CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: July 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dance class with the Maestra Ana Perez at Dance Mission Theater

It's not often I post about dance classes.. just doesnt make for very good reading..

But it this case, it was a great honor to be asked to play for the Grand Maestra Ana Perez, the great singer and dancer from the legendary group Munequitos de Matanzas.

For Sandy to ask us to play the class, and just Irish Rick and myself, it was a really nice recognition that we can make it happen for him whenever he needs us. A couple of his beginning students were there as well to lend a hand.

We pulled it off... not very high quality stuff, but it was functional. Ana and Sandy were happy, and the students were totally stoked.

We played Bata for Ochun and Yemeya, which is not easy.. and made it work..

It would have been nice to have another talented set of hands, but it was great fun in the end.

So, after the class the two masters are headed up north to Humboldt for the world famous Afro-Cuban workshops, joining the large list of master performers at this years event.

Once again, I'm going to try to make it up to the workshops this year.. Mijail La Brada and I are organizing a caravan heading up Thursday for the end of session parties and wild-ass Rumbas of legend.

Ive often seen pictures of these master packed Rumbas on the beach up north, and always wanted to join them. But we study and play with many of the heavies that teach at the workshops, so its more about hitting the parties for us. That's probably why I haven't made my way up for the workshops in the past.

But this year is a particularly fat year up there, with Miguel Bernal and Roman Diaz joining Sandy, Ana, Lazaro, Spiro, Santos, Jesus Diaz, Suzana Arenas.. a long list of heavies..

Anyway, after Ana's dance class, we headed across the bay to Lake Merrit of Oakland to find Mijail.

We found him singing and playing with Son Cubano at a small but comfortable club in this uncommonly vibrant section of Oaktown.

We were welcomed up to join them, and I played Cata, Guataca.. generally had a great time singing and hanging with the cats... playing a nice mix of a Jazzy Rumba Timba thing with Gerardo Borras and his funky montunos.

That cat can churn butter with the way he rolls those montunos.. Very street sounding..

Gerardo has been here for years, but is still very Havana. He has a really good ear and musical instinct only seasoned performers have. He plays a mean bass, super fat piano and some serious quinto... his specific style, I particularly dig...

We had a talented cat on sax, who was well versed in both Jazz and Cuban popular music, which is not very common to hear. Ask a Cubano if they can play Jazz and they all say, oh, yea, sure..

I was reared on the teet of Jazz, I know it well. Most of the Cuban cats cant play a lick with the 'real' Jazz cats.. but once in a while you find someone who has both forms in hand. .. always a true pleasure to play with such a cat, no doubt.

We had the place rocking and up dancing their tails off... that was fun to see.

I really like this rumba replacing the trap drummer in a traditional combo.. it really works well for these smaller venues.

So at the end of a really fun day, heading home exhausted, Mijail calls to say.. we are heading to Maria de Colombia's to play!

I was like.. Im going home to sleep! lol

Its not often I miss a chance to play with Mijail (red plaid shirt in pic)

For me, he is one of very few Rumberos with whom I want to work. He is an incredible talent, no doubt.

But Ana's class totally toasted me.. I needed rest.

So, now that Ive slept a few hours.. let's see what trouble we can get into today.. looks like Kittys is hitting at 4, and we may be playing at Disco Volante in Oakland around 8.

little by little

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sandy Perez Y Su Lade with Lazaro Galarraga and Ana Perez

What a beautiful day in the grand, green plaza of Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

It was one of those super clean and bright days in the city. The clouds parted and gave us a pristine, Spring-like day for one super show.

The 'gardens' are a treasure.. an open field of grass in the midst of the highrises of downtown... a sanctuary of tranquility surrounded by monolithic monuments of industry.. skyscrapers standing guard... tall, sharp and statuesque.

One gorgeous city, our beloved San Francisco.

We knew we were in for a treat this day, as Sandy Perez was performing with an incredible line-up.

Ana Perez, Sandy's mother and one of the best voices in the history of Rumba, blessed us with her immense talent and truly wonderful spirit. It is so fun to see Sandy perform with his mother. It's part showing off, part harmonious collaboration forged by hundreds of performances together.. it is really fun to see them share the stage once again.

They were joined by the grand maestro Lazaro Galarraga, another legendary Rumba voice; the talent pool running deep (pictured here, upper left, singing with Giovanni Hidalgo and Francisco Aguabella).

The coro was totally incredible, with local masters Rosita Perez, Mijail La Brada and one serious heavy singer from out of town, Jadele McPherson.
The texture of these peoples voices is beyond tasty... so earthy, so raw, powerful and beautiful. And so specifically the timbre of Cuban folklorico from the barrios.

It was amazing to see several of my favorite singers in this tradition on the same stage together. It was almost too much talent, as one can only display a hint of what is possible in a one set show.

Sandy brought percussionists Toby Gaster, Jesus Diaz, and John Santos to lay it down for the comfortable and appreciative crowd... all stretched out in the sun.

Suzana Arenas was back in town for the show, and danced beautifully as always.

She was joined by the oft sword wielding dancer Alain Soto, who was totally on fire.

...and if that wasnt scary enough.. another female dancer with two swords joined the fray...

Sometimes the sword play, bottle tricks, conga jumping, etc is a bit hokey for me.

Sometimes I have to giggle at how silly some of it is to me. For some reason it's hard not to laugh when Alain is pretending to cut his tongue off with a machete... but perhaps that's just me.. in need of counseling..

.. anyway.. it was a wonderful afternoon. Gotta love the bay area.. free summertime shows in one seriously world class setting.

After the show, we all headed back to Sandy's house to celebrate his birthday. We feasted large and hung out enjoying the great energy. We played rumba with the maestros into the warm and sunny afternoon.

At one point, Irish Rick and I were playing. Sandy and Ana poke their heads out with big smiles on their faces, obviously enjoying what they were hearing.

Ana came over, busted out her camera and started filming us! Now that was cool!

It's so wonderful to be with my extended family. Maestros or not, they are brother and sisters to me. I feel lucky to know them, and blessed to be around such amazing people.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Afro Cuban Clave - technique and recommendations

..Congarranza checks in to ask what I look for in a set of Rumba Clave.

If one knows the sound you are looking for, you can find many clave that will work, but most of the mass market hardwood clave are usually way too bright and high pitched for my taste.

The well worked odd ball set above is a Maple receiver and a Black Walnut striker, sounds fine, but using a Maple striker with it, for example, would make it too bright for my ear.

You never know what you might find, some really cheap ones sound great.. just have to try them out, and know what sound you are looking for (old rumba tracks, for me)

I look for a set in Black Walnut, a medium hard wood, with the side cut in the 'receiver'. I like the relative size of the two, the striker nice and light to play, but has enough weight to make a really nice and fat tone with projection.

There are ones with side cuts on the market that I don't particularly favor; made of softer wood, and the 'receiver' is more lengthy, pictured here with red background. The Black Walnut set on the red satin background are more favorable, for me.

The one on the African Elephant print is a set in Walnut I purchased from Rienhardt - long extinct and legendary Mombiza Percussion in San Francisco. He snuck them in from Cuba himself, so I know they use Walnut of some kind down there.

Rienhardt had such wild stories about importing these Clave, and what he went through to get this set up here to my waiting hands... adds to the enjoyment of how nice they sound..

A friend of mine, just for fun, made Clave from a bunch of different kinds of wood.. I mean a bunch.. some 15 types or so..

After playing them all, the Purplehart sounded the best to my ear, also a medium dense wood. (picture is not a set of clave, just an example of the wood)

In general, I do like like the side cut and the hole drilled through the middle - adds to the projection and full sound one needs to cut through a whole rumba in full motion.. with some 10-30 peeps singing and playing. You want projection so everyone can hear you, but you want an earthy, midrange tone, as opposed to a ear piercing high pitch.

But one also has to have the right technique, and having good technique for this instrument is crucial to the whole rumba:

When first picking up a set of Clave, make sure you use the striker to strike, and the receiver to hit, if you follow. If they both are the same size, switch sticks till you find the one that makes the lowest sound when struck, and you are playing the right one.

To play the Clave with the sidecut, hold the 'receiver' in your weak hand with your finger tips along the back of the sidecut of the Clave. It should feel very comfortable and balanced.

Then put your thumb on the high side of the other side of the sidecut, if you follow.. leaving space above and below your thumb for the sound to escape. Your fingers and thumb should be on the bottom half of the clave's circumference (looking at it from the end), so as not to hammer your fingers when you strike. (only have to do that a few times to self correct your technique!)

Again, it should feel really secure and comfortable.

Strike the clave exactly in the middle, and opposite the sidecut.

With the right technique, the sound will be dramatically better, more resonate, full, earthy, woody, with projection and sustain.

As always, adjust your technique to get the sweetest sound with the least effort.

Hope that helps,


Friday, July 1, 2011

If your Clave doesn't look like this, you arn't playing enough Rumba!

..lost track of how many pairs we have gone through in 10 years of playing in this tradition.. so lucky to have so many opportunities to play for so long. We are very blessed here in the bay.

On to a new pair.. they have no idea what we have in store for them..