Liner Notes: MI TAMBOR LO DICE TODO/MY DRUM SAYS IT ALL
by LUIS TAMARGO, Editor, Latin Beat Magazine
Native to the rhythmically wealthy Puerto Rican city of Santurce, is the versatile and powerful percussionist, vocalist and bandleader Gene Perry. Having paid his dues on the global Latin scene since the 60's, Perry has finally decided to record under his own name for the first time. Properly titled "Mi Tambor Lo Dice Todo", Perry's long awaited debut is enhanced by the Venezuelan multi-instrumentalist Allan Phillips' brilliant and cinematic arrangements, designed to recapture the aggressive, brassy sound popularized by Ray Barretto and other New York salsa artists. This explains the presence, in this particular session, of three of the U.S. West Coast's most prominent wind soloists Justo Almario, Harry Kim, and Arturo Velasco (collectively known for their acclaimed recordings with Tolú, the número uno Latin jazz band west of the Mississippi), plus the seasoned bassist René Camacho and other notable sidemen. The bandmembers' respective skills and abilities are meaningfully applied to a well-balanced repertoire of originals and standards that combines Latin jazz elements with diverse Afro-Hispanic rhythms from Cuba and Puerto Rico (guaracha, mozambique, rumba, mambo, bomba, etc). In conjunction with this tantalizing musical foundation are the vibrant lead vocals offered by internationally acclaimed reggae star Joaquin "Quino" McWhinney, and on two occations, by our musical protagonist from Santurce. If I was asked to summarize the essence of this recording in one word, I would define it as sandunga, a Spanish term meaning charm or grace. As clarified by the Cuban anthropologist/ linguist/ musicologist Fernando Ortiz, sandunga is a mixture of sá, the white salt of Andalucia, and ndungu, the black pepper of Africa. And it is this piquancy, the very essence of the Hispanic Caribbean, that Gene Perry has masterfully captured in this dynamic body of work.
BIOGRAPHY: Gene “Negro” Perry: Biography
Story by Joana Straubinger, AASRP Elimu Newsletter
A native son of Santurce, a town in San Juan, Puerto Rico also known as “Cangrejo” or “crab,” Gene is an Afro-Latin Percussionist Extraordinaire.
During his upbringing Gene was surrounded by African rhythms fused with the rhythms of the Caribbean and Latin cultures. Arriving in the mainland with his father they lived first in Philadelphia then moved to San Diego, California in 1968. His father, a pianist, provided support and encouragement for his musical interests. Bomba y Plena is a traditional Afro-Caribbean music that influenced him greatly in his youth. His passion for the music and traditions of his homeland shine through when he talks about them.
Bomba is “pure African sound” in which the dancers and the lead drummer entertain a dialogue, a sort of competition led by the dancer. The dancer tries to challenge the drummer with movements to be mirrored by the rhythms. Played on barrel shaped drums, the Bomba rhythms relate back to the African slaves who would meet to sing and dance in the sugar cane fields of the islands where Perry was born. Pioneers of these two African derived musical and dance forms include Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Cachete Maldonado, and Modesto Cepeda. These pioneers are held in high regard as vital influences.
Plena is "el periodico del pueblo” or the “newspaper of the town” as he breaks into the song of a pending hurricane, the plena verse is created:
Aya viene el temporal,
Que sera de Puerto Rico
cuando llegue el temporal?”
In English, “Hurricane, hurricane, the hurricane is coming. What will become of Puerto Rico when the hurricane comes?”
Settling in the San Diego area Gene began building on his musical vision and was successful at bringing together Afro-Caribbean and Latin musicians. In 1969 he established a dynamic Sunday jam session at the Pepper Grove Park by the Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego’s Balboa Park that thrived until 1974. From this group Gene produced the band “Drums on Fire,” a premier Afro-Caribbean percussion band in San Diego.
Mentors and master congueros, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, and Patato Valdez, were all solid influences. Perry studied with Mongo Santamaria, a prolific teacher, in 1970.
Playing at gatherings, injecting Afro rhythms into the community, Perry’s performances have drawn record crowds in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Gene also interjected his developing passion for style. He takes great pride and attention to detail with his performance and personal wardrobe as he does with his music.
Teaching keeps the music alive. In his teachings he shares the history and traditions of the music, instruments and culture of Afro-Caribbean percussion. It is his self-proclaimed responsibility to teach these traditions to others so that they will continue the Afro-rhythmic experience and strengthen the link between traditional and contemporary music.
Gene Perry was introduced professionally by Johnny Osund and “the Royal Breed” as “Cangrejo” nicknamed after his home town. An accomplished percussionist he has joined the stage with such legends as Tito Puente “El Rey del Timbal”, Poncho Sanchez, pianist Eddie Cano, as well as an extensive list of renowned performers from southern California and internationally known artists. In 1983 Gene formed the popular Latin jazz and salsa band “Afro Rumba.” They performed at Croce’s, a San Diego jazz venue, from 1989 until 1994.
Performing and recording a range of rhythms from calypso, reggae, salsa, samba, Afro-Cuban, and African Diaspora music speaks to Perry’s extraordinary abilities and wealth of experience. His diverse musical and social experience have lead to his participation in tours and recording sessions with the traditional Klezmer and Yiddish performer, Yale Strom and his group, Klazzj.
In April of 2002 Gene traveled in the Andalucia area of Spain. This afforded him a glimpse of the Spanish culture that so influenced his beloved Puerto Rico. He also visited Morocco and performed with local musicians by playing the Dumbek, a traditional Arabic drum.
Gene has made musical contributions to the theatrical performances, MOON ON THE RAINBOW SHAWl, and THE COLORED MUSEUM both directed by Floyd Gaffney of the University of California San Diego Department of Theatre. Also, Gene performed in García Lorca’s classic tragic poem, YERMA, translated and directed by University of San Diego Theatre Arts faculty member, Evelyn Díaz Cruz, and reset in the Caribbean. In 2007, Gene performed in the GLASSCORD, the award winning play by Professor Diaz Cruz and directed by Claudio Raygoza.
In his support of the UCSD academic community, Gene participates in the African and African-American Studies Research Project (AAASRP) Regents Lecture Series, directed by UCSD Sociologist, Professor Bennetta Jules-Rosette. Professor Jules-Rosette promotes an ongoing research agenda of “Borders, Boundaries, and New Frontiers” through AAASRP's three-fold focus on research, instruction, and community outreach. Professor Jules-Rosette spearheads the spirit of cultural border crossing through the production of her Regents Lecture Series.
Gene’s participation includes various performances in which his music provides the correct ambiance to AAASRP events. As part of his collaboration with guest artists/Regents Lecturers, Gene has performed with the following international African Diaspora Artists, in concert forum as well as in various academic workshops.
• Marie and Anita Daulne of Zap Mama, afro-european music
• Thomas Mapfumo, the “Lion of Zimbabwe”,
• Habib Koite from Mali, Africa
• Vusi “The Voice” Mahlasela from South Africa
• Peru Negro, “The Ambassadors of Afro-Peruvian music and dance
“Gene Perry and Afro Rumba” which ranges from a four-piece percussion band to a full ten-piece salsa, Latin Jazz and Afro-Caribbean band currently performs at private and public venues and community events. His itinerary includes performances as well as recording sessions with
• Jaime Valle and Equinox in the albums Third Voyage and Vital Signs
• Kamau Kenyatta
• Fred Benedetti and George Svoboda, guitar duo, in their albums, Zephyr and Spanish Gardens
• Joe Morello in his album Lady Caroline
• Hollis Gentry, III and Neon
• Yale Strom and his group, Klazzj, in the album, Wandering Jew
As a Messenger of the heart of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and culture in the Southern California community, Gene Perry’s abilities grace any performance. Gene’s purpose is to share his music and culture with his audiences through his passionate “sentimiento”.
Biography derived from the article:
Worldclass Percussionist Befriends AAASRP
Story by Joana Straubinger
AAASRP Community Liaison
AASRP Elimu Newsletter
Updated by Gene Perry