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Q&A with David Sánchez about his album CARIB

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David Sánchez

As a follow up to our Carib album review we present a Q&A with David Sánchez expanding on some topics around this wonderful project, which is already garnering attention and critical acclaim from writers, cultural journalists and followers in general.

DN: The concept of Caribeanness and cultural identity has always been present in your music and on this album you’ve been inspired by melodies and rhythms coming from the Afro Puerto Rican and Haitian tradition, finding deep connections and similarities between them. Tell me about this experience.

DS: It has been a fascinating experience and I’ve learnt so much. I’ve always felt the connection between the African diaspora musical traditions which others often view as totally different genres. But when I go further back in history and get tuned in with the folk elements within the music, it still amazes me how clearly connected we are.

Carib is for you a deeply personal journey, in which you honor the memory of your father, Dimas and especially of your late wife Karla. At the same time you pay tribute to all Afro descendant communities who have helped define your music. Please share your thoughts about this journey.

This amazing journey has been very emotional, regarding my attempt to pay tribute to my father and wife. At the same time, it has been filled with excitement, intrigue and spiritual vibrations that have touched me in so many unexpected ways. It was inspiring listening to both, Puerto Rico and Haiti’s rhythms and following the music’s flow.

Carib is what I call a recording of epic proportions. It is the product of extensive research, with a very definite theme, a modern suite based on tradition, history, cultural identity. It’s being released at a very important time in human history. Can you expand on this topic?

I’m in total agreement when you say that “it has been released at an important time in our history”. We live in an era filled with a lot of available information and tools to stay connected, but sadly we will probably go down in history as the most uninformed by choice. This is an era in which media dictates the lightning fast pace of information that we are unable to retain because of its mass and speed. Tomorrow all is forgotten, and, therefore, we often end up in the same place.

Listening to Carib from beginning to end, I could sense an almost cinematic feel in some of the compositions. Later on I read that the compositions “Fernando’s Theme” and “Canto” are featured in the soundtrack of the film “Windows on the World” by Robert Mailer Anderson. Did you write them specifically for the movie?

The song “Fernando’s Theme” was specifically written for the “Windows on the World” soundtrack. Canto was written a little before, but was a prelude and the threshold to the album’s connection with the film. Ultimately both carrying a similar message – the struggles of the oppressed and our struggles attempting to connect with one another.

David Sánchez
Jazz saxophonist David Sánchez
Can you share the inner stories of some of the other songs in the album, like Madriga, The Land of Hills, Iwa (Contemplation and Spirit go back home).

“Madigra” as well as ” The Land of Hills” both have been inspired by the Carnival from Loiza, also called Fiestas De Santiago in Puerto Rico and Band “Madigra” (Mardi Gras in creole) street music festivities in Haiti. They celebrate the idiosyncrasies, disappointments, happiness and hopes of the countries, but each is a narrative story on people’s daily lives. Ultimately, these songs bring people’s own stories to the forefront. “Iwa”, both of them are about my experience facing the truth of mortality.

Let’s talk about the band you put together for this project. Luis Perdomo, Ricky Rodríguez, Obed Calvaire, Lage Lund, Markus Schwartz and Jhan Lee Aponte.

This particular band is truly amazing. Not only because of each individual’s incredible skills, but because of their ability to adjust to any given situation. It all comes down to our ability to listen even when we might have a different perspective, that’s what often keeps the communication channels open.

You are a dedicated educator. Tell me about that very important aspect of your professional development.

I’ve been teaching for some time now. At first, I started doing master classes and short residencies. The longest one was at the Conservatory of Puerto Rico, for almost ten years. I think is important to share with the next generation my three decades of experience as an artist. It is fulfilling being able to help students develop, and also fascinating to witness their development as they strive to find their own voices and tell their own stories.

David Sánchez
GRAMMY® award-winner David Sánchez

I’m the artist in residence at Georgia State University, a new full time position which started on August 2018. I’m very excited about this position because in the 2019 Fall, I’ll be starting my own composition course, along with a contemporary Pan African ensemble.

We’re living a time of redefinition of old concepts and ideas; it is sort of a new revolution in all aspects of the human experience. We keep fighting for freedom, justice, equality, diversity, plurality and acceptance. We keep fighting against racism, male dominance, sexual abuse. Your mission is “to make others feel good through art”, and you “see, music as the prayer through which the world heals itself”. Can you expand on this mission?

Music definitely heals the soul and even can help us physically as well. The act of listening brings a state of mind in which we can truly relate as humans in a very fundamental way. When we’re really listening, we become part of the music and in that process, we are letting go of our egos.

With Carib you are adding your voice -a very important one- to a chorus of musicians who have released projects exploring the interconnectedness of the Afro-Caribbean traditions and cultures. Elio Villafranca (Caribbean Tinge, Cinque) and Etienne Charles (Carnival – The Sound of a People Vol. 1) Come to mind. Do you feel this is your finest project to date?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell because I feel like past albums, especially “Melaza,” “Coral,” even “Cultural Survival,” to name a few, are very much connected and in some ways “Carib” embodies the story contained in some of those albums. The difference is that I’m not necessarily approaching it as an Afro Caribbean project, but more like a Pan African group with influences from the diaspora through the Americas, and focusing on the lineage they all share.

Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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Interviews

In Conversation with “Drum Poet” Pazcual Villaronga

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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: http://amazon.com via https://cdbaby.com, 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: http://conceptovillapaz.com.

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
TRACKS

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

THE NEW DRUM POETS

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

SPECIAL GUESTS

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

ADDITIONAL GUESTS
  • 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
FEATURED PHOTO

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

POETRY BY PAZCUAL VILLARONGA
  • COMPENDIUM (1991)
  • POETRY (1995)
  • BY THE MUSIC INSPIRED (2002)
  • FIRE FROM HELL (2004)
  • CARACOL – P0EMS FOR CHILDREN (2009)
  • ON WHATEVER DAY SATURDAY HAPPENS TO FALL (2022)
ARTIST WEBSITE
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