A gifted percussionist by trade, Gerardo Rosales was already renowned for his musical talent in his native Venezuela, before moving to Europe and establishing residence in Holland. Since then, his professional discipline and enthusiasm have allowed him to consistently create great music, while nurturing a beautiful family. In the following interview, "El Tamborero" ("The Drummer," a term that Rosales uses to define his musical role) talks about his past and present artistic life and takes a glance at his future.
Eric E. Gonzalez: Can you start from the beginning?
Gerardo Rosales: My full name is Gerardo Antonio Rosales Rondón. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 6, 1964. I am the only musician in the family. While my mother was working to support us, my grandmother, Belén Rondón, raised me. I owe my musical development to them, because they allowed me to play with all the pots, pans and buckets in the house. Moreover, they bought me my first drums.
One day, while I was browsing through the LP collection of my cousin Gladys' boyfriend, Luis, I found the LP Hard Hands by Ray Barretto. It caught my attention when I heard the rhythm; I fell in love with salsa. I owe my love for salsa to Ray Barrette. Later on, I began to collect salsa albums.
I also listened to the radio, specially the program "La hora de la salsa," conducted by Phidias Danilo Escalona. In the 1970s, Radio Aeropuerto played salsa 24/7. When I was a child, I saw the Fania All Stars, Típica 73, Dimensión Latina, Ismael Rivera, Tito Puente, Machito, Ray Barretto and many others on our black-and-white television set. I learned to play music just by watching these programs.
EEG: Can you elaborate on the condition of the Venezuelan salsa scene by the time you moved to Europe?
GR: As a child, I listened to all the famous salsa bands of Venezuela, such as Porfi Jiménez, Sexteto Juventud, Federico y su Combo, and Billo's Caracas Boys.
In the 1970s, the "roqueros" (rockers) and "salseros" didn't get along. The rockers referred to the salsa lovers as "monkeys." They used to say that salsa was fringe music from the outlying slums. The middle class and the rich people used to listen to rock, classical music, of jazz. Nevertheless, these social separations did not last long, because salsa reached maximum popularity in the mid-1970s. The phenomenon called Fania captured all the attention until the end of that decade.
In the 1980s, merengue finished salsa off. Only Roberto Blades managed to be heard on the radio in that era. I have to clarify that although I have always been a salsero, I kept out of the trends to survive; I had to play commercial music. Nevertheless, I never stopped playing salsa or creating projects. It was difficult at that time, but real salseros never die!
In the 1990s, salsa started to recover. In my opinion, salsa made a comeback in 1987, the year that Isrnael "Maelo" Rivera died. Radio stations started to play salsa again. For me, Maelo was so great that even after his death, he helped rescue the forgotten salsa.
Months after his death, Trina Medina, Joe Ruiz, Nano Grand, Franklin Rojas and I paid tribute to Ismael Rivera at the "Museo del Teclado" (Keyboard Museum) in Caracas' Central Park. It was such a huge success that lots of people could not get in. It was the wonderful nature of Saint Maelo.
I have to say that through all the historical Venezuelan periods, we listened to Mexican rancheras, Cuban music, boleros, traditional merengue, and Colombian vallenato. We were raised listening to Sonora Matancera and to Billo's Caracas Boys.
Venezuela has had original bands and musicians such as Grupo Mango, Dimensión Latina, Oscar D'León, Trabuco Venezolano, Aldemaro Romero y su Onda Nueva, Guaco, Un Solo Pueblo, Alfredo Naranjo, Aquíles Báez, Cheo Hurtado and Huáscar Barradas.
EEG: Did you make a recording in Venezuela, as bandleader of otherwise, before establishing yourself in Europe?
GR: A friend once told me, "I know a very good conga player who has a percussion school in the Sarria neighberhood. The conga player was Orlando Peleo. At his percussion school, I started my development as a percussionist.
I was thirteen years old when I got my first musical job. I earned 50 bolívares playing the piano with a group of friends in Catia. I played throughout all the outlying neighborhoods of Caracas. That is how I learned what a "street guaguancó" was all about.
At the age of 17, I worked for a television channel (Canal 8, VTV) with a piano player, Tony Monserrat. I have worked as a percussionist with the most important Venezuelan artists, including Soledad Bravo, Cecilia Todd, Víctor Cuica, José Rosario, Canelita, Trabuco...