In 1997, in a period of two weeks nine poems came to me. Three of those poems evolved into En el Silencio, Yoruba and Rumba. En el Silencio is a spoken word ballad about the space between our thoughts where the spirit resides. The first cut En El Silencio has Atlanta hip hop deep bass vibe married with spoken word and Batas.
Yoruba is a funky medley of traditional Yoruban chants that evoke the different Yoruban deities. My mom is a Santera and I have fond memories growing up listening to Yoruba music. Rumba is music made with conga drums and/or boxes, born in the docks of Havana and Matanzas.
In a new take on Rumba, I add spoken word with tablas, bass and batas to this traditional rhythm. On Caravan, I fuse Middle Eastern influences with Cuban, Spanish and African elements. Welcome to My World uses the bebop structure of a head over changes combined with Timba and a little French accordion flavor. Grab It is a funky 21 st century Cha Cha about embracing life. Mojito is a recipe for fun. If you spend any time around me you will often hear me say "Coolness." Here I say it with Vibes.
Find Me is a bluesy sultry groove about someone being there for you unconditionally. Chango is the God of Thunder or Force. Felipe Garcia is a master batalero. On Chango, I married his vocals with batas, bass and Rhodes. NYZ is a musical conversation in New York, based on a blues progression featuring a bebop inspired head with a Cuban rhythmic drive.
On NYZ, I continued what I started doing in Cuban Jazz Funk, which was to displace the beat occasionally.Organza is a 100 miles per hour vamp. On this recording in Organza I just displace the beat once at the beginning by an eighth note making the vamp funkier.
The reason I decided to call my CD Welcome To My World is I wanted to explore all the different influences in me. I wanted to share my inner world and all the different types of music that resides inside of me.
At 4, I played the dining room table top, pots and pans. Anything I could hit with a spoon, knife or fork. At 10, when I came to the US in the fifth grade I joined the school band. Because I got to the US in November,3 months after the school year started,all the instruments had been given out. The band teacher either because the instruments were all taken or the fact he saw a Latin kid gave me bongos to play. I loved them because I am a percussionist at heart.
I was taught to seriously play Bongos by my uncle Joseito “El Tigre” Romero who had been a professional Conga player/Bongosero in Cuba. At 11, my friend Michael started me on the drum set. I moved on to the Tenor Sax in Junior High School until age 15 when I was playing with different bands and was getting cocky due to the fact I was making a pretty nice living for a 15 year old.
I had gotten lazy with my wood shedding and my father noticing this after numerous times not hearing any sax opened the door and said why aren’t you practicing? I said I didn’t need to practice anymore. That I was doing fine. Soon after he brought me a copy of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps which floored me. I didn’t know whether to quit or really get serious.
I was going to the Jazz Mobile at the time and after speaking with several elders I found out that the best way to become a great Sax player was to learn to play the piano. I started piano lessons at around 15 and fell in love with it. By the time I got to college I was playing both and it was there I decided to major in music composition. I decided that the piano was the be all for me. I started seriously diving into the piano. From the age of 15 on, I practiced piano at least 4 hours a day.
Both in Cuba and in the US my greatest influences were whatever was going on in my house. If my mom who is a santera had a religious ceremony going on, then it was Yoruba music in the living room and a jam session going on in my room with either my musical buddies or my father’s musician friends. Later after the traditional ceremony was over, the sacred drums would be put away and the bataleros would take out their secular instruments and it was on.
In terms of bands in Cuba due to my brothers I was into Los Van Van. However, my father’s record collection went back to Chapotin, Peruchin, Benny More, Cachao, Aragon, etc. In Cuba music is in the air. Son, Rumba, Charanga, Yoruba chants, Songo, Timba and everything else is hitting you all at practically the same time.
Culturally in the U.S. I was most influenced by Jazz, Funk and Rock. Peruchin, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Sly,James Brown, Stravinsky, Parliament Funkadelics are my greatest influences.
My music is a by product of all the influences I’ve had from Stravinsky to Miles to Peruchin. However I don’t mimic the past. I try to put a different spin on things. For example on my new CD, the track “Grab It” is a 21st Century Cha Cha with a soulful vibe that is very unique. On “Yoruba” I combine Different chants with a funky vibe that it’s different to anything you’ve heard before. On “Welcome To My World” I combine a very hip tumbao with Bebop like head and a displaced bass line in a way that is truly fresh.
I love the concept of displacement: Playing ahead of the beat as in the case of “Mojito”, Welcome To My World” and “Organza”. I also like changing meters for a bar or so like I did on “Find Me”. There was a period in my life when I was into the Schillinger system and loved playing odd meters. But today I’m strictly a 4/4, 6/8 kind of guy.
I’m playing from my heart more these days than from my head. I guess every player goes thru that phase. But from time to time on breaks I like to throw in a little hiccup in the mix. On “Rumba” I use certain elements of the Rumba rhythm with an ambient like bass and spoken word.
Growing up with a family of musicians was a lot of fun. I remember going to band rehearsals with my father. Even though my father was a trumpet player, I noticed all the women were hanging out by the pianist and that planted a seed in my head about becoming a pianist myself.
From my uncle Roberto who was a RCA artist, I learned that you could have a wonderful career in music if you take care of business. He was able to put his kids thru medical school from the business of music. Not only was he a great sax player but he was a good band leader which is very difficult. I didn’t get to really know him until my late teens because he lived in Mexico. One thing that struck me was that even in his old age after Roberto was retired and practically blind, he was still practicing his sax. I asked him why after all these years he was still practicing and his answer was that you could never master the instrument, there is always something else to learn. This from a guy who was a virtuoso.
I always thought I would do music. For me it was always music and baseball but music won. I remember one Saturday when I was about 14; I had a baseball game at the same time as my Jazz Mobile weekly lesson. The Jazz Mobile won out. I still remember like it was yesterday, being on the #4 bus from Washington Heights to Harlem and wondering if I had made the right decision.
I am grateful for my unique upbringing, the particular melding of cultures I've experienced which has influenced my sound and style and enriched my music tremendously. One is a byproduct of everything that surrounds us. In Cuba, like no other place with the exception of Brazil, the whole continent of Africa came together. First the Spaniards brought with them their culture which was half European and half North African. Spain had been ruled for eight hundred years by the Arabs. With the slaves came the southern African cultures. Spain also brought a very large amount of Chinese labor. Mix all that together and you get Cuban music. Add to that all the influences that I was exposed to by just living in New York and Wow.