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Cuban Roots – Conversation With Mark Weinstein



Cuban Roots - Cuban Roots Revisited - Mark WeinsteinTP: Thirty-two years later you recorded Cuban Roots Revisited. As the story goes, Michal Mc Fadin, the co-founder of Cubop Records, attempted and failed to acquire the rights to the original recording and failed. As an alternative, he commissioned the making of Cuban Roots Revisited. How did you react when you were approached about a remake of Cuban Roots?

MW: I said a small prayer of thanks. By that time, I had recorded two albums as a flutist, Jazz World Trios, which is still one of my favorite albums. I saw this as a way back into the music. My nephew, Dan Weinstein is responsible for doing the leg-work and getting us hooked up.

TP: As the title implies, you revisited the original concept. How did you approach the new project?

MW: The “revisit” was the material. We did the same songs, except for the Beatles tune and adding the song, Elleguá. Dan orchestrated my trombone solo on Just Another Guajira for three bones (trombones). Otherwise, the concept was very different because Dan was involved. I had written for trombones extensively in the late 60s and 70s. I used the trombones as a choir utilizing the bass trombone to get a broad orchestral sound against which the flute could stand out. Los Angeles has a great folkloric tradition, and Lázaro Gallarraga is one of the most important teachers, along with Francisco Aguabella, which induced the best drummers to participate in the project.

But what made the difference was Omar Sosa. Omar responded immediately to the arrangements, and the two bassists, Carlitos del Puerto, and Eddie Resto followed his lead. I had never heard Omar before, and during a break on the first day when everyone else was eating, Omar and I jammed. That convinced me that I was dealing with a giant and convinced him that my head was as open as his. I consider his playing to be as innovative as Chick’s was on the original album. The difference being that Omar is a master of Cuban music, having studied all aspects of rumba and being deeply immersed in Santeria. His playing is deeply connected with the drums, but he never gets in the way of the drum conversation.

TP: It must have been gratifying to record the material in a state-of-the-art environment.

MW: It’s a good thing we had great equipment and engineers. By the time we finished two days of recording and a half-day fixing parts, we had mixed the whole thing in one of the most intense afternoons of my life. Fortunately, the board was automated, this was before Pro Tools, so, we could mix very efficiently, saving moves on the board in a primitive computer so that we could move quickly from mix to mix and tune to tune. We had everything going for us except for the time and budget. I had to be back in New Jersey to teach, and the budget only paid for three days in the studio.

TP: How do Cuban Roots and Cuban Roots Revisited compare with one another?

MW: Thirty years later, Cuban Roots Revisited reflects a more mature attitude towards composition and a secure relationship with the source material. Everyone had an understanding of the folkloric elements and an, openness to innovation. I was no longer a power player and Cuban Roots Revisited is much more thoughtful. The tempos are slower, and textures are rich and evocative. Omar’s solos are spectacular, and I especially love him on “Ochún.”

TP: What part did Francisco Aguabella play in the making of the album?

MW: When I came to LA a few days before the date, Danny had me meet Francisco at a donut shop over a cup of coffee. I reminded him that we played together with Eddie Palmieri. He remembered playing with me and agreed. Since he was one of the master drummers in the Carnaval in Havana, that gave us the depth we needed. The two comparsas on the date are among the best recordings of Carnaval drums made in the U.S. We recorded with four drummers, then recorded for layers on top. I have to mention John Santos, who ended up playing an essential role in keeping things together through his wonderful gentility and sense of humor.

TP: How was it received?

MW: It got decent airplay and good reviews, but it wasn’t a working band so after the first period of interest it faded into the background.

TP: But you are pleased with results.

MW: Yes, I’m happy with the results. The engineers did a wonderful job, given the time pressures we were under. I’d like to do another album like it; that is an orchestral approach to rumba, but this time with strings. I’m just beginning to move in that direction and hope to get Omar involved. Meanwhile, I’m finishing another project with Omar on marimba and vibes with a balaphone player from the Ivory Coast and African drummers. But that is another free-blowing album.

TP: Final thoughts?

MW: I don’t think the album has reached the audience it deserves, and I’m hoping with my latest album, Algo Más, my work will be seen as a whole. Of course, this interview is evidence that it is already happening.

TP: Yes, it is. Thank you, Mark.

Cuban Roots (1967, Artol)
Cuban Roots Revisited (Japan) (2006, Bomba Records)

Tracks: Malanga, Michelle, Ochosi-Om-Mi, Changó, Ochún, Just Another Guajira, Desengaño de Los Roncos, El Barracón.

Personnel: Mark Weinstein, Arnie Lawrence, Mario Rivera, Chick Corea, Bobby Valentin, Kako, Julito Collazo, Tommy López, Papiro, Papaíto.

Produced by: Al Santiago

Cuban Roots Revisited (1997, Ubiquity Records)

Tracks: Eléggua, Malanga, Mirala Que Linda Viene, Ochosei-Omo-Mi, Just Another Guajira, Changó, Desengaño De Los Roncos, Ochún, El Barracon, Eléggua.

Personnel: Mark Weinstein, Dan Weinstein, Francisco Aguabella, Lazaro Gallarraga, John Santos, José de León, Jr., Humberto “Nengue” Hernandez, Omar Sosa, Carlitos del Puerto, Eddie Resto, Arturo Velasco, Steve Ferguson.

Mark Weinstein Discography as a Leader

Cuban Roots (1967)
Seasoning ( 1996)
Jazz World Trios (1999)
Three Deuces (2000)
Milling Time ( 2002)
Tudo de Bom (2003)
Shifra Tanzt (2003)
Algo Más (2005)
O Nosso Amor (2006)
Cuban Roots (2006
Con Alma (2007)
Straight, No Chaser (2008)
Lua e Sol (2008)
Tales from the Earth (2009)
Timbasa (2010)
Jazz Brasil (2010)
El Cumbanchero (2011)
Todo Corazón: The Tango Album (2013)
Latin Jazz Underground (2014)
In Jerusalem (2015)

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A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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In Conversation with “Drum Poet” Pazcual Villaronga



Pazcual Villaronga

PAZCUAL VILLARONGA was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York. He attended Haaren High School and New York City Community College and graduated from Hunter College, earning a degree in Communications and a Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education. 

Known as the “Drum Poet,” Pazcual recites poetry while accompanying himself on the congas (often joined by other musicians), creating an innovative fusion of poetry and discussion that takes his verses to a new level. 

Pazcual is the recipient of the Golden and Silver Poet Awards in California and placed third in La Canción Bilingüe – The Bilingual Song Competition in Washington, D.C. He has read poetry at Columbia University, Teachers College, Hunter College, Hostos Community College, Manhattan Community College, and Connecticut’s Housatonic Community College. 

His published works include the highly successful “Caracol” (Poems For The Children), “By The Music Inspired,” “Poet,” “Fire From Hell,” “Compendium,” and “Stereotypes and Cycles.” His most recent collection of poems and CD is titled “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens To Fall.” Pazcual’s work has also appeared in “Around the Mulberry Bush – An Anthology,” “Windfall – An Anthology,” and “Fahari.”

Now retired after over three decades of teaching, Pazcual is preparing several collections of poetry and a children’s book and performs with The Lehman College Latin Jazz Ensemble, directed by Victor Rendón. 

Pazcual Villaronga and the New Drum Poets: On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall
Pazcual Villaronga and the New Drum Poets: On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall

TOMÁS PEÑA: Welcome, Pazcual! Tell me about the project. 

PAZCUAL VILLARONGA:  “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” is my salute to the musicians and their creative souls. Also, to the percussive rhythms and melodies, they share with us each and every time they perform. Also, it is my way of sharing with the world, through poetry, how they inspire me and the power and beauty of their musical creations.

TP: Thank you for sharing an advance copy of the book and CD with me and for taking me on a fascinating bilingual literary and aural journey. Before we delve into the project, I’m curious to know what drew you to poetry and the spoken word.

PV: Growing up, I was shy and introverted. Poetry was my way of expressing myself. When I was in high school, my friend Jose showed my writings to a teacher (Dr. Richstone) and the teacher replied, “There are better things you could do with your time.” Undaunted, my friend showed my writings to another teacher (Mary Lamboss), and she said, “You are the Poet Laureate of Harren High School!” Later, I formed the “Drum Poets” and began reciting poetry with percussion and music.

TP: How did the project come about, and why did you choose this title?

PV: It began with Víctor Rendón’s “Fiesta Percusiva” (2008), where I recited the poems “Soy Chicano” and “In the Pocket.” Shortly after, Victor appeared on José “Joe” Massó’s “Con Salsa!,” who played selections from the album on the air. He encouraged me to “make more music like this.” Shortly after, Víctor asked if I was interested in pursuing the project, and I immediately said, “Yes!” Victor Rendón agreed to produce the record with the following conditions: Trust him implicitly and don’t breathe a word about it to anyone until the project is completed. The rest is history!

The title, “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall,” is inspired by trumpeter John Walsh, who composed the song “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall” (the tune appears on Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band’s “Paradise in Trouble”) and whose philosophy is, “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall, musicians must answer the call and give their all.” Walsh’s philosophy resonates with me because it applies to poets and creative souls who must be in the moment when the muse appears.

The New Drum Poets: Paz Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzó, Victor Rendón and Wilson "Chembo" Corniel
The New Drum Poets: Pazcual Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzó, Victor Rendón and Wilson “Chembo” Corniel

TP: The recording contains a collection of your poems set to music: Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, Jazz, and Latin Jazz and features an impressive lineup: Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Louis Bauzo, Yasuya Kimura, Mike Viñas, Amy Quint Millan and José Luis Armengot. Additional guests include Andrea Brachfeld, Henry Brun, Ariel De La Portilla, and Roman Diaz (see below for specifics). Tell me about the poem, “Right Pocket/Left Pocket.”

PV: My mother was concerned about my dad, who drank excessively and played pool at a local social club. She asked me to check on him and bring him home. When I arrived, my father was intoxicated and staggering. Shortly after, a neighborhood hustler and “aprovechao” (exploiter) named Chano challenged my father to a game of pool. My father immediately asked me, “How much money do you have?” And demanded I give it to him. Then, miraculously, he took a breath and straightened up. After that, it was “right pocket, left pocket!” Long story short, my father and I left the social club fifty dollars richer! When Victor and I arranged the tune, he had just acquired a set of “timbalitos” (9-1/4 and 10-and 1/4 timbales), which have a very distinct sound. If you listen closely, you will hear Victor mimic the sound of the cue ball striking the billiards.

TP: Your words conjure up images. I felt like a fly on the wall! I also enjoyed the poem, “El Chembito,” where percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel masterfully accompanies you. 

PV: The poem was born while listening to Chembo’s solo on the tune “Lagos” which appears on Victor Rendon & the Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band’s “True Flight” (2016). I realized that in Chembo’s hands and in the hands of the masters, you feel and hear the connections between past and present and are privy to a glimpse of the future. Chembo has a way of taking you along for the ride as he time travels between rhythms, feelings, and emotions! His hands never falter, and his ideas are always fresh!

TP: The poem, “I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)” talks about a unique experience you shared with trumpeter José Luis Armengot onstage.

PV: Yes, Jose was standing to my right, and he was soloing on the tune “Fragile.” I turned to Jose; he was wearing dark glasses and leaning back like Miles used to, and I saw Miles! At the time, I was not aware that Jose idolized Miles. Later, I read the poem to Jose and I said, “You are Miles!”

TP: Tell me about the poem, “In the Pocket.”

PV: The poem is inspired by Omar Castaños, who said, “Some musicians express themselves and don’t say a lot. But every once in a while, you will find an artist who sits in the pocket, and everything is pushed away. I saw it happen when the masterful Luis Bauzo took a solo at “Gonzalez y Gonzalez” (NYC) in front of a packed house and stopped the room. The poem was born at that moment!

TP: The poems mentioned earlier are examples of what listeners and readers can expect. There is much more to savor! The CD and book will be released on December 1, 2022. Is there a CD Release Party or a live performance in the works? 

PV: We have yet to set a specific date, but, yes, it is in the works. 

TP: “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” will be available at: via, and all the major digital streaming, and download sites (iTunes, Spotify, etc.). Also, readers can listen to and download the CD on Pazcual Villaronga’s Website:

TP: Closing thoughts?

PV: If I have touched you with one word, phrase, or poem, I have done my job as a poet!

TP: Indeed, you have! “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” recalls the writings of the Nuyorican poet and playwright Pedro Pietri, playwright Tato Laviera, activist, journalist, media personality Felipe Luciano, and Latina poet Sandra Maria Estevez, among others. Rarely has the spoken word, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, and Latin Jazz come together as organically and beautifully as it does on this exciting and innovative project. Highly recommended!

The Original Drum Poets: Jorge Alicea, Davis Alicea, Roxanna Rodriguez, Pazcual Villaronga, Ray Alicea, and Omar A. Castaños
The Original Drum Poets: Jorge Alicea, Davis Alicea, Roxanna Rodriguez, Pazcual Villaronga, Ray Alicea, and Omar A. Castaños

1. Drummers Prayer
2. By the Music Inspired
3. In the Pocket
4. What Do You Do?
5. El Chembito
6. How Many of Us Listen?
7. Bongo Habla Otra Vez
8. Que No Se Te Olvides
9. Right Pocket/Left Pocket
10. On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall
11. I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)
12. Alma Jibarita
13. Puerto Rican Trilogy
14. Puerto Rican Trilogy
15. Puerto Rican Trilogy
16. Speak Easy
17. Soul Riffs
18. Entendian Voz
19. Another Night in Tunisia
20. En Las Manos de Los Maestros
21. Afro, Is That You?
22. Now and Then


Pazcual Villaronga – Executive Producer, Poetic Voz, Conga and Shekeré
Víctor Rendón – Producer, Drum Set, Timbales, Pailitas, Shekeré, Batá (Okonkolo), Coro
Wilson “Chembo” Corniel – Congas, Batá (Itótele), Guataca, Coro
Louis Bauzo – Bongos, Congas, Barril (Primo), Batá (Iyá), Bonkó Enchemiyá, Güícharo Puertorriqueño, Coro
Yasuya Kimura – Congas, Bongos, 1st and 2nd Cajón, Maraca, Coro


Michael Viñas– Bass
Amy Quint Millan – Piano, Coro
José Luis Armengot – Trumpet

  • Andrea Brachfeld – Flute
  • Henry Brun – Conga, Shaker
  • Ariel de la Portilla Acoustic Bass
  • Roman Diaz (Batá and Various Percussion)
  • Diego Lopez (Batá and Various Percussion)
  • Allan Molnar First Marimba
  • Yumi Suehiro Second Marimba

LEFT TO RIGHT: Pazcual Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzo, Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel.

  • COMPENDIUM (1991)
  • POETRY (1995)
  • FIRE FROM HELL (2004)
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