Fellé Vega, is a renowned Dominican artist; Dominican percussionist native of Santiago De Los Caballeros who defines himself as an Imaginary Folklorist.
Percussionist, composer, inventor, instrument designer, who over the course of his multi-faceted 25-year career has shared the national and international stage with many notable artists, has participated in numerous jazz festivals around the world and led several musical groups, has served as instructor and lecturer at percussion workshops in addition to being a composer and designer of musical instruments.
This craftsman of rhythms and varied instruments exhibits in his music a strong ethnic fusion that is the result of the African, Spanish and Taino influence ever-present in the Caribbean.
Devoted to finding the sound of life, Fellé has distinguished himself by his experimentation with recyclable materials and everyday objects that have percussive possibilities, such as pails, lids and pots, which he then turns into musical instruments. His use of such materials to create music has earned him on many occasions the title of musical wizard from Dominican music critics.
Fellé currently heads the Monday’s concert series Monday’s Jazz every Monday in Bar Code, is the musical director of the jazz and world music group Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas, and member of the most famous percussion quintet in the country Cuero, Madera y Metal, as well as the music coordinator of the Palafitos Jazz Festival in Moca.
He is the creator and director of motivational percussion workshops offered at public and private schools called Tocando la Vida, (playing the life) and conducts an innovator idea for workshops based on percussion dynamics for corporate human resources department called SonTeam.
Fellé designs and manufactures percussion instruments under his own trademark, Tokit, for which he uses wood and recyclable materials. The percussion instruments called Boombaquin (percussion box), Tata, Gargaritas, Gayumba, Cuadrangarang, and Tambiro are some of his original creations.
At the moment, he is pointing all his energies in commercialize internationally the Boombakini. This instrument was designed by Fellé in the early 1990s and has being played by several Dominican and international musicians around the world. This is the first Dominican instrument that has been patented, something that makes Fellé very proud.
Retreta para el alma, by Felle Vega and La Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas (2005)
Farafina was founded in the early eighties in Burkina Faso. Right from the beginning they were enthusiastically welcomed by their audiences who were fascinated by so much virtuosity.
Their ability to expand their music without denying their traditional instruments has enabled them to experience new forms and record with musicians such as Jon Hassell, the Rolling Stones, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Daniel Lanois, Billy Cobham, and Joji Hirota. They played several times at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and for 72,000 listeners at the famous Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert in the London Wembley Stadium.
Their music interweaves complex and forceful rhythms and is carried by the melodic lines of balafons, flute and koras. The songs are played on traditional instruments while their lyrics deal with present issues of African realities in a critical though hopeful way.
But they stayed faithful to their own track. So while integrating new orchestral forms and melodies, and adding contemporary sounds (guitar and keyboard), the balafons, koras, flute, jembes, tama, and baras still remain the core and hearth of their music. Last but not least, the arrival of a female voice introduces a new color to this up till now male only ensemble.
During their odyssey of 30 years the group naturally faced some changes. Thus, its founder Mahama Konaté left the group in 1991. Others came and went and still others died. New and younger musicians have joined the group. All came in through the so called “Farafina School” which continues the African tradition of having the children, from their youngest ages on, attend the concerts of their elders and trying to repeat the music they hear all day long. In this way an astonishing and remarkable musical continuity is guaranteed.
Farafina creates a subtle music that is sensitive and ardent at the same time. It draws your body and mind into discovering not only the African life but a universal life nourished with rhythms leading all the way to the roots of jazz.
Reinvented by encounters with modernity, Manding influences, the music of Burkina Faso’s neighboring countries, the melodies of the people of Mali, Niger and the legends of Kong and the chants and drums of Ghana and Benin, all contribute to the richness of Farafina’s s work.
* Farafina Live At Montreux Jazz Festival (Artways Productions ART 2929, 1985). Produced by Artways.
* Faso Denou (Realworld CDRW 35, 1993), produced by Billy Cobham & Daniel Lanois
* Nemako (Intuition Music INT 3241-2, 1998), produced by Michel Schaer and Thierry van Roy
* Kanou (Intuition Music/L’Empreinte Digitale ED 13134, 2001), produced by Heinz Dill and Thierry van Roy.
* Flash of the Spirit (Intuition Music & Media INT 3009-2, 1988). Produced by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois. Recorded in New-York after a series of five concerts in Europe together with Jon Hassel
* Beauty (CDVUS 14, 1989) Collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto for the recording of three titles
* Steel Wheels (Rolling Stones Records 4657522, 1989). The Rolling Stones invited Farafina to participate on the recording of the track Continental Drift.
Being a self-styled traditionalist doesn’t mean my musical tastes are so staunch that I shun any sonic adventurousness that steps over traditional boundaries. Cross the line into an over-reliance on gimmickry (which can take the form of too much technology or pop pandering for commercial purposes), and you’ve lost me. Taking chances by mixing traditions or styles in ways that leave musical integrity unscathed? You’ve got my attention.
Aziza Brahim, a Sahrawi woman who was born in an Algerian refugee camp as the war over the Western Sahara region was raging, doesn’t exactly go in for traditional Sahrawi music on Abbar el Hamada (Glitter Beat, 2016). Having lived and studied in Cuba and currently a citizen of Spain, some of her songs have an expected, and very welcome, Iberian and Latin edge. She even sings in Spanish for much of the album, the title of which refers to rocky desert landscapes and subject-wise deals with activist concerns like the ongoing plight of the Sahrawi.
The disc also digs into a measure of the “desert blues” sound that many Saharan musicians have become known for, as well as a few galloping rhythms that suggest a more laid back version of Senegalese m’balax (which has always had its own Latin flavors).
Brahim isn’t as frequent in her use of wailing, undulating tones as a lot singers with Arabic roots tend to be. Her approach is more pensive, but she sharpens her tone when needed, and partly because she also plays the bowl-shaped tbal drum while she sings, her voice fits the grooves as naturally as the grooves themselves, be they acoustic or electric. A stunning release all around.
She’s already a groundbreaker for use of the Swedish nyckelharpa (keyed viola) in the music of her native Spain, and now Ana Alcaide takes things a few steps further with Leyenda- World Music Inspired by Feminine Legends (ARC Music, 2016). Female folkloric characters from various cultures (including Spain, Mexico, China, Scotland and Alcaide’s own imagination) are celebrated in songs that range from lullaby-like softness to ritualistic and pulsating.
Nyckelharpa, baroque guitars and bouzouki are sweetened with other strings, reeds, percussion and celestial production values that surround Alcaide’s gracefully penetrating vocals and construct a pair of instrumentals that seem to tell otherworldly tales without any words at all. This is music that could serve as a soundtrack for any ancient or modern fantasy worth conjuring, or bring about just enough of a dream state to take you blissfully away from reality for a while. Either way, it’s stunning.
Chicha, the Peruvian-originated, organ-tweaked, fuzz guitar-laden psychedelic style of music with similarities to Colombian cumbia and Jamaican dub, continues on its revival path courtesy of Austin-based band Money Chicha. Their debut album Echo En Mexico (Vampisoul, 2016) is an irresistibly throbbing beat fest where unyielding layers of Latin percussion support keyboards, guitars and bass that are as trippy in their wall of sound as they are intertwined in their tightness. And tightness is indeed the key.
The chicha sound is one that must not lag in its skipping rhythms or spot-on melodic mesh that weighs in somewhere between surf rock, alternative Latin, Andean tradition, the ghost of Arsenio Rodriguez and music that simply wouldn’t appeal to polite society in Lima, Bogota or, well, Austin. Money Chicha go their own way by eliminating vocals entirely and giving the tracks a subtle funk push with a little extra breathing room among the instruments, resulting in a disc that satisfies to the frenzied max.
Lovers of African drumming and African music in general will happily tune in to West to West (ARC Music, 2016) by Nii Okai Tagoe. He’s a master of many a drum and percussion instrument affiliated with the Motherland and treads a beaten (beating?) path away from tradition by lacing his danceable pieces with horns, keyboards, violin, harp, bass and guitar.
Some unexpected turns are taken with arrangements as well, such as the blues sway of “3 Monkeys.” Not surprising for a gent who’s played with outfits as diverse as Baka Beyond and African Head Charge. This sort of thing has been done before, but Tagoe certainly does it spot-on.
A very different take on percussion and its relationship to the human voice can be heard on Chiaroscuro (Bent Records, 2016) a collaboration involving Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus. Nexus is a virtuosic percussion ensemble; Prana is a group of singers who all specialize in singing two pitches simultaneously. That dual pitch knack helped inspire Garry Kvistad of Nexus to invent the vistaphone, four octaves worth of chimes gathered into one instrument and the perfect companion to the harmonic series scale of notes that the singers use to achieve their second level of vocal prowess.
The grandiosely-titled tracks on the album (“The Rituals of Dusk,” A Crown of Radiant Fire,” etc.) combine orchestral drums, gongs, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, voices and the debuting vistaphone to create music that I can only describe as equal parts refined and primal, rhythmic and atmospheric, structured and seemingly spontaneous, eerie and comforting, earthy and not of this earth. Repeating patterns of percussion and wordless voices ascend to mesmerizing heights and hover there, exploring in sonic terms the disc’s titular concept of light and dark contrasting yet harmonizing.
The three concluding compositions (including a mind-and-ear-altering Balinese monkey chant) are voices unaccompanied and lose nothing in the absence of their percussive counterparts. So is this disc the pinnacle of traditional music, the complete lack of it or something else altogether? Get it and decide for yourself. And prepare to be spellbound.
I don’t know a great deal about traditional Welsh music and thus can’t say how closely 9Bach adheres to it with their latest release, Anian (Real World, 2016). But I am quite taken with the shimmery emotiveness of singer/pianist/composer/lyricist Lisa Jen’s lead vocals, as well as the sparse yet very sturdy support her bandmates offer on guitar, bass, percussion, harp, hammer dulcimer and harmonies.
While some of the instruments used reportedly stray from tradition, the end result is a perfect fit, with modern production adding a kind of cool mist to softly enveloping music that often has a melancholy, longing feel offset by pure beauty. Anian is one to savor repeatedly.
There’s also a bonus disc, Yn Dy Lais (In Your Voice), that features Welsh-influenced poetry and storytelling rendered in English by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Rhys Ifans. It’s meant to make the nuances of the Welsh language more accessibly artsy and is worth a listen, but the lovely sounds on the first disc are the true reason to get this album.
A world away but still bringing tradition to a different level, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars take music with roots as old as the Louisiana bayou itself and jolt it full of rock, soul, blues, zydeco and funk energy. Gulfstream (Octavia Records, 2016) is a swampy, sultry, swaggering, sizzling slab of deep-south musical gumbo that will delight anyone who loves the celebratory sounds of New Orleans and Lafayette and appreciates the need to cool down for a ballad like the Aaron Neville-ish title track. It’s a party, albeit from the heart.
Richard Bona, the “African Sting,” melds his smooth Cameroonian roots music with the sounds of Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano on Heritage (Qwest Records, 2016). African and Latin musical traditions have been best friends for a long, long time thanks to their shared origins, and Mandekan Cubano’s piano, dual percussion, trumpet and trombone lineup expertly underpins Bona’s joyous salsa-infused numbers and his softer side. Primarily a bassist but adept on numerous instruments, Bona adds unexpected touches like electric sitar to the range of Afro-Latin delights that comprise a very fine release.
Brazilian music, a familiar world staple for decades, has more recently been fused with electronica to degrees that some traditionalists have accepted and others rejected. Put me in the former category. It’s telling that Luisa Maita waited six years since her first album to put out a followup; perhaps she wanted to see how the Brazilian/electronica scene would play out in the interim. Her sophomore release Fio da Memoria (Cumbancha, 2016) has the breathy, sensual feel that’s nearly a given when it comes to female Brazilian singers, and the tunes roll out on a foundation of grooves rooted in samba, even if they’re not always rendered on organic instruments.
Maita’s steamy sentiments translate well, as the sung-in-English “Around You” demonstrates, and she’s got some stories of substance to tell, like “Na Asa,” a musical tale of dreams realized. Fio da Memoria is a keeper for sure, but Maita’s vocal mix of subtle and searing would benefit even more from backing that likewise balances real and electronic sounds equally.
If you need a reminder of how well traditional Ethiopian music meshes with jazz, The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network, 2016) will handily serve. Trailblazer Mulatu Astatke kicks off with the horn-heavy proclaiming of “Gamo” and things jump ever further back into the Swinging Addis feel of the 60s and 70s from there.
While at only 9 tracks the collection can’t cover the whole spectrum, what you get is choice. Serpentine instrumentals are the bulk of it, including NYC’s Budos Band providing impressive overseas translation of the sound, but the soulful vocal thrills of Tlahoun Gessesse and Gabriella Ghermandi show just how large a role male and female voices also played (and play) on the scene. A superb sampler.
Award-winning Cuban jazz master is set to perform on Friday, September 16 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This concert is part of the Global Fridays series.
Prieto’s innovative drumming techniques and compositions have had powerful effect on the global Latin and jazz scene. Also a gifted educator, Prieto has worked with bands led by Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman and Eddie Palmieri, among others.
The spectacular rhythms of The Drummers of Burundi have been cited as inspirational to rock and folk musicians The Clash, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez & Malcolm McLaren. Yet, these master drummers, from Burundi (the small African country between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania) almost at the very heart of Africa, rarely travel abroad or tour and the making and playing of these drums remains a privilege that can only be handed down from father to son.
The drums are made from a tree that grows only in Burundi, and the Drummers plant the seeds of the trees to maintain their drum-making skills for future generations.
Originally, The Drummers of Burundi accompanied the King on his travels; today they play at local festivities, national events and are considered by the Rundi (the inhabitants of Burundi) to be the most important representatives of the country’s musical tradition.
Live in concert the Drummers of Burundi are a fascinating show of music and dance. Full of energy, grace and pure athleticism, the 12-strong troupe, traditionally dressed in colorful robes, perform compelling rhythms and complex syncopations while leaping, dancing, singing, or even fighting imaginary enemies over their drums
Francisco Aguabella was one of the greatest Latin drummers. He was a conga and bata master, a Latin Jazz orchestra leader, and composer. Francisco was born on October 10th, 1925 in Matanzas, Cuba and passed away on May 7th, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
Francisco composed many pieces and eyes and ears were always open to his tunes. ‘El Agua Limpia Todo and ‘Complicacion’ were composed by him and recorded and performed by the Tito Puente Orchestra. The dance halls from New York City to the West Coast went crazy. This was the mambo era after the war, a magnificent time and reason for all the races to unite, whites, blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians, all who wanted to learn the new dance steps to the mambo, cha cha cha and the rumba (as in Walter Winchell rumba not Afro-Cuban folkloric rumba).
Tito Puente made the world go crazy with Francisco’s tunes. One of these, ‘Marchando Bien’ was recorded on Tito Puente’s last CD that featured Eddie Palmieri, and was sung by the late Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodriguez.
At times, I would be at a restaurant, eating with Francisco and he would hum a few bars of a tune and chuckle, saying “Listen, this is something I composed and Eddie Palmieri is interested in it”.
Francisco resided in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, making recordings, performing with the Latin rock group Malo; Carlos Santana; and Tito Puente. He was the musical director to Cesar’s All Star band nightly at Cesar’s Palace, a nightclub owned by pianist Cesar Arscarrunz. Francisco was always performing with his own Latin Jazz orchestra and traveled at night to play a bata drum ceremony in Los Angeles the next day without resting. Francisco traveled back and forth to New York City to play with Eddie Palmieri, to participate in recordings and to perform with various other Latin orchestras. In his later years, Francisco returned to Los Angeles.
Francisco had a knack in finding young new talent, such as the late vibe player, composer and bongosero Nerio Degracia. Nerio wrote compositions and performed with Francisco and in his later years had his own Latin Jazz band.
Composition by Nerio De Gracia, Image of a Star:
The first Latin female pianist in San Francisco, Patricia Thumas performed with Francisco Aguabella while Armando Peraza was in his orchestra.
Conga drummer and batalero master, Virgilio Figueroa, colleague, friend and apprentice with Francisco Aguabella says about Francisco:
“I first met personally Francisco Aguabella in 1972 in Los Angeles through Julito Collazo, who was my bata teacher and friend in New York City at a bembe toque at Bebo Ochun ocha house, when I was 15 years old at the time. I relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 and became Francisco’s personal friends till his passing 5 years ago.
I became a full member of his traditional Afro Matanzero folk group in 1980. Francisco was living in the city of San Francisco at the time. In 1982 I became a Lukumi priest and traveled to Cuba in 1983 to expand my knowledge of the Lukumi religion and ceremonial bata drumming in the city of Mantanzas (Cuba). In turn, I met my padrino (godfather) Alfredo Cano Calvo (deceased) who also happened to be Francisco’s sister Librada Aguabella’s godfather.
I met all of Aguabella’s blood relatives and became the bridge between them. In 1983 I decided to bring from Matanzas Cuba the first consecrated full set of añan bata to Los Angeles and recruited Aguabella to move here to Los Angeles from San Francisco and teach us how to play Matanzero style since he was the only one in the USA that new how to play in that manner. Tony Rosa, Mike Orta and myself were his only students at that time.
What impressed me to most about Francisco Urrutia Aguabella was his commitment in preserving the traditional Matanzero añan style of playing which he learned at the tender age of 15 by master oluaña Carlos Alfonso and the power he had when he played never got tired and demanded the same from his players.
Personally, I learned with him many other style of drumming such as olukun, iyesa, bricamo, bembe, arara and bakoso, styles that are no longer played in Matanzas today.
Francisco was a time capsule from the 40s and 50s.The main thing I miss about him is his sincerity and honesty and overall loyal friendship. Francisco did not befriend many people, but he made friends with me, and gave much needed advice growing up as a young man. For me, besides a friend and teacher he will always remain my Afro-Matanzero legend the one and only.”
Francisco Aguabella had few personal apprentices some who have reached legendary status due to their contributions in music:
John Santos, 5 time Grammy nominee and musical director of many charanga orchestras and Afro-Cuban folkloric groups throughout the decades. He’s a bata, instructor and clinician and a Latin music historian and musicologist.
Michael Spiro, music professor at University of Indiana, clinician, instructor, musician, and bata and Brazilian percussion master.
Tony Rosas, conguero, bata master, and musician currently based in New York City, performing with Conjunto Libre and Conjunto Folklorico Nuevorriqueño and other Latin orchestras;
Virgilio Figueroa, bata master, conguero, performing musician with other Latin orchestras in the Los Angeles area, with his tireless contributions to the Los Angeles, Nevada and other communities with his sacred añan drum group;
And me, Les Moncada, musician; former Latin orchestra leader & Afro-Cuban folkloric drum group leader; bata performer in clinics with Francisco Aguabella; founder of Latin Drumming Educational site on Facebook: Timbales and Congas Bongo Bata and Bells and 8 other Latin instrument sites on Facebook, and writer for World Music Central.
Francisco left us history in his recordings, especially his Afro-Cuban folkloric recordings. Additionally, Francisco contributed a great deal of folkloric knowledge to the Afro-Cuban recordings of Ramon Mongo Santamaria.
Rounder Records has reissued the album Master Drummers of Dagbon, V. 1 by Alhaji Ibrahim Abdulai & the Master Drummers of Dagbon. The reissue is part of Rounder’s back catalog world music albums released for digital distribution.
Musicologist and author John Miller Chernoff, who made these recordings in Northern Ghana, writes, “There are heavy spiritual repercussions when masters of drumming express themselves in a tradition of artistic genius. The singing of the drums resembles the breathing of the wind, and when the sound of the drumming dies, it moves away like exhaled breath. The bass drums vibrate inside the earth.”