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Drum Party in Havana

Drum Party in Havana

Posted by Leyden Figueredo on March 28, 2014

Historically, Cuba has enjoyed the privilege of having outstanding musicians. Many instrumentalists are world-wide famous due to their virtuosity and their unique seal. Cuban percussionists are a very important factor in this seal that characterizes and impregnates Cuban music, easily distinguishable all around the globe.

Cuban percussion feeds the rhythms of American music, latin salsa, modern international rock and even symphonic drums in traditional concerts. Cuba is recognized everywhere as a 'drum potency' whose History goes back to the indigenous and and their Mayohuacán drums.

Guillermo Barreto (1929 - 1992) or ''Pata de Loro'' (Parrot's Leg) as he was known for his peculiar way of walking - by giving short steps-, was, so to speak, a brilliant musician. His cousin, Bebo Valdés, was immersed in the creation of his new rhythm, Batanga, when Barreto started to engage with percussion in the orchestra of maestro Obdulio Morales.

Barreto became an extraordinary percussionist, one of the best of all times. He stood out as one of the greatest Cuban drummers developing an extremely rich musical career. Armando Romeu - flautist, saxophonist, orchestrator, orchestra conductor and master of several Cuban jazz-men - expressed himself about Barreto's qualities as a percussionist:

''Not everything is studied in books when it comes to percussion. And he has a privileged musical ear. He's an excellent part reader and he understands anything at first sight. I have conducted orchestras for more than fifty years and it's not easy to find a percussionist of his stature. One of his greatest values is rhythmic stability. Since he knows how to work with big orchestras, he completely backups the metal sections. For example, generally in jazz arrangements, trumpets are high-pitched and if there is no percussionist to back them up behind with the same strength, imbalances come up. That doesn't happen with Barreto''.

In his youth Barreto worked in cabarets such as the Tropicana or the Sans Souci, where he shared the stage with Nat King Cole and Johnny Richards. Despite the contact with the American school, the drummer called himself ''the guardian of the Cuban clef''.

In 1958, with Frank Emilio Flynn, he founded the Quinteto de Música Moderna (Quintet of Modern Music) that would then become 'Los Amigos'. To the new generations, the incursion of 'Los Amigos' in that alive and invaluable museum's work, the film ''Nosotros la Música'' (We are the Music!), by Rogelio París, was a discovery.

Tato Güines would go for the congas; Frank Emilio for the piano and Barreto for the kettledrums. Orlando (Cachaito) López and Orlando Hernández were in the double bass; Jesús O'Farrill was in the flaut, Helio Valdés in the violin, Roberto García in the bongos; in minor percussion were Gustavo Tamayo and Ricardo Pérez (guiro).

But Barreto would dazzle with his solemn and virtuous drum-sticking, highlighted in the solos but also as a support.

Without ever leaving 'Los Amigos' he was one of the founders of the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music with Cucho Valdés, Enrique Plá, Paquito de Rivera, Carlos del Puerto y Carlos Emilio Morales. The 'duels' between Plá and Barreto were anthological. This Orchestra refreshed the musical panorama of the island, full of rhythms (Mozambique, Pilón, Pa'ca, Simalé, Dengue) and took to the spotlight young musicians that would later become great themselves.

Barreto followed his path and produced the albums 'Aché' and 'Aché II' of his long-life partner, Merceditas Valdés. In August 1992 he suddenly died due to a heart condition. Shortly before his demise, he had assisted to the mixing of the album 'The Spirits of Havana', by Canadian Jean Bunnet.

Every year, in the onset of March, the beating of drums arrives in Cuba, announcing the start of a sacred ceremony for the islands' percussionists: ''The Guillermo Barreto In Memoriam Drum Party'', sponsored by the drummer Giraldo Piloto Barreto, conductor of the Cuban orchestra Klimax and nephew to Guillermo Barreto.

Every year this event gathers a significant number of percussionists from the island and many professionals and amateurs from around the globe, who come together to celebrate drumming as a symbol of union, party and devotion.

This year, the ''International Festival Guillermo Barreto In Memoriam Drum Party'' known world-wide as ''Havana Rhythm and Dance Festival'' was visited by 1600 foreign and national artists.

Aldo Mazza, from Canada, Takafumi Nikaido from Japan and the stunning Swiss-American drummer Jojo Mayer - who was part of the event for his very first time- participated in the celebration.

The meeting keeps its spaces, that are very well accepted by both, public and participants, such as master classes, dance music and jazz. For the first time, there was even an international casino dancing contest.

Many concerts were included, among which The Karl Marx Theatre one, for the 50 years commemoration of EGREM Record Company with the presence of Buena Vista Social Club, Yoruba Andabo, Manolito Simonet and his Trabuco, Havana D'Primera, Klimax and the Santiago Alonso's dance company stand out.

The ''The Guillermo Barreto In Memoriam Drum Party'' is the instant when current percussion unites dancing indissolubly, from their genesis, and march through the same path while they offer a very wide idea of the ancestral, Spanish and African cultural tradition.

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