Indestructible en las congas

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Name: Samuel Torres

Age: 31

Colombia. My family is from an area called Nariño, in the mountains close to the border with Ecuador, but I was born and raised in Bogotá.

Where do you live? I moved a year ago to North Bergen, N.J. – literally in front of Manhattan. Before that, I was in Queens and Miami.

How many days out of the year do you spend traveling? A lot!!!!!! I think last year I spent around nine months mostly outside the U.S. In the next few months, I’ll be traveling with Hector Martignon to Europe to promote his last record, Refugee ( I play on it!!!), and it’s nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz album. Hector and I play a mix of jazz with Latin-American and African rhythms. He is a great piano player and an amazing composer, so it’s really fun. Richard Bona and I will be traveling from mid March to end of April also promoting his new record – a live CD that we recorded last summer live at a concert in Budapest. I jammed with Adam Wednt, one of the most important saxophone players in Poland, when I was on tour there last fall, and he invited me to be a special guest with his group for some concerts in Poland during the first weeks of May.

And you’ll be traveling to Reunion Islands with Richard Bona…we have to ask…where the in the world is that? Reunion Islands is between Africa and Madagascar, y nunca he ido. That’s going to be an amazing trip, getting away from the cold! Ja, ja.

Why is jazz is more popular abroad, especially in Europe, than in the U.S.?
Well, to tell you a story, we were driving across the Sahara desert from Mauritania to Senegal. We were stopped at the border with Senegal, and we told the official we were jazz musicians. He was very excited. He loved jazz, and he was listening to Charlie Parker right there in the middle of nowhere. So we asked him, “How come you like jazz?” And he told us that jazz represented black music from all the world. In the U.S. people take it for granted, and when these artists go abroad they get the respect and appreciation that they deserve. For example, when we played the Sarajevo Jazz Festival in Bosnia it was like the biggest event on the country, why? Because it only happens one time a year.

Favorite recent trip: Difficult question! Every place has something magical about it. Food, culture, people. But I have to tell you that I went to Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) last December. Wow! That was an amazing experience. I even wrote a tune for it that I will play on February 4th at the Blue Note with my band.

Do you come from a musical family? Music has been el orgullo de mi familia ever since I can remember. Both of my maternal grandparents were musicians, as were their brothers and sisters. Mi abuelita played guitar and used to sing with my grandpa’s band. My uncle, Juan Martinez, played drums with Machito and in the 70’s he became Tito Rodriguez’s drummer. My other uncle, Edy Martinez, has been one of the most influential musicians in the Latin scene in N.Y. He has played piano and arranged for Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, Fania all Stars, and Mongo Santamaria, among others.

Tell us the story about Ray Barretto’s Indestructible record, and how you discovered the congas. When I was a kid I was such a Superman fan, I remember I had a betamax tape of Superman II that I used to watch everyday. On the Indestructible cover, Barretto is dressed like Clark Kent transforming into Superman. Mi abuelita used to hear that LP a lot because my uncle Edy was the piano player and one of the arrangers on it. After my grandparents died when I was around 12 years old, I began to wonder about my grandparents, music, my uncles…The Indestructible record was still in my home, so I looked for it, and when I heard it again it really change the way I perceived life.

Are you still a Superman fan?
Mmm…I like Spiderman, Batman without Robin and Super Giovanni Hidalgoman (greatest conga player alive) from Puerto Rico.

Describe your song “Ajiaco” from your album Skin Tones and how it compares to the dish. Actually the tune is like a dish of ajiaco because it mixes like three different rhythms and three different melodies, so that’s like the ingredients used in ajiaco: papas criolla, pastusa y sabanera con pollo, alcaparras y guasca!!!

Plans after you’re done touring in June? I will have a performance here in New York City, and will be recording my second album. In the summer and the fall I will be touring with Mexican singer Lila Downs, promoting her new release. The music for my next album is almost complete, and I’ve been writing arrangements and compositions for other artists such as Ileana Santamaria, some Latin pop releases and a salsa orchestra based in Lyon, France lead by fellow Colombian, Jaime Salazar. I’m sure in a near future people are going to hear a lot about them here, Orquesta La Matanga.

Is this your first time performing with Marta Gomez? I met Marta many years ago, we went to the same music school in Bogota. I think we left Colombia around the same time. She went to Boston and I went to Miami, and then we met again in New York. Actually this is the first time we officially play together. I’m very happy and excited that she is been able to be part of this upcoming performance. Especially being that day (February 4th) is such and important day for Colombians around the world, because in all major cities Colombians are protesting against the violence in our country.

What can you do in your band that you can’t with other people’s bands? Play more percussion solos! Ja, ja. Also I write all my compositions having the percussion as the leader of the music, instead of the piano, trumpet or voice being the leader.

What is a cosmopolatino anyway? I think it is the new generation of Latin-American people that have an objective perspective of the world and that is surpassing racial, cultural and gender barriers to represent the unity of the Latino community; that embraces our heritage and at the same time focuses on the importance of education as one of most important solutions to overcome our social injustices.