Founded in New York City, over a decade ago, by percussionist Hector "Tito" Matos and reedman Ricardo Pons, Viento de Agua (meaning "rain-bearing wind") shocked the Latin music world with its powerful contemporary sound, as applied to its unique interpretations of the traditional rhythms of Puerto Rico. Currently re-established in said Caribbean island, the 13-member ensemble is now enjoying the release of its sophomore production Fruta Madura, as reflected in the following telephone interview with bandleader Tito Matos, speaking from his home in the Puerto Rican city of Santurce.
Rudy Mangual: Congratulations on Viento de Agua's new release Fruta Madura (Ripe Fruit). Take us to the beginning of your musical journey.
Tito Matos: Born and raised in Santurce, I was surrounded by and immersed in the local music scene as a child, and started playing professionally in my teen years. By the mid-1980s, I was a member of the folkloric group "Los Pleneros de la 23 Abajo," which interpreted the traditional Puerto Rican rhythms of bomba and plena.
RM: Are you a self-taught percussionist?
TM: Yes, I basically learned to play and understand the intricacies of the rhythms of Puerto Rico in the streets of Villa Palmera, a section of Santurce known as an incubator and home of the folkloric culture of the island. I have dedicated myself to mastering all the traditional rhythms associated with bomba and plena, as well as mastering the use of the traditional percussion instruments utilized in producing these rhythms, such as the panderetas (rim drums) in the rhythms of plena, and the barriles (barrel drums) in the rhythms of bomba, as well as many other minor percussion instruments. In Villa Palmera, I initially learned from the traditions of the Cepeda family. Led by the late Rafael Cepeda (a master of Afro-Puerto Rican folklore), the Cepeda family is one of the island's leading exponents of the bomba and plena rhythms, and it is responsible for the survival of the traditions and education about such genres. Later on, I took some workshops with other folkloric masters, such as Felix Diaz and Jesus Cepeda, but in the end, the streets of Villa Palmera folklore provided my best education, musically and culturally.
RM: Can you please describe these instruments to our readers?
TM: Panderetas are hand-held rim drums used to produce the main rhythms of the Puerto Rican...