American drummer and Latin Jazz timbalero Ramon Banda died May 30, 2019.
Ramon Banda was born and grew up in Norwalk, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. He was a well-known timbales master and jazz drummer. He and his brother, bassist Tony Banda, started out playing as teens with conga maestro Poncho Sanchez.
Ramon performed, recorded and toured with Poncho Sanchez for many years. He later joined Jose Rizo’s Band Mongorama, a tribute to Mongo Santamaria. He also performed with Joey DeFranceso and Bill Cunliffe. Ramon participated in over 250 recordings, including several Grammy winning albums.
Ramon was also a chekere maker.
“Ramon Banda was a legendary timbalero,” says percussionist and band leader Les Moncada. “I was performing with my Latin Jazz Orchestra and as guests, Ramon on my right, Poncho on timbales in front of us and myself, Les Moncada on timbales. All of us performing and soloing Tito Puente‘s composition ‘Ran Kan Kan’. I can only say competition-wise, Ramon went on timbales from 0 to 100 mph in a second, I was more than amazed.”
Les continues: “He visited me at my home, with the guys, Tony, Poncho, Sal, Papo Rodriguez. My orchestra opened for Poncho on several occasions and Ramon, Poncho, Tony and Sal Carrachiolo, we would perform together.
Ramon and the guys would come as guests with my orchestra. I did a clinic with Ramon, Poncho and Tony in San Diego, California many moons ago. He and Poncho and the guys, including David Romero, would frequent my late conguero friend Raul Garcia’s house and stay up all night talking about Latin music.
My son Marco and I would speak to Ramon about gourds and chekeres and I believe Ramon has some chekeres submitted to the Smithsonian Institute.
He used to tune my timbales for me, when he was around and we would talk about how we both idolized timbalero Manny Oquendo.
Ramon told me that the first time he met Manny Oquendo, he kissed his hands out of respect for Manny Oquendo and his timbales playing style.
Ramon Banda will be missed dearly, a maestro for timbales students worldwide for generations to come. He was a young guy in Norwalk, California that had the drive to play drum set and timbales, went on to assist in winning Grammys and performed and recorded with the late Cal Tjader.”
Louie Romero has performed and recorded with the greats, as a youth living in New York City as timbales player for trombonist Willie Colon and with the late vocal legend Hector Lavoe.
Louie Romero’s brother percussionists in the Willie Colon Orchestra were José Mangual Jr. on bongo and the late Milton Cardona on congas, the most feared percussion section in New York City and the world, besides the earlier Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.
Louie Romero, now living in San Francisco, California, is still making his timbales smoke. He is a true timbales music lesson for the young players and for those fortunate enough to meet him.
Let’s see what Louie Romero has to say about his legendary timbales career.
Louie, tell us a little about your background, where you were born and raised, your parents’ ancestry.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York of Puerto Rican descent.
When did you first hear Latin music?
In my mom’s womb.
How old were you when you started playing timbales? Could tell us what led up to you choosing timbales as your main instrument. Did you play any other instruments?
Watching my Pop playing drum set and timbales. No other instruments except percussion.
Louie, how did you start to play with Willie Colon? Can you tell us a little about your association with Willie, Hector and Jose Mangual Jr and Milton Cardona?
I was at the Broadway Casino in Manhattan when Willie approached me and asked me to join. With Willie Colon and Héctor Lavoe, it was mostly business. With Jose Mangual Jr. and Milton Cardona, that was really good connect.
Louie, what are you presently doing music wise in San Francisco, California?
Edwin Bonilla was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and transplanted to Elizabeth, New Jersey, at the age of four. Aside from the Puerto Rican “jibaro,” or countryside music, his parents often played at home, he listened to Motown, R&B, and rock during his preteen years. By the time he was 11 years of age, Edwin began to pay more attention to the music of New York figures such as Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón and the rest of the emerging Salsa groups. The process of self-learning timbales started at 13 years of age. Within a year, he was already playing professionally with a trio that mostly played “jibaro” music in Elizabeth, which eventually led to work with Salsa bands.
At 15 years of age Edwin started playing with a local band called Orquesta Sonica that featured two youngsters who are well know today, Jimmy Bosch on trombone and Herman Oliveras on vocals. While playing with several groups, Edwin studied at the Drummers Collective in New York.
In 1981, he joined the Charanga Casino that was extremely popular throughout America’s Northeast and Miami during the early 1980’s. The experiences in the Charanga Casino led to further learning of Cuban music as he was exposed to Afro-Cuban rhythms early on during the frequent. By then, Edwin was into Cuban septets, traditional and “tipico” ensembles.
While performing with the Charanga Casino, he caught the eye of Hansel Martinez who invited him to join him and Raul, whereupon Edwin moved to Miami in 1987.
As a percussionist, Edwin is familiar with rhythmic patterns from all over the world. His professional experiences include performances and recordings in Jazz, Rock, Soca, Pop, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Indian and Brazilian music. He has participated in more than 1000 recordings during the last 12 years. He has done work for videos, movie scores and jingles. In 1999, “Edwin y su Son” was his first solo release. In March 2002 Edwin released “Soy la Candela.”
He has one of the most impressive resumes in the music industry. He has worked for such distinguished and popular figures as Lenny Kravitz, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, N’Sync, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Madonna, Dave Grusin, Gloria Estefan, Patty Labelle, Quincy Jones, Nestor Torres, Giovanni Hidalgo, Gypsy Kings and Stevie Wonder among a host of others.
Tito Puente was born Ernest Anthony Puente, Jr. on April 20, 1923 in New York City. His parents had just arrived from their native Puerto Rico and young Tito was nurtured in East Harlem’s “El Barrio” neighborhood that served as a cultural crossroads for Hispanic youth.
Surrounded by the urban sophistication of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, Puente and his friends were none-the-less strongly influenced by an island culture that maintained its love of tropical music and the mother tongue.
Puente’s father, Ernest Sr., was a foreman in a razor blade factory. His mother called her son “Ernestito”, Little Ernest, then shortened the name to Tito. “Ernestito” grew up with one ear tuned to boleros and rumbas while the other one strained to hear the great swing bands of the day and an emerging jazz tradition.
Puente’s mother noticed his musical talent and enrolled him in a piano class at 7. He studied drums for years before switching to timbales. His musical education began with twenty five cent piano lessons, followed by a study of the drum set.
Singing with a local barbershop quartet followed, as did dancing lessons. With his younger sister Anna, Puente performed in a child song and dance team in the early 1930’s. “I pride myself on being one of the few band leaders who really knows how to dance,” he said. The background in dance cemented his sense of rhythm. It also encouraged the development of the extroverted personality and flamboyant stage presence, for which he would soon be known, traits that helped lift him from the ranks of sidemen to star status by the late 1940s.
It was clear from an early age that percussion would become Puente’s dominant form of musical communication. He learned the basics from the Afro-Cuban drummer of a band called Los Happy Boys. His first big break came when the United States of America entered World War II and the regular drummer of Machito’s famous big band was drafted into military service, allowing Puente to take his place.
Tito’s skill and technical competency paid off right away. For perhaps the first time in Latin music history, the timbales were brought to the front of the bandstand, and Puente played the drums standing, not seated, as it had been the custom. That simple change of routine liberated the rhythm section and opened the door for the flashy style of performance that in time would become the norm.
Puente spent three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He returned to Manhattan (New York City) and studied conducting, orchestration and theory at the famous Julliard School of Music from 1945 to 1947 thanks to the G.I. Bill (a bill that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans, who were referred to as GIs).
Prolific as he was famous, Tito Puente’s hit records and compositions became classic gems to Latin music aficionados. ‘Oye Como Va’ and ‘Para Los Rumberos’ have been recorded by the rock music legend, Carlos Santana. His albums Top Percussion, Dance Mania, Puente in Percussion, Cuban Carnival, El Rey and El Número Cien are essentials on any collectors list.
Throughout his illustrious career Tito Puente was awarded 5 Grammies as well as 8 nominations. In addition, Puente received a Presidential Commendation for his tour of duty in World War II, the Eubie Blake Award from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the ASCAP Founders Award and the Washington D.C.’s Hispanic Heritage Committee Award for the Arts.
Puente had the honor of performing for 4 Presidents of the United States and countless foreign heads of state. In July 1996, Tito performed before the largest gathering in history of the International Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
Puente has a “Star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and four honorary doctorate degrees, one from each of the following: State University of New York at Old Westbury, Long Island University, Bloomfield College in New Jersey and Hunter College in New York City. The Caribbean division of the United States Postal Service put out a cancellation stamp in honor of Puente in response to requests made by the Unión De Músicos De Puerto Rico.
The Smithsonian National Museum presented Tito Puente with the Medal of Honor and their Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony entitled “Oye Como Va” on October 9, 1996. During this ceremony, Tito donated the timbal he used at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta to the museum. His instrument is displayed with their collection of Cultural History.
On September 29, 1997, Puente was awarded the Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment For The Arts of the United States of America. This ceremony took place at the White House where President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton presented this prestigious award to the “King of Latin Music.” Jane Alexander, Chairperson of the National Endowment For The Arts, said: “The individuals we honor today, have enlightened us with their vision. They have uplifted us with their art, music, dance, and theater, and strengthened America with their extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
On November 20, 1997 Tito Puente was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. Among the elite inducted during the ceremony were: Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and Anita O’Day.
To the general public, Tito Puente was well known for his various television and motion picture appearances. He was featured on television programs like: The Bill Cosby Show, The Simpsons, The Late Show with David Letterman, New York Undercover and Sesame Street. He also appeared in the feature film based on the award winning novel by Oscar Hijuelos, “The Mambo Kings” and in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.”
After reaching his 50 year career milestone, which was rewarded with proclamations from New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Giulianni and Borough President Ruth Messinger, and achieving an endless list of recognitions and awards, Tito Puente showed no signs of creative fatigue.
Puente’s last concert appearance was in Puerto Rico, on April 29, 2000, completing the last of his series of performances with Puerto Rico’s Orquesta Sinfónica. After finishing that show, he was rushed to a nearby hospital due to breathing problems. Puente left the hospital and returned to New York to continue his treatment. He died May 31st, 2000.
* Abaniquito (1949)
* El Timbral (1949)
* The Best of Tito Puente: El Rey del Timbal! (1949)
* Babarabatiri (1951)
* Mamborama! (Tico LP-1001, 1955)
* Goza Mi Cha Cha Cha (1955)
* Dance the Cha Cha Cha (1955)
* Cuban Carnival (1955)
* Cha Cha Cha, Vol. 3 (1955)
* Puente in Percussion (1956)
* Puente Goes Jazz (1956)
* Top Percussion (RCA Victor LSP-1617, 1957)
* Night Beat (1957)
* with Puente (1957)
* Basic Cha Cha Cha (1957)
* Tito Puente Swings/Vicentico Valdes Sings (1958)
* Puente’s Beat/Herman’s Heat (1958)
* New Cha Cha/Mambo Herd (1958)
* Dance Mania, Vol. 1 (RCA, 1958)
* Cha Cha Cha at the El Morocco (Tico, 1958)
* Puente in Love (1959)
* Mucho Cha Cha (RCA Victor LSP-2113, 1959)
* Mambo with Me (Tico LP-1003, 1959)
* Dancing Under Latin Skies (RCA Victor LSP-1874, 1959)
* Tambo (1960)
* Revolving Bandstand (1960)
* The Exciting Tito Puente Band in Hollywood(1961)
* Pachanga con Puente (1961)
* Dance Mania, Vol. 2 (1961)
* Vaya Puente (1962)
* Tito Puente y Parece Bobo (1963)
* Tito Puente Bailables (1963)
* More Dance Mania (1963)
* In Puerto Rico (1963)
* Excitante Ritmos (1963)
* El Rey Bravo (1963)
* Mucho Puente (RCA Victor LSP-1479, 1964)
* Latin World of Tito Puente (1964)
* El Mundo Latino de Tito Puente (1964)
* De Mi Para Ti (1964)
* Tú Y Yo (1965)
* Tito Puente Swings/The Exciting Lupe Sings (1965)
* The Best of Tito Puente (RCA, 1965)
* Homenaje a Rafael Hernandez (1965)
* My Fair Lady Goes Latin (Roulette 25726 , 1965)
* Combinacion Perfecta (1966)
* Carnaval en Harlem (1966)
* Cuba y Puerto Rico Son (1966)
* What Now My Love (1967)
* El Rey y Yo (1967)
* 20th Anniversary (1967)
* The King (El Rey) (1968)
* Etc, Etc, Etc (1969)
* Tito Swings, The Exciting Lupe Sings (Tico, 1969)
* Tito Puente en el Puente (On the Bridge) (1969)
* Ti Mon Bo (1969)
* Quimbo Quimbumbia (1969)
* Mambos by Tito (Palladium PLP 121, 1969)
* Lo Mejor de Tito Puente (1969)
* Bossa Nova (Roulette 25193, 1969)
* Pa’lante! (1970)
* Presenta a Noraida (1971)
* En España (1971)
* Tito Puente and His Concert Orchestra (1972)
* Algo Especial Para Recordar (1972)
* Para Los Rumberos (1972)
* Grandes Exitos de Tito Puente (1975)
* Los Originales (1976)
* La Pareja (1978)
* Homenaje a Beny Moré (1978)
* The Legend (Tico, 1978)
* Homenaje a Beny, Vol. 2 (1979)
* Ce’ Magnifique (1981)
* The Concord Jazz Heritage Series (1982)
* Oye Como Va: The Dance Collection (1982)
* On Broadway (Concord Picante, 1982)
* Puente Now! The Exciting Tito Puente Band (1984)
* El Rey (1984)
* Mambo Diablo (1985)
* Hits Candentes (1985)
* Un Poco Loco (Concord Picante, 1987)
* Sensacion (1987)
* Salsa Meets Jazz (Concord Picante, 1988)
* Goza Mi Timbal (Jazzyvisions, 1989)
* Out of This World (1990)
* The Mambo King: His 100th Album (1991)
* Mambo of the Times (1991)
* The Best of Tito Puente, Vol. 1 (1992)
* No Hay Mejor (1992)
* Lo Mejor de 12 Exitos (1992)
* Live at the Village Gate (1992)
* Dance Mania 80’s (1992)
* Cuando Suenan Los Tambores (1992)
* Royal ‘T’ (1993)
* Nuevo Mambo (1993)
* Night Beat/Mucho Puente Plus (1993)
* More Spanish Songs That Mama Never Taught Me… (1993)
* Master Timbalero (1993)
* Mambo Gozon (1993)
* Blue Gardenia (1993)
* Top Percussion/Dance Mania (1994)
* Tito Puente’s Golden Latin Jazz All Stars (1994)
* Barbarabatiri (1994)
* The Best of Dance Mania (1994)
* Mambo Y Cha Cha Cha (1994)
* Mambo Beat: The Progressive Side of Tito… (1994)
* Cubarama (1994)
* 3 Grandes Orquestas E Interpretes de La… (1994)
* Yambeque: The Progressive Side of Tito Puente (1995)
* Tito’s Idea (1995)
* The Complete RCA Victor Revolving Bandstand… (1995)
* Tea for Two (1995)
* More Mambos on Broadway (1995)
* Mambos with Puente (1949-51) (1995)
* Mambo Mococo (1949-51) (1995)
* Jazzin (1995)
* Fiesta Con Puente (1995)
* Fania Legends of Salsa Collection, Vol. 3 (1995)
* 20 Mambos/Take Five (1995)
* The Very Best of Tito Puente & Vincentico.. (1996)
* Special Delivery (1996)
* El Rey del Timbal (1996)
* El Rey de la Salsa (1996)
* Cha Cha Chá: Live at Grossinger’s (RCA Victor LSP-2187, 1996)
* Jazz Latino, Vol. 4 (1997)
* Greatest Hits (1997)
* Percussion’s King (1997)
* Selection of Mambo & Cha Cha Cha (1997)
* 50 Years of Swing (1997)
* Tito Meets Machito: Mambo Kings (1997)
* Cha Cha Cha Rumba Beguine (1998)
* Dance Mania ’98: Live at Birdland (1998)
* The Very Best of Tito Puente (1998)
* Timbalero Tropical (1998)
* Yambeque (1998)
* Absolute Best (1999)
* Carnival (1999)
* Colección original (1999)
* Golden Latin Jazz All Stars: In Session (1999)
* Latin Flight (1999)
* Latin Kings (1999)
* Lo mejor de lo mejor (1999)
* Mambo Birdland (RMM, 1999)
* Rey (2000)
* His Vibes & Orchestra (2000)
* Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
* Homenaje a Beny Moré. Vol. 3 (2000)
* Dos ídolos. Su música (2000)
* Tito Puente y su Orquesta Mambo (2000)
* The Complete RCA Recordings. Vol. 1 (2000)
* The Best of the Concord Years (2000)
* Por fin (Finally) (2000)
* Party with Puente! (2000)
* Obra maestra (2000)
* Mambo Mambo (2000)
* Mambo King Meets the Queen of Salsa (2000)
* Latin Abstract (2000)
* Kings of Mambo (2000)
* Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
* The Legends Collection: Tito Puente & Celia Cruz (2001)
* The Complete RCA Recordings, Vol. 2 (2001)
* RCA Recordings (2001)
* Puente caliente (2001)
* The Best of the Concord Years, double CD (Concord Picante 4391, 2001)
* King of Mambo (2001)
* El Rey: Pa’lante! Straight! (2001)
* Cocktail Hour (2001)
* Selection. King of Mambo (2001)
* Herman Meets Puente (2001)
* Undisputed (2001)
* Fiesta (2002)
* Colección Diamante (2002)
* Tito Puente y Celia Cruz (2002)
* Live at the Playboy Jazz Festival (2002)
* King of Kings: The Very Best of Tito Puente (2002)
* Hot Timbales! (2002)
* Dr. Feelgood (2002)
* Carnaval de éxitos (2002)
* Caravan Mambo (2002)
* Tito’s Idea (Verve, 2005)
* We Love Salsa (2006)
* Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming
* Tito Puente’s Drumming With the Mambo King
* Tito Puente – King of Latin Music
* Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music
* Recordando a Tito Puente
There is a great difference between a drum set drummer playing timbales and an actual timbalero when he plays the timbales. Most drum set drummers try doing immense rolls, thinking that doing that is very impressive.
I, as well as others that have many years of experience playing timbales, can pick out an actual timbal drummer vs. a drum set drummer playing timbales.
Because drum set players are given the opportunity to bang on a drum and the audience roars, does not mean that they actually know their timbales chops. This is not in all cases. The late Mike Collazo was a drum set drummer for Tito Puente Orchestra and also one of the best timbales players ever.
Timbales or conga drumming is not about the ability of how fast you can play, it is about what you are saying with the drum as a percussionist. I have a friend from Africa. We are in a mutual club; he is a young guy and he told me he was a drummer in Africa. I knew the answers of what I was asking him, due to the fact that I am a very spiritual individual as well as drummer. I asked him why he drummed and he told me “to call spirits.” In our conversation he was telling me that they used the drums to talk to other villages from a distance.
Now, let me make the comment, when drummers play extra fast, what would the other village say about the extra fast conversations. That is what goes through my mind when I see drummers playing fast.
I used to sit down and talked to conga and batá legend Francisco Aguabella, at my home when he visited me. We would talk about fast playing on the conga drums. Francisco told me that he would play for days some non-batá ceremonies and that the drummers would take turns drumming and sleeping, taking shifts with other drummers and these ceremonies went on for 3 days at a time. Imagine the endurance of not tiring, when playing for days at a time.
As an orchestra leader observing and hearing remarks from conga drummers, today’s conga drummers do not want to do a conga solo on stage for more than 2 minutes duration; they have actually requested such. Endurance is one of the many keys to conga drumming or drumming per se. Playing fast does not impress me. Observing Francisco Aguabella or Mongo Santamaria with the voicing and language they were saying with the conga drum, when they played the conga drum to me is real conga drumming.
Francisco Aguabella would say that it was just a new technique that the drummers were utilizing by playing fast. Francisco Aguabella would tell me that these new drummers were getting bits and pieces and copying the techniques of other drummers or lessons from other drum techniques to try and be different and try to invent their own new style.
I asked Francisco Aguabella what he thought about these new up and coming drummers with fast techniques and he just made a face (smirk), like he always did.
To think in my mind, when I was around Francisco Aguabella, that he played with batalero group leader; “Okilakpa” Pablo Roche, Batalero Trinidad Terregoza, Raúl Diaz, Geraldo Rodriguez, Batalero Jesús Pérez, Julito Collazo and even learned batá from the famed Esteban ‘Cha-Cha’ Vega, plus years of playing with other legends and even playing rhythms that are no longer played in Cuba today that, and he taught his to his students.
Francisco would perform a conga solo on stage for Eddie Palmieri’s Perfecta Orchestra on one tune. Eddie and the whole band left the stage for 10-15 minutes while Francisco soloed alone on stage. In my mind I would say to myself, how could Francisco fear or even have a doubt of his own ability to play congas, when he came from the real actual roots of Matanzas (Cuba) and has played drums, even before some of these cats were born or thought of. And a lot of the new legends can never ever say they played with Trinidad Terregoza or batalero Jesús Pérez, like Francisco Aguabella did..
There has to be respect for some of these master drummers as well as Mongo Santamaria, Cándido etc. as well as the elder and present African drummers and timbal drummers like Manny Oquendo.
In timbal drumming I have personally gotten many tones out of the drums, but after 45 plus years of playing, I guess I also have the ability to do this with the conga drums. This comes with dedication, time, patience and love for the drum.
Manny Oquendo did not play the timbales fast, he was just Manny. Drummers I know wanted and actually did kiss Manny’s hands out of respect for his mastery as a timbal drummer.
There are timbaleros (timbales players) in Latin music and then there are timbaleros. Nicky Marrero is the master at his work! Nicky Marrero has performed on hundreds of recordings, especially for Fania Records in New York City. Nicky Marrero is “El Monstruo del Timbal”, the Monster of the Timbales.
Nicky, has the ability of getting many tones out his drumheads, playing with preciseness and action. Nicky Marrero is always exciting on stage and bringing light to the show. You know that when he plays, it is Nicky Marrero up there on stage soloing, A-1 plus, like a Monster Timbalero should.
With years of playing, practice and patience with the drums, whether it is timbales or congas, Nicky Marrero brings a solo swing to the orchestra, to compliment the musicians and the coro (chorus) in the orchestra. This is what Nicky Marrero does on stage if you observe him.
Nicky is always getting better, as he ages, like a fine wine!
Nicky has performed with all the legends; too many to name, also a member of the legendary Fania All Stars and is a very humble musician.
Let’s hear what Nicky has to say about himself, and his love for the timbales, and what he has to say to the new young and upcoming timbaleros!
Nicky where were you born, your birth name and where were you raised?
I was born in St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx on June 17th 1950 and raised in the Bronx. My Name is Nicholas Marrero Jr.
Was your family musical in any way?
My uncle Chuito Velez played guitar, piano and the accordion. He had his own Orchestra and would sometimes join the family on weekend parties. Like in most Puerto Rican families there was always something to celebrate or just get together to dance and party. My Brother Luis Sánchez played guitar and bass for many years with my uncle as well as with Belisario López y su charanga, the Plata Sextet, and Orlando Marin and his Orchestra.
When was the first time you heard a cowbell and when was the first time you listened to a mambo-ish or salsa type music or Latin music?
Quiet simply, at home! Plus, by parental composition, Puerto Ricans love their Spanish radio stations to keep up the latest cleaning products, soap operas, what movies are showing, what theaters are having live vaudeville acts, then If there is time left in the day—–The News!! There was Spanish music in all of them, from different Latin countries. Diversity!
What was the first band you were a member of professionally?
Orchestra Caribe, meaning I got paid. The going rate at that time for a 14 year old, was 10 to fifteen dollars, if the promoter didn’t high settled it out of town. And there were 12 of us plus the band boy, who just wanted to be part of the group, the guys just looked the other way, except maybe sometimes?
Who are past or present your favorite timbal players, conga players and bongo players?
Me, Me, and Me! Seriously, on timbales, Orestes Vilató and Orlando Marin. On conga, Orlando Vega and Johnny Rodriguez. On bongo, Johnny Rodriguez, Bobby Allende, and Orlando Vega.
Nicky, what was you favorite band to play with, or you can mention a few?
Eddie Palmieri, Machito, Tito Puente, Fajardo, Tipica 73, Dizzie Gillespie, Jorge Dalto, but then I was part of at least forty other bands, and for different extended times. There’s not enough paper to explain it all but in a book.
Who would be your all-time favorite Latin orchestra leader?
What is some advice that you would tell young timbaleros or percussionist who study the art of drumming?
To listen to the past records, and learn about each orchestra and its members and their backgrounds and where they came from and to follow their carriers. Learn to listen, and listen to learn!!! Practice the art of imitation to the exact with discipline. Learn that you are your greatest competition!! Broaden the many options of how to practice, they become limitless, as are your abilities.
The Big 3, Machito, Tito Puente Sr. and Tito Rodriguez Sr., what is your opinion of them?
They were my heroes, and still are. I wouldn’t know whether to dance or play! There were many excellent dancers in my family, and I picked up on it very quickly, and became a very good dancer myself. It sometimes boggles me how some percussion players play and don’t know how to dance—really! That’s like a dentist pulling out teeth without first taking x-rays! Huh!
What is your all time favorite record or records?
Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito, Cal Tjader, Cortijo y su Combo, the charangas of Aragon, Fajardo, Arcano, Estrellas Cubanas, La Sensacion,Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barreto, Charlie Palmieri, extra, many more. Conjuntos—Arsenio, Chapottin, Modelo, Roberto Fas, Rumbavana, Kuvavana, Estrellas de Chocolate, etc.
What is one or two of the favorite recording you performed on?
Well, Nicky do you remember when you went to get your cha cha bell repaired by craftsman Pete Lugo. Let me ask why did you insist in getting that particular bell fixed and not just buy another new bell?
This bell was made with a special gage of a certain type of metal, and it had to be treated just the right way or it would ruin the bell forever. The sound of the bell became part of who I am, the study I put into investigating and analyzing their sounds and the types of material they are made of.
So tell us about your great current projects that you’re on.
Well, what are the future plans for Nicky Marrero musically and otherwise?
I am working on to fulfil my dream of starting my own project (orchestra) and record.
Have you seen the music scene changing somewhat and what do you think of that?
To bring it back to the dancers, with quality entertainment. We need more clubs of quality!!
Who are or were your favorite musicians to play with. Give us some names?
Nelson Gonzalez, Jimmy Bosch, Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Rodriguez, Willie Rodriguez and many more.
Now you tell us something Nicky
We need more in depth professional interviews such as yours. Also more radio stations with quality Latin cultural music past and present, with knowledgeable radio personalities!!
I would like to thank Nicky Marrero for his precious time, when I approached Nicky to this interview he was flying out to Lima, Peru with the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra! Thanks Nicky! El Monstruo del Timbal!
When you talk about drums, there are the handmade versions of drums and then there are also mass manufactured drums. Michel Ouellet the owner of MOPERC located in Canada has one of the most outstanding handcrafted drum companies around, making congas, bongos, wooden timbales (tarolas) and soon, once again, batá drums.
Michel is an extremely social individual even though he has a busy shop schedule. He made time to talk with me as did the famed Jay Bereck. Let’s see what Michel has to say about himself and his drum company.
Michel, can you tell me little about your background?
I was born in a “not musician” family but very young I loved and listened to much music. My father was a blacksmith and was very clever with his hands so seeing him working daily, I began very young to make and build different things with my hands, spending my time beside him in his shop.
Michel, when did you first discover the drum, conga, bongo etc?
I moved to Montreal to study Arts at college. There, I began to play bongos with my guitarist room-mates. At the first 80s I began to study Latin percussion with different good players in Montreal as my friends Pierre Cormier and Andre Dupuis who studied in New York and Cuba. I learned rumba at this moment with them. This was my passion. I played hours and hours.
What made you start a drum making company?
At the age of 28 I moved to the country with my little family. I was a carpenter. The first month I arrived here, 27 years ago, I made for myself a djembe with a log with my chain saw! I accompanied African dance class with my first djembe. I made a second one that was better and I did more than 20 instruments in this way. Mostly, djembes and also batás.
During this time I was carpenter, as my career, during this part of my life. In the end of the 80s I began to study the construction of congas made by staves. I found different ways to build them. I saw the LP [Latin Percussion] method, with staves in two or three plies, I saw Skin On Skin who steamed and banded the staves (I went to buy congas at the Jay shop in Brooklyn).
I also saw how Valje (drums) would cut some grooves inside each staves to curve them. And I discovered the Junior Tirado; that Junior would cut each staves in a solid piece of wood. But I began with the steam method myself. Then I changed from cutting the staves to a solid piece of wood. This is the method I’ve used for 20 years and the one which I prefer.
The first congas I made I showed them to the percussionists in Montreal and they began to order some, and then ordered more. Later, I went to Toronto and the results were good, In 1990 I found the proper method officially, after 2 years of research.
The 90s were the years I developed my methods and different instruments. I have made batás, tamboras, congas, bongos, timbales, djembes, sabars, dununs, talking drums and different other little drums. Even a couple of drum sets for friends.
Quickly, I knew that my market would be in the bongos, congas and djembe drum making. Therefore, I have put the others drums on the aside and I just started offering timbales.
What kind of styles of music do you play and where have you traveled to expose your great product? Who have been some of the sponsors of your drums for your MOPERC Company?
In the 2000s. I came back on the scene with different models, salsa and grupo de son. I have Cuban friends Habana Café; with a salsa timba band. They still have a good success here in Canada.
I have played this style of music for 12 years on congas. But 8 years ago I quit the scene for keep my energy for my business.
I traveled to Cuba many times where I have concluded partnerships with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, Afrocuban All Stars, La Charanga Habanera and different musicians such as Panga (Tomas Ramos Ortiz), Rolando Salgado, Pacha Portuondo, el Chino…
In the USA I have held clinics during these last years in different places as PASIC in Nashville, in Los Angeles and once In New York.
Last year, at the age of 55 and after more than 25 years of business I made a move to sell MOPERC Company and retire. But for some technical and human reasons the sale did not work. I think it is because I have not finished with this work. Now I’m very glad to be here as owner and founder for some more years. I have many projects. The sales go very well. I sell much in USA, much in Canada and a little in Europe. Some of my drums go to South and Central America and some to Asia, Africa …
How is the drum production going? Do you plan to start making batá drums again?
I’m working now on a new model of conga made of oak and mahogany. I used to make many congas and bongos with oak and mahogany in the 90s and I loved the sound projection of these woods. That will be more a vintage style model reminiscent of the old Cuban drums used in the rumba before and after the revolution. I like oak for the great projection and volume it offers. I love mahogany for its warm and rich tone. These are very nice looking grains of wood too. During these years I worked with maple, birch, ash, mahogany, cherry, oak, and others.
I’m working now also on batás drums. I have made some set during the years. Yoruba Andabo, Muñequitos de Matanzas and others play my batás around the world now. I have many demands. I’ll come back with these “high class” models of batá’s soon in 2016.
What is in the future for MOPERC, your drum Company?
We just went out with wood timbales (tarolas) recently and we have had great comments and success with them. We produced 2 videos demonstrating the wood timbales with my good friend and great Cuban percussionist based in Toronto: Rosendo Chendy De León.
I’m working on other different videos with my partner Francis Mercier. We are planning to film videos in Montreal, Toronto and also in Cuba this winter.
I do not have retail dealers, my preference it not to. So the best way for my product to be heard is on videos, and certainly producing live clinics with musicians. That is why in 2016, I will be producing several clinics in Montreal, Toronto, New York in and probably in Miami.
I have a small team, 2 employees in my workshop, plus myself and Francis, who helps me to develop and create the marketing utilizing these videos. We only focus on quality and contact with musicians. It had been always my target; “to make them happy and proud of their instruments”. Money and success come only after when this is well done. I think every craftsman and his craftsmanship should be like this.