Expanding Horizons or Maybe I’m just Coming Home


Last night I forego a much needed tennis match and instead went to sit in on Rumba class lead by Silfredo La O: https://www.facebook.com/silfredo.lao?fref=ts, one of the Cuban dance instructors. I arrived early, as is my nature, and Silfredo and I worked on some things that he wanted me to focus on while playing. It was difficult during that 20 minute breakdown before class started at 7:00, and I thought, “Man, come on, you can handle this,” but realized very quickly that with all of the Flamenco that I knew, Silfredo was expecting me to be a musician of the highest caliber and able to adapt, and I wasn’t getting the job done.

Terms like “diana” (a syllabic based, first choral refrain that initiates the song) and Yamb(‘u) (a type of song) were new to me, were as “clave,” (the base rhythm) and “Guaguanc(‘o)” (a type of song) were not. At first we both thought, which we communicated via a look, and at some point Silfredo later stated, “Okay, just play a Flamenco Rumba, and go from there.”

I did that, and although it was cool sounding, it wasn’t what I’d come there for, and I know it wasn’t what Silfredo really wanted or needed. I play around in a classic key of C based four chord progression using Am, G, F, and E, and then switched it up to Am, Dm, and E7. That worked a little better, but it wasn’t what was going to make either of us happy and so I thought okay, change keys. I went for a key of D progression that I’ve been wearing out lately, Bm, G7, and F#, but despite it working well with the diana and Silfredo’s voice, I knew it wouldn’t work with the drummers and I needed to do something quick. I finally searched my brain and thought about how I would learn any song. I wouldn’t really start with the chords, but rather I would start with the melody. Silfredo sang the driana and I muddled through it. The first student arrived, then one of the drummers. Silfredo went to change, and I stay there working on the melody. When he came back and started singing, I had it down enough to ensure that he didn’t kick me out of class, and then the drummer started up. I didn’t have another 20 minutes, so I asked Silfredo to play some clave for me while the drummer played. I was able to play a Dm and C based melody that by the end of the night, I was improvising over rhythmically with the melody and the chords throwing in some changes every once in a while.

The only other issue was being heard. By the time the class was in full swing, I was killing my hands beating on my guitar, and I realized that the Tone Wood Amp ( a great product that I highly recommend) http://www.tonewoodamp.com/,  was perfect for the Flamenco Class, but wasn’t going to cut it with three Congeros going full tilt. I know now to bring my Fishman Loud Box the next time and also bring my Cordoba lefty cut-away, which is a bit more sturdier and able to take the kind of pounding required in a Cuban Rumba class.

Silfredo and I had talked years ago about getting together and working on something, and this was before I stopped playing for those two years. The reality of it all was that I wasn’t ready then, because all I knew was Flamenco, and I’m very ready now, which was exemplified in my being able to find something decent that I could play for the class, as well as the various genre’s I’ve been dipping into (e.g. Jazz, Bossa Nova, etc.), and the music theory I’ve been studying on my own, and with the help of a variety of folks from workshops and private lessons. The beauty of it all is that I’m growing, creating, and able to break free of the music form I thought I only wanted to play (Flamenco), and am expanding my horizons into other genres. I joke to myself about me coming home, because as a kid, I heard Blues and Jazz all the time. Especially now that I’m dabbling in those forms now, because back then I never thought about playing them when I finally started playing guitar. I guess that’s because primarily I was struck by the idea of playing Flamenco, which I also heard as a kid, but blocked out of my memory, because there was no way I was ever going to get a guitar back then, or get lessons. In fact, now that I think about it, I remember how I was even able to build my own drum and learn to play it when I was a kid, because mom had the foresight to get us into the Pan-African movement that was so much apart of folks learning more about their African Ancestry. I remember setting food out for the ancestors to thank them for the sacrifices that they made so that we could be in the better place that we were in. I remember realizing how important it was to understand that and know where you came from and to know your History. Now, as I travel through the world musically, I see how those roots are intertwined and connected and I’m grateful to be able to branch out and expand my horizons, or perhaps, just come home again.