For the past two decades, New York City has been blessed with the high-octane salsa of Conjunto Imagen, a Brooklyn-based powerhouse led by percussionist Ernie Acevedo and tresero Junior Rivera. Under the musical direction of trumpeter Angelo González, Conjunto Imagen is indeed the keeper of New York City's salsa dura sound. The following is an interview with Imagen's main cacique, Ernie Acevedo.
Rudy Mangual: Ernie, what is your full name?
Ernie Acevedo: Ernest Tito Acevedo. Named after the late Tito Puente, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in a home always blessed with a lot of Latin music.
RM: What genre of style of music first caught your attention as a child?
EA: It was the (Latin) boogaloo. It was so cool; Latín rhythms with a touch of soul music and English lyrics. And I was only five or six years old. My mom was a big fan of Latin music, and during the 1960s, boogaloo was the flavor of the day at all the house parties. From Ray Barretto's Acid to Johnny Colón's Boogaloo Blues, and everything else in between by Richie Ray, Joey Pastrana and Joe Cuba, these rhythms were part of my early musical formation.
RM: When did you start playing a musical instrument?
EA: As early as five and six years old, I was hanging around the local parks' rumba jams, which prevailed throughout New York City, back in the 1960s and 1970s. Several guys would bring congas, bongoes and timbales to the park and jam for hours. It would start with two or three players and grow to as many as a dozen rumberos.
My mom used to invite friends over to jam on weekends at our home. These jams were my first exposure to equivalent drumming clinics and workshops. My father and my uncles were musicians, but only played in church services and activities. But eventually, my dad found a little bit of time to teach me a few basics on the conga drums. However, in the end, it was a friend of my mother's (by the name of Rocky) that actually sat with me several days a week and taught me to play the conga drums. First on one drum, and eventually on two drums.
RM: Were you interested in playing any other instrument in your youth?
EA: Yes, when I was fourteen, I was enrolled at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where I learned to play the bass and some piano. Soon thereafter, I formed my first youth band in school, in which I played the bass and performed a repertoire of Latin rock standards (mostly Santana covers). I also played the piano in another band. At borne, in the neighborhood, I had been playing congas with a band called Sonora Amante, which early on was a six-piece band, and throughout the years grew to be a big band. After a while, everyone started moving and leaving the neighborhood, and that was the end of the band.
Subsequently, I assembled Orquesta Combinación (a three-trombone...