Borderline Latin: Willie Nagasaki, Corazón de Puerto Rico

Read more

Borderline Latin is an exploration of the influence of Latin music in styles, places and rhythms beyond its traditional borders, and of different types of cross-pollination between Latin music and other musical creatures. Each week, we will feature a song or musical style whose rhythm, themes, melodic inflections or influences have earned it the name of Borderline Latin.

It’s official: for the first time in history, the majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming a state, of entering the Union in full terms, of adding a new star to the American flag. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen –Congress still has to approve. But put together with how good Obama did in Florida, and with Colorado and Washington voting for the legalization of pot, it is a sign that the times are a changing.

But enough of this pothead-talk. The hype about Puerto Rico made me want to go back to the Asian Afro-Caribbean scene, and particularly to one musician: Willie Nagasaki. Willie Nagasaki is a veteran of the Japanese rumba, salsa and Latin scene. He plays the timbales, and legend has it he hung out with Tito Puente and Patato Valdez in the ’70s while living in New York City, thus learning his skill directly from the source. After that, he went back to Japan where he was one of the pioneers of this scene, bringing the flavor of Latin Harlem into the island of the Rising Sun.

In his music, Nagasaki combines Afro Caribbean instruments with Japanese Taiko drums. He might be a veteran, but he’s alive and kicking: he just released a new record called Midnight Rumba earlier this year –it is a little difficult to get, unless you usually hang out at places like Bodeguita in Tokio, where he presented the album last moth. Just so you get the vibe of the release party for Midnight Rumba, here’s a video of Nagasaki performing “Corazón De Puerto Rico.”

[insert-video youtube=xA6mUD_Cvjw]

Click HERE to read more “Borderline Latin” profiles. For comments and tips, please contact me at:, and for more info on my “Borderline” works, visit Borderline Projects.