Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Honoring My Mentors - Julito Collazo

Hello, Friends!

Quite some time ago, once I began to be invited to join world-class performance acts (…after struggling in NYC for a few years), such as with Michael Babatunde Olatunji, Gato Barbieri, and the dynamic duo of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, a wise mentor/colleague told me that, “Once you manage, through your own efforts, to enter the elevator going up, you have the responsibility of sending it back down again… so that someone else may get in and come up, too!”

Speaking specifically about my own career and other life-choices and paths, I have never forgotten the individuals who not only gave of their time to “send the elevator down to help me” but who also took me under their own wings, so that I could learn to fly. It is with this love in my heart, that I will be honoring them, through this digital broadcast vehicle, throughout my future writings. Some of these people are still here, positively influencing the world, and some are gone, having transcended this material plane. But, the memory of those departed, lives on in my essence and if my sharing of their talents and contributions comes to entertain and/or enlighten you in any way, then what they lived for will continue to nurture positivity for all of us, and for future generations.

One such mentor and friend, early during my life and career was the late, GREAT master drummer, Julito Collazo.

LP photo- Martin Cohen

I met Julito in 1975, at a festival showcasing the Latin-American folkloric traditions which was held in Washington, D.C. and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. During the rumba portion of his presentation, he casually asked if there was anybody in the audience who had the nerve to come up on the stage and jam with him and his group. Amidst the blank stares of almost all of the D.C. area drummers on hand, I immediately sprung to my feet and strode towards the bandstand. Julito looked at me rather quizzically, asking, “Oh, YOU want to jam? Ok…here…play this hoe.” He then began singing a “conga de carnival” song (“…Siento un bombo, mamita, me está llamando…..”), to which I began wailing on the garden hoe, beating out the conga clave, before any of the other drummers began playing. Julito turned his head and looked at me….and gave me a smile that I’ve never forgotten!

Performance at Delacourt Theater: Julito-Iya, Frank-Itotele, Frankie Rodriguez-vocal

After the presentation, we talked together for a while, which led to phone conversations, which led to a 13 month apprenticeship with him, learning the rhythms and the religious rituals of the sacred Batá drums. Every couple of weeks, or so, me and my buddy, Leo Leobons, would drive up to NYC, to hang out with Julito and shed on the rhythms and songs that he would teach us. During one weekend, where I drove up with Margo just to enjoy one of his Toques de Santo (for Changó, by the way), he told me that I should move up to New York, as he had a spot for me in his group and there was an apartment available in his building! I moved up the very next weekend!

Performance at Delacourt Theater: Julito-Iya, Frank-Okonkolo

I worked exclusively with Julito and his Afro-Cuban Drum Ensemble for the following five years, until he traveled to Cuba to become a Babalao. Returning from Cuba, he basically retired from active drumming and, in doing so, advised me, “…to extend my horizons and my musical vision beyond the world of ritual drumming!”, for I had a lot more world to visit and learn from. And, I dare say..... I’ve taken his guidance to heart!

And, of course…………MORE DRUMS!!!

Here’s a classic vintage clip of another master drummer, Tito Puente! I never enjoyed the opportunity to perform with Tito although, as a member of Julito Collazo’s drum ensemble, I did perform for a spiritual celebration of his Changó!

Check out how back in 1965, Tito was already using two sets of timbales, tuned melodically! Notice the short length of his drumsticks as well as the lack of a cowbell on either of his timbales!


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