CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: February 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

John Santos Recording Project Fund Raiser

Our fearless leader is again, pushing the development of art and culture in the bay area.. this cat will be legendary, when all is said and done.

Well, I can tell you, that this gentleman is among the most honorable men in the bay area. A dedicated artist and family man, highly talented and extremely experienced.

To be serious about it.. if there were more people like John Santos, the world would be a more peaceful and prosperous place.

If the values of this culture were alined with art and music, John would be a national hero. And that is why I half jokingly call him 'our fearless leader'.. the cat is a great example of how to be an artist in the bay area, and its a bit amazing how he pulls it off with such grace.

So, Maestro Santos has a new project in the works, and he is actively fundraising for "Filosofía Caribeña 2".

John has a matching grant and has collected half of the needed funds.. so far, he has collected around 7000 and needs another 7000 or so to make it happen.

..and I know I have wealthy fans, who with the flick of the wrist, can enrich the community with such an amazing project, and have a significant role in the history of the legendary John Santos.

You see, John has a great chance to win a Grammy, and this may be the very project that gets him over the top.

Some people dont know the story, but John was nominated several times for the Latin Jazz category, only to have this category axed from the awards program lineup.

Just recently,  the ultimately wise and beautiful people at the Grammy awards decided to reinstate the category.. and it was ON!

John is a front running candidate for the award, and you may have the opportunity to fund the exact project that gets up on the podium on Grammy night.

Anyone can donate, even small amounts, to have a piece of John's recording project directly HERE

Update: 3/13: The project funded! just under the wire, with a few hours to go before losing all the funds, a few gracious people came in and brought us over the top, with $15,400 donated. Well done all! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cecil's Rumba at Casa Latina in Berkeley

Im putting together a new Rumba, as it was my dear friend Cecil Carter's last wish. 

In memory of Cecil Carter and my dear friend and mentor Enrique Carreras, our loved Ancestral Rumberos, we will do our best to nurture, promote and practice our dear traditions.

Starting Sunday March 10th 12-3pm at Casa Latina, 1805 San Pablo Ave. free, all ages. EVERY 2nd and 4th SUNDAY 12-3pm!

"Viva la Tradicion!" C. Carter 3/12. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gon Bops Bata skins, Carolyn Brandy

This set of mahogany Gon Bops bata from the 70's came in for a new set of skins. The owner is one of Carolyn Bandy's students, and so I knew it would be a working set of drums that may very well be important in the folkloric education of women in the bay area.

I wanted to make sure it was comfortable and great sounding, as to inspire people who played the set to fight through the challenging material... so they continue to study, play and teach our traditions.

 I set them up as comfortably as possible, as I know how demanding these drums can be to learn. I layed bleached cow on them, setting 'em up like the Cuban masters would prefer for a set of Aberincula.

This set of Gon Bops is over the top - over sized and coated in figerglass. The Cha' side of all three is also glassed inside, giving this set rocket slaps and an absolutely huge sound.

The drums would be within the traditional folkloric range of size, if one took the Itotele out of this set, used this omele as an Itotele, and adding another Onconcolo, if you follow me..

In other words, the Onconcolo (also called an Omele) is the size of a traditional Itotele, and the Itotele for this set is as large as some of the smaller folkloric Iya's Ive seen from Matanzas.

It reminds me of what Irakere must have used in their blasting Latin fusion act - high flying funky Cuban fusion that demanded a set of showman's bata.. fat, huge, bright and thick. (RIP Anga)

And did I ever find the right skins for this set.. just perfect sounding.. slightly thicker and bleached to cut the ring and stand up to the force of the metal hardware, but thin enough not to bust our students chops.

Anyone who has played an hour and a half dance class, let alone a three hour ceremony, would appreciate the quality of these skins when they need them the most. Most of us who have worked on this tradition have been stuck on a meat grinder of a drum, busting your chops to the point of bleeding and you cant stop.. that really sucks... looking down at your hands after hoping there is some flesh left... 

As I mentioned, this set is owned by one of Carolyn's students who is among a group of 10 or so women studying bata and Latin percussion in the bay area. We are so fortunate to have a few great female players here in the bay and Carolyn is a big reason why. I know of several women percussionist here who are legitimately professionals (shout out to my girl Zori! (Zornitsa Marinova) the Bulgarian badass!!)

However, Carolyn is the 'Queen Bee' here in the bay..  a true folklorist, with deep knowledge of the culture and traditions in and around the music.

She is a pioneer player and activist, one of the first, if not the first woman to play Bata in the USA. Its fitting she studied with one of the first cats to play bata on the west coast, Marcus Gordon.

Upon a request for some info about with whom she studied in Cuba, I was a bit blown away by the response.. quite a powerful story..

From Carolyn herself:

"Hi Tony: yes. I traveled to Cuba many times. My first trip was in 1988 to study with the CFNC and to study Bata. I made Santo in Havana in 2000. And, yes, I did study with Marcus on congas in SF starting in 1975!"

"My first Cuban instructor was the great Mario Jauregui, aka Aspirina from the Conjunto Folklorico National de Cuba . He helped break the Bata/women taboo and I started studying with him in 88."

"Also studied a lot with Regino Jimenez. Also a lot with my incredible Madrina Olomide - Amelita Pedroso (iba-e). Others include Lazaro Pedroso (Amelia's uncle), Freddie Martinez, Daniel Alphonso in Matanzas (iba-e), Ramon Marquez in Santiago... And many others"

"I organized six drumming tours over the years that went the whole length of the island from Havana to Baracoa stopping in major cities along the way studying with many many great players like one of my favorites Miguel Baro in Jovellanos (the son of Miguelina Baro Iba-e) keeping the Arara traditions alive....., Kiko in Ceinfuegos, Orlando (cant remember his last name at the moment) in Guantanamo, great players in Camaguey like Julio Molina Perez who is now in Italy, the Kutumba folks in Santiago ... Lots of folks over time - Roberto Borrell, who I just saw today! Louie Bauzo over at Boys Harbor in NYC..... so many Im drawing a blank - my friend Carbohol in Havana (he introduced me to Latchi the drum maker), Irian Lopez from Los Chinitos (Piri's uncle), wow! It has been a wonderful journey! "

Yes, Carolyn, I'd say its a legendary manifestation of artistic vision, and meaningful quest to right an obvious wrong in our ancient traditions... quite inspiring.


Carolyn Brandy has been drumming for over 40 years. She has been instrumental in bringing women to the spirit and healing of the Drum. Carolyn is the Artistic Director of Women Drummers International and co-creator of the Born to Drum Women’s Drum Camp. She was also the founder of the Bay Area’s favorite marching band, Sistah Boom in 1981.


In 1976, Carolyn co-founded the popular band, Alive! that toured the nation for almost 10 years and has 4 recordings to its credit. She has worked in the SF Bay area for many years as a composer, performer, teacher and cultural worker.

Carolyn is an expert in the folkloric drumming styles found throughout the island of Cuba. She has been a practitioner of the Yoruba-based Cuban religion, Regla de Ocha, also known as Santeria, since 1977. She was initiated as a priest of the religion in Havana, Cuba by Amelia Pedroso in 2000.

Carolyn has led five successful cultural tours to the Island of Cuba to study Folkloric music. She has organized workshops in Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santiago De Cuba, and Guantanamo, where the groups studied with masters of Afro-Cuban drumming and dance.

Carolyn has recently produced an instructional DVD series called: Step by Step Conga Instruction.

Here is Carolyn telling her story herself:

Here is a clip of her explaining her work in the Woman percussionist movement -