Against All Odds: Angelito y La Timba de Ayer

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    Angel Rodriguez
    Latinjazznet.com profiles a dedicated griot and master percussionist
    By Chico Alvarez Peraza

    Mr. ANGEL RODRIGUEZ is a Brooklyn resident whom I met many years ago when I began performing with the LATIN JAZZ COALITION, a creative music ensemble led by trombonist Demetrious Kastaris. We used to do a lot of those city park gigs together and Demetrious would always feature Angel on an array of percussion instruments; most worthy of mention was his artistry on the shekeré. That’s when I learned that he was also a dedicated teacher and a devotee of traditional Afro-Cuban cult music.

    Until recently, Angel was director of Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, in the borough of the Bronx, in their music department, where he worked closely with the executive director, facilitating and coordinating the music departments, instructions, recitals, program activities, equipment, materials, and community service mini-performances. Angel figured importantly in the recruitment, hiring, and supervision of all new staff, as well as work development at the work place for an ongoing assessment, and quarterly evaluations of music instructors.

    An accomplished performing artist and a committed master drummer whose main goal is to preserve the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms and to see more and more young people become involved in the proper learning of African hand percussion, he has actively sought out, recruited, registered and auditioned hundreds of students for merit/talent scholarships.

    In 1990 Angel traveled as a percussion instructor from New York to California, on through Florida, Texas, Connecticut and Washington DC, giving formal and informal instruction in world percussion, with specialization in Afro-Caribbean styles. In 1997 he toured for five weeks in Poland as a percussionist and actor.

    On the local New York salsa scene he regularly performed with such luminaries as Paquito Guzman, Lalo Rodríguez, Hector Tricoche, Junior Gonzalez and Marvin Santiago. In 1990 and 1991 he appeared on “Buenos Dias Mediodia” an entertainment service; namely, a Spanish-language television program associated with Univision.

    But Angel Rodríguez the musician was always attracted to literature and writing, as well as academia. In 2002 Angel authored “Musicians in the South Bronx,” published in the New York Post’s 200th Anniversary Edition. There were, for example, multiple articles that he authored from 2000 through 2006 for “Hunt’s Point Alive” (in the Bronx); he was mentioned by Nina Siegel in her New York Times article “In the Footsteps of The Mambo Kings”; as well as by Steven Sapp/La Colora “Universes” – referencing “The Point C.D.C. (The Point Community Development Corporation – more on that organization in a moment).

    Angel’s work experience has roots that extend beyond the high school, university and intermediate school level in New York. Obviously, he is a product of the streets. While still very young he performed for patients at various hospitals and institutions. He appeared at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre in 1987 through 1989, and in 1993 he appeared on Univision’s Channel 41 in New Jersey. From 1996 to 2004 he worked as a teacher, councelor and producer for Arts Connections, Inc., here in New York City.

    When I first met Angel he was hosting the “Mambo to Hip Hop Tour”, a musical heritage tour of the South Bronx helping to preserve latin, jazz and hip hop history. Right around that time he was also busy creating, coordinating, producing and hosting the “Living Legend Series”, a musical tribute to the many unsung heroes of music, dance and poetry. He did this while he was still the music program director and coordinator at The Point Community Development Corporation. I personally witnessed the joy he brought to those musicians and other artists who had been overlooked by the mainstream for years, and I could relate to their appreciation for having been recognized “while they were still able to appreciate it”. From 1995 to 2002 Angel was more than just an administrator; he booked, produced and managed every facet of the series. A man with tremendous energy and a positive attitude toward getting things done right.

    By 2003 he had gone on to become an independent contractor in New York and Los Angeles, working as a consultant, educator, organizer, performer and producer; helping to conceptualize and produce projects related to community, youth, gangs, and issues of inner city living. He counselled educators to empower children so that they could steer away from drugs, stay out of gangs and in school; he also assisted students and aspiring musicians with career development.

    Angel’s additional responsibilities with the Point CDC included teaching percussion workshops to youth ages 14 to 21, coordinating performances, creating intergenerational support values, and assisting with the re-envisioning project at Hunt’s Point in the South Bronx – helping others get directly involved with the redevelopment of their own community. One might say that he was a pillar of the community, in a strictly non-political sense of the word.

    Angel Rodríguez

    Beginning in 2000, he performed for three consecutive years with the aforementioned Latin Jazz Coalition; as well as with Tito Puente, raising money for children with Leukemia, HIV/AIDS, etc. In 2003 he worked with Hip Hop at the New Victory Theatre as percussionist, actor and dancer. And then again in 2004 with Hip Hop at Lincoln Center, as a percussionist, actor and dancer (for Full Circle Productions, New York).In 2005 he was featured with the Welfare Poets at the Venezuela 16th Annual Youth Festival, as well as with the V89 Summer Soulstice Celebration in 2005, where he was featured as a guest performer, at WVFS Tallahassee/621 Gallery in Florida.

    In 2007 Angel joined renowned scholars such as Dr. Jack Chen, David Montgomery and Dr. Juan Flores as a panelist with the New York University Panel of American Historians. Several discussions were held with grass roots organizations through out New York City and the country. The premise was to conserve these organizations that service communities through Arts and Community Organizing and what impact it has on a community without any resources.

    Soon, he began to receive more recognition, and in 2007 and 2008 he became the coordinator for the Fine Art Center at the University of Massachusetts New World Theatre Youth program Project 2050, an organization whose goal was to bring together local and international artists, scholars, youth participants, theatre production teams and New World Theatre staff in an exciting ten day summer intensive that culminates into a wonderful performance, manifesting community engagement and social activism with various summer intensives, workshops, projects, programming, youth meetings, parent meetings, and community partners meetings throughout the year. Youth participants are also hired as office associates where they learn structure, systems, strategic planning, decision-making processes that ultimately give them positive outcomes for future references.

    Angel also served as the director of the Music Department at the Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, in the Bronx from 2008 to 2009. He continued to perform, turning in some fine performances in 2007 with Etienne Charles and Culture Shock at MOMA; Harlem Week Trinidad and Jazz Riverside Theatre in 2009.

    Since the beginning of 2010 up until to the present time Angel has been working on two musical projects; LA TIMBA DE AYER, which encompasses traditional Afro-Cuban genres such as guaguancó, makúta and yambú, among others; and THE ABRAZOS ORCHESTRA, a multi-genre ensemble that he describes as having mas salsa que pesca’o (more sauce than fish).

    Mr. Rodríguez was recently made a grandfather and has been hanging out with his first grandson Angel Ruben Rodríguez III, who is now three years of age and is already playing congas and surfing the internet. Angel is scheduled to begin work at a men’s shelter for young veterans of war who have found themselves to be homeless and in need of transition back into society. Using theatre and music as his forum, Angel has succeeded in creating an impetus environment wherein our society will see positive results in such areas as high self-esteem, respect for one’s self and moral values. This is the work that Angel loves the most, to help humanity in any way that he can. Some might argue that it is a rough road that he has chosen to travel on, and others might even wonder how the hell he does it. The word that immediately comes to my mind is dedication.

    Music is the pill that he takes daily to deal with work, love, friendships, and life itself for that matter.

    Angel has recently begun coordinating the LIVING LEGENDS TRIBUTES through The Women Health and Education Co. (WHEDCO) and The Bronx Music Heritage Center, in association with Bill Aguado, Bobby Sancho, Alvan Colon of Pregones Theater and Wally Edgecomb of Hostos Community College. He is also working on curating  a show at Symphony Space with the great Mr. Arturo O’Farrill called “LITTLE BROWN PEOPLE”, toward the end of the year. This project will include performing artists in all related genres, plus a special tribute to The NeoRican Poets Cafe. It has been planned to be a two day festival, where Mr. Rodríguez will also be performing on percussion and vocals as well. It is scheduled to take place from May 11th-12th, 2012 at Symphony Space in Manhattan.

    Latinjazznet.com takes a great deal of pride in highlighting ANGEL RODRIGUEZ, and we proudly salute this energetic artist for his many contributions to the Afro-Caribbean Experience, American Jazz and the arts in general.

    Angel Rodríguez

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