Latin Percussionist Newsletter Issue 8 Winter 1999
by Victor Rendón
Check out Anga Mania instructional DVD
Cuban born, Miguel "Anga" Diaz, is known as one of the new generation congueros following the path of pioneers such as Tata Güines, Armando Peraza, Candido, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos "Patato" Valdés, and Jorge "Niño" Alfonso. He attended the music conservatory in Havana where he received a complete musical education, studying drums and classical percussion.
Before graduating, he was asked to record several TV and film soundtracks with José Maria Vitier. He then joined Joaquin Betancourt's "Opus 13" traveling with this band throughout the world for several years.
He was given the award for best instrumentalist by the UNEAC (National Reunion of Cuban Writers & Artists) and in 1986 was considered "revelation of the year" at the International Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana.
In 1987 Jesús "Chucho" Valdés offered him the prestigious conguero chair in the band, "Irakere", in which he played for seven years.
Freelancing since 1994, he has been regularly playing, recording and teaching master classes in various schools and universities. He has played and recorded with musicians such as Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Danilo Perez, Paquito D' Rivera, Buster Williams, David Sanchez, and many others.
In 1994, Anga recorded his first solo album with Tata Güines and several stars of Cuban music winning him the Egrem prize for best record of the year.
Anga continues to perform jazz and Afro-Cuban music. He has been recently exploring the DJ's and electronic world, mixing his Cuban roots to sounds of today's world. This is evident in his first master class video "Anga Mania!" released by Music In Motion Films.
∞ Interview ∞
Where in Cuba are you from and how did you get into percussion?
I was born in a small town named San Juan y Martinez in the province of Pinar del Rio. I come from a musical family. My father played saxophone, my mother played the piano, and my younger brother is a singer.
I started my music studies at the Escuela Nacional de Arte de Pinar del Rio. Later I went to the Escuela de Arte (ENA) in Havana. I studied a total of eight years. It was all classical percussion. One of my classical teachers was Balcaser. He comes from a family of classical performers in Cuba. At that time, folkloric percussion was not taught in the schools. In the late 1970's, one had to either go to the streets to learn rumba or find a teacher who played popular music.
Who are your influences in Afro-Cuban percussion?
The first is Tata Güines. Then there is Armando Peraza, Candido, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos "Patato" Valdés, Changuito, and Jorge "Niño" Alfonso. Niño was the previous conguero in Irakere before I joined. In reality, the older players have been very influential. I always made it a point to listen to all these players. They are the ones that form the foundation of today's conga drumming. I believe that each conguero had his own approach to playing in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's. I tell my students that there is no one certain style in percussion.
Can you talk about the older style of playing from the 1940's, 50's, and 60's?
At that time, every group had its rhythm that provided a unique sound. For example, Conjunto Chappotin played a type of son with one tumbadora. The conguero's name was Campeón. On the other hand, the conjunto of Roberto Faz used two tumbadoras. As stated previously, each one had a different rhythm. For example, Juanito Marquez used the ritmo pacá, Pacho Alonso used the pilón, Pello "El Afrokan" used the mozambique, and Orquesta Aragón used the cha cha chá.
Did the rhythms die out with the passing of each orchestra?
No, that is one of the jobs that I am doing now. I am rehashing these rhythms "que son muy ricos" (which are very rich). What we have lost in Cuba is the constant use of those older rhythms. We haven't had someone to guide the new generation in listening to the music of those eras. But, I believe that the work Changuito and I are doing is helping in that regard.
On the video you talk about the fact that your style on five congas comes from Jorge "Niño" Alfonso.
Yes, the first conguero to use five congas in Cuba was "Niño." He had a very peculiar way of playing. His technique had a specific movement to it that enabled him to play five tumbadoras with ease. That technique made his playing very melodic. When I joined Irakere, I realized that I had a different way of playing. I got a video of "Niño" from Chucho Valdés (musical director of Irakere) and studied it thoroughly. From there I united his style with mine. In reality, my playing is a combination of Tata Güines, Niño and myself.
In your video and the upcoming book, you have some exercises for two and three congas as well. What would you recommend to a student to develop this type of playing?
I always start my students with one drum. When one drum is mastered, then we move on. It is more difficult to play with one tumbadora then it is to play with two, three, four, or five. I think that one should start playing with one tumbadora and master all aspects of it. Playing more drums is a matter of applying the one drum technique to more drums. The purpose of playing five drums is to find new sonorities. Sometimes you see players using five drums. However, if you take away four out of the five, you realize the basics have not been mastered yet.
What do you see as the primary function of a conguero in a band?
"La marcha!" (the basic tumbao). That is why I say that one should always study with one tumbadora. A conguero who does not have a solid "marcha" makes a band sound unsettled or unstable. He can also rush and drag the tempo. So, it is the "marcha" that is the principal function of a conguero in a band. After that, we can apply some of the drum rudiments such as the double stroke roll and the paradiddle. It is no secret that we can apply stick control (technique used by drumset players) to conga drumming. I don't use rudiments simply for the rapid effect. Rather, I use them for melodic reasons.
Tell us about your USA tour scheduled this summer with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars and Rubén González.
Yes, we are going to the United States at the beginning of June, 1999 for three weeks. We will be going to New York and other major cities.
What are your reasons for settling in Paris, France?
I believe that Europe (Paris in particular) is the best place for me to be at the moment. Here you encounter many styles of music. My aim is to fuse all types of music and world percussion with Afro-Cuban music. Paris is one of the centers of fusion music. There are a large number of good musicians and percussionists in this city. I work here but I also travel a lot using Paris as my home base. I work a lot in the field of jazz with artists such as Steve Coleman, Roy Hargrove, Buster Williams, Chico Freeman, among others.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, I just finished an instructional video titled "Anga Mania!" and I'm working on a CD. I am interested in mixing Afro-cuban percussion with other types of music. I plan to keep playing all types of music.
Is there anything you would like to end with?
"Seguiré lentamente y tranquilo" (I shall continue slowly and in tranquility). I would like to add one message to the students of percussion. That is to study the masters from before. Don't close yourself off to only listening to the younger players. One who does not study the older players, cannot find out what's happening now. Congueros should listen to Tata Güines, Armando Peraza, Candido, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos "Patato" Valdés, and Jorge "Niño" Alfonso to name just a few. Timbaleros should study players like Guillermo Barreto, Tito Puente, Changuito, and Orestes Vilato. These are the people that teach us the concept of what the instrument is about.
The Music of Santería: Traditional Rhythms of the Batá by John Amira and Steve Corneleas
(White Cliffs 1992)
Los Instrumentos de la música Afrocubana Vol. 3, Vol. 4 Fernando Ortiz
(Havana, Ministerio de Educación 1952, 1954)
Música Yoruba (National Folkloric Ensemble of Cuba) Bembé 2010-2
Illu Aña (Regino Jimenez) Fundamento Production
David Peñalosa answers questions related to Afro-Cuban music at his "Ask Dr. Clave" page for Bembé Records website (www.bembe.com)