smile and personable nature is surprising, to some who meet him. He is known as such an intensely driven worker and practitioner of the tradition, with a long list of accomplishments.

He was surprised to hear i follow his career, as if he isnt an inspiration to literally hundreds of players in the US. The humility is charming, and genuine.

He wrote a sweet 'how to' guide for the making of a conga player. Anyone interested in the congas will find it very useful, from rookies to seasoned pro's. Its the best text for learning this instrument i have seen in print.

The cat knows his craft and has studied with the masters of Cuba, including Changuito, Pancho Quinto and Francisco Aguabella among other legends.

He is now the Professor of Music at Indiana University, quite a validation for all his hard work.

He has the highest respect from all the serious players in the area, and has earned his place as one of the top latin musicians in the heart of the scene.. in the Latin musical Mecca of today: the bay area.

After all, he did perform with Grace Slick. Now that would be some serious Coro!!

"In 2004 he received a Grammy nomination for his work as both producer and artist on Mark Levine’s Latin/Jazz release "Isla",

and in 2005 he released "BataMbira", which he wrote and produced with Professor B.Michael Williams. This CD received rave reviews around the world for it's fusion of Afro-Cuban folkloric music with the mbira music of Zimbabwe,

Buy the CD

and that same year he was voted runner up in the jazz/fusion category in Drum Magazine's Reader's Poll Awards, as he continued to record on a variety of different projects around the country. In 2006 Chuck Sher Publications released his long awaited book,"The Conga Drummer's Guidebook", and it has already become the standard in the field for intermediate/advanced instruction."

... is a quote from from Mikes main site,

And here is a project he did with Mark Lamson, another serious traditionalist, Bata Ketu.

Here is a discription - 'Bata Ketu is a musical Interplay consisting of six acts. It tells the story of Yoruba music uprooted from Mother Africa, transplanted in Cuba and Brazil, evolving separately over time, and then reuniting today. The extraordinary music heard on Bata Ketu is the work of two visionary American percussionists, Michael Spiro and Mark Lamson. Together with the Brazilian folkloric singer, Jorge Alabe, and legendary Cuban vocalist, Bobi Céspedes, a timelss tradition comes full circle from its long journey though the ages.'

Buy the CD

It is so incredible, how accessible this master is, and his teachings are at your fingertips, no matter where you live in the world... gotta love that.

Mike has a site where you can download lessons.. very nice work! Video below is an example of his professional and thurough instruction.

Have a listen to a really nice interview with Mike :

One of Mike's projects, Conjunto Karabali:

And a really clear explanation of Clave by mike, on Youtube:

Here is an incredible project Mike did with Bill Summers, very highly recommended!

DANIEL ALFONSO-BILL SUMMERS: El Lenguaje del Tambor Package (DVDs + Book)
Buy the CD

Opportunity of a lifetime

Here it is. The break of a lifetime. The opportunity to play with one of the best musicians of this form in the world is truly a heart stopping moment for me.

Unbelievably, Sandy Perez, principal percussionist from the world famous Cuban folkloric troupe AfroCuba de Matanzas (see video clips on the upper right of the screen), asked me to join him for his next project. He asked me to join his group, playing festivals next summer and possibly a tour the following winter.

Pinch me, is not even close on this one.... perhaps a defibrillation....

I am beside myself with the excitement of the opportunity of performing at this level. Its a dream come true, and without question an opportunity of a life time.

Last night was Sandy's birthday party. Sandy invited a few key cats, and close family to join him in the ceremony.

After paying homage, Trevino, Pili, Ruskin, Toby, Rick, Sandy and I played rumba till late, completely ripping at times. I just sat back, at one point, and listened to the entirety of the scene... Its some of the best rumba ive heard, on any CD, DVD, whatever. Its incredible to be a part of this.

The group is forming, and, so far, consists of Sandy, Toby, Pili, Trevino, Ruskin and myself. I believe Mejail will be a part of it too, im not sure.

I'm the weakest link, clearly, and pulling this off will take a monumental effort. I'm set on putting in some serious hours to make this go.

One step at a time, brother and sisters... there is a lot of work to do, and who knows if it all works out in the end. But the golden ball is rolling... incredibly, and beyond my wildest imagination.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

La Pena Rumba - Sept 21st.

It was an eventful time at the rumba at La Pena Cultural Center.

The set opened up with 'I fought the law, and the law won' with Yaya on lead guitar.

..and once again, it rolled into a very entertaining session.

Most of the heavies were out. Some were hanging back, others were happily ripping it up.

Sandy, Yagbe, Pili, Flaco, Trevino, Yaya, Javier... with the groveling gang of wannabe's in tow.

The speach about cats who are learning how to play, and periodically messing things up for everyone, didnt go over that well, but the point was made and the quality will be maintained. Personally, I'd like to see people booted on the spot for not hanging, like the old days.

I dont envy Yaya. There is so much testosterone in this situation, and a gang of weekend warriors who dont practise. It's a wonder he's kept it going for 8 years running. Its testament to the strength of his vision, in this project.

Music is always emotional and personal, even in a group setting. It spawns emotion, good and bad. But the drama is always from the lesser talented, or lesser experienced players. The heavies let their chops do the talking and are generally gracious, often happy to teach anyone privately.

The rumba prevails, as it was another successful incantation. Its not going anywhere soon.

After the rumba, Sandy asked Pili and I to join him at the table for a beer. He asked us to join the new troupe he is forming to perform his folkloric tradition. An incredible honor for me, and I'm entirely committed to making it work. I'm beyond ecstatic about the possibilities.

To perform with one of the best folkloric musicians alive, is what dreams are made of. Wish me luck.

After that amazing conversation, we all went over to Hadleys, playing till late - always a good time.

...more to come.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Josh Jones Trio at The Jupiter in Berkeley

Gotta love the east bay...

We went out for a Beer at the Jupiter in Berkeley the other day to check out Josh Jones and his act..

...aka: The Cheetoes... Far more commonly known as The Josh Jones Trio.

Josh was amazing on the traps. This cat grooves!

He is very comfortable around his kit, with speed and grace making things look easy. The trap drummer in me really appreciated such nice left hand technique.. very cool.

I loved the sound of his bells.. looked like JCR's to me, but the cha' was thinner, like a pancake chacha... really sweet sounding....

Josh is a very laid back person, and a well respected musician among players. It's always nice to see such talented people who are so humble. It seems most of the great ones are.

His laid back style on the traps works really well, dynamically. Especially in a such a small venue as the beer gardens on Jupiter.

He has one of the most entertaining latin Jazz combo in the bay, as far as ive seen. He grabs standards in the latin popular tradition and, with the help of a couple heavies on the bass and keys, puts a really tasty and fresh jazz fusion spin on it.

What, no Congas Josh? Please... throw the brothers a bone! ;)

... joking, of course, as they needed nothing, even though Javier Navarette was in the house. He also does larger combo work.

This evening, Josh's combo pulled off, nice and effortlessly, what is not done easily - working as a Trio without sounding thin from time to time.

The man on the keys, (sorry i dont have his name, as of yet) had these Chick Corea, Herby Handcock like licks, cleanly voiced over the thick polyrhythmic groove set by Josh and (bass player to be named later). yes, i should start acting like a journalist...

They all had really nice solo's, with the bass player finding a really comfy spot, and laying down beautiful lines in the last set.

What a nice venue it is there. I highly recommend their Porter, above all of their other beers, as i seemed to have tried them all ;)

Here is a bit off of about Josh:

A force in the Bay Area music scene for over twenty years, Josh is a teacher, a recording artist, and a major player in the Latin jazz movement. Josh has a very progressive cutting edge musical spirit. This gift which is a result of years of intense study combined with the experience of being a child prodigy has given Josh a unique insight into the world of sound. From hip-hop to bebop, soca to swing, Josh has been blessed to tour abroad with musical greats like jazz icon Don Cherry, Steve Coleman, Grammy winner Rebecca Mauleon, Cuban percussion virtuoso Miguel (Anga) Diaz, Omar Sosa, and poet laureate Amiri Baraka.

Be sure to catch his upcoming shows listed on his site. He is a regular performer around the bay.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Francisco Aguabella at Yoshi's This weekend!



Alfredo De La Fe' - violin

Eric Figueroa - piano

Richie Flores - congas

Endel Dueno - drums

Ramon Vasquez - bass


Legendary Conguero

Francisco Aguabella


SEPTEMBER 18, 19 & 20




Friday, September 12, 2008

Los Rumberos "Ahî nama" 2nd Saturday of the Month - Bollyhood Cafe

Just found this gig...

2nd Saturday of Every Month !!! (Sat. Sept 13th - Oct 11th - Sat. Nov 8th - Sat. Dec 13) At The Bollyhood Cafe 3372 19th st. @ Mission st. Live Performances by: 11:30pm Live Rumba with Los Rumberos "Ahî nama"

12:30am Live Samba Show "Sambamora" & The Bateria Blocura de San Francisco (Featuring Members of Loco bloco)

Bollyhood Café
3372 19th Street @ Mission Street - map
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 970-0362


Boont Amber Ale on tap I'll be the one with the half empty pint.

... im not sure who is playing... Perhaps our friend and heavy rumbero Mijael Abreu and his cats.. I have yet to see the show... Ill report back.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Dr. Loco, with Carlos Caro, Saul Sierra

I had the great pleasure to see Dr. Loco and his smoking hot Jalapeno band, with the great one two punch of Carlos Caro and Saul Sierra.

Once again, the Maritime Academy welcomed Vallejo to come and sit by the bay, watch the sun set, drink wine, eat cheese and listen to some really entertaining local acts.

It was a surprise to see the line up performing with Dr. Loco. Two familiar and talented players i was thrilled to see. Carlos and Saul. They have a project together that i will detail in future posts soon.

Carlos, a congero from Guanajay, Cuba, is one of the most gracious and kind people in the business. He is one busy cat.

Talking after the show, he mentioned this was his third gig of the day and he had a 10pm show in the city that evening! man, this cat is in demand, and there is no question why, as he has fat chops and big ears with strong roots in the Caribbean.

It's really interesting to me, as Carlos was the Congero for a band that included my first teacher on Timbales a few years back. The band was Orquestra Guitano, and Francisco, the man on the timbs, gave me my first introduction to the foundations of latin music and El Mole's technique - even though i had played the congas for over 15 years at that point. This was back in 2000, when i lived in Santa Cruz.

I remember Francisco saying he really dug Carlos' style, and that he was a well respected player in the bay.

Sorry for the crappy sound, this video was shot with my phone...

What's interesting to me, is that i didnt appreciate his playing as much back then, as my awareness of what was 'tasty' and what was not hadn't developed, at that point. Im looking forward to looking back to this time to gain perspective on how far i have come, and how far i have yet to go. Its only been a short time, really... and it feels like a long time ago.

But back to Carlos, i can tell you - Now, when i see this cat play... there is no wonder why he is so respected.. he is a very clean performer. I noticed, that in the middle of a blues song, on his third of four gigs, he didnt take any tunes 'off', or reserve himself when doubling the snare hits with his slaps, for example. A serious pro. No tape in sight.

He has this graceful effortlessness about his playing. Perhaps it's his laid back nature, but he has strong chops that often enact bold and confident statements of his Salsa roots. The contrast is effective, and very Carlos Caro. Efficient and very musical, he has it figured out. Only a pro can make it through four gigs in a day without much of a problem. I always appreciate such clean technique and such 'big ears'.

It was really nice to meet Saul Sierra, after talking on the phone in the past regarding gigs with Sandy. Here is another super nice cat, who has a majorly fat tumbao laying down rock solid lines on his baby bass. Saul is one of very few top notch Latin bass players in the bay area, and he is very well respected by the Cuban players in the area.

The show was really fun, with reflections of Dr. Loco's other job as an anthropology professor at SF State. Each tune of the set was one interesting genre after another. It was like a tour around Latin America, through the setlist of a Doctor of latin music, among other disciplines.

They played Cumbia, Banda, latin rock, Blues, Mambo, swing, a bit of Zydeco ... im surprised they left out Brazil, and i dont remember a tango... but it was only one set!!!

They laid it down, and the crowd danced wildly in appreciation. They had a fun balance to the sound, with electric guitar, harmonica, tenor sax and flute. The sound man did well, nice to report.

It was a motley crew of experienced musicians, but it came together into a very entertaining set. Dr. Loco, is such a pro on the mic. He knows how to get the crowd worked up. Its always nice to see a pro do his thing. Pro's entertain, and performance is an enjoyable artform in and of itself.

Some info on Carlos Caro and Saul Sierra... from

Carlos Caro was born in Havana, Cuba in 1967, and began playing percussions at a very early age. In 1983 he entered the Alejandro Garcia Caturla Conservatory in Havana and later he attended ENIA (National School of Art Instructors). Carlos began his professional musical career with the group CLAVE, which was made up of musicians such as "Puly" Hernandez, and the sons of the revered Cuban trombonist, Juan Pablo Torres. He also played with �OPUS 13�, a band which eventually became �PAULO Y SU ELITE,� lead by Paulo Fernandez Gallo, with whom Carlos toured Central America, Europe and Asia. The band also formed part of singer Jackeline Castellanos 1990-1991 tour and recorded the album, �La dama del son�. The recording was nominated for the �EGREM� award given by the Music Recording and Editing Association of Cuba.

In late 1993, he emigrated to Mexico, where he played with groups such as 40 Grados, La Ley, La Rumbantela and various other Cuban ensembles. Carlos also performed Danzon with the Mexico City Philharmonic at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1996, shortly before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since his arrival, Carlos has become a much sought-after percussionist, working with established Bay Area musicians such as Rebeca Maule�n, Omar Sosa, QBA, Avance, Cubanacan, Candela, Ritmo y Armonia, Dr. Loco and his Rocking Jalapeño Band, among others.

...And more info on Carlos, including contact for gigs, lessons, etc...

Saul Sierra is a Mexico City native and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he majored in Performance and studied with Oscar Stagnaro, Daniel Morris and Jim Stinnet, among others. Saul received the US Scholorship tour award and the Outstanding Performer award at Berklee. As a resident of the Bay Area since the Fall of 1999, Saul has performed with Nestor Torres, John Santos, Jesus Diaz, Orestes Vilato, Mark Levine, Mike Spiro, Jackeline Rago, Wayne Walles, Aquiles Baez, Anthony Blea and Maria Marquez, among others.

one of Saul's projects with John Santos and Orestes Vilato... must be fun!