Among the many artists up for a Grammy this year is longtime Bay Area Latin jazz musician John Santos, whose 2009 anti-war themed album La Guerra No (Machete Records) is nominated under the the Best Traditional World Music category. This is actually not the first time in his career that the Afro-Latin percussionist has been nominated for such an award, but if he wins, it will be the first time he will have won.
Santos is also an in demand music lecturer on the college circuit, and like the seasoned musician and music industry veteran he is, he takes it all in stride, with a sense of realism and a wait-and-see attitude. Should the Grammy be granted to him this weekend, it will be something he'll share the glory of with the (literally) dozens of other artists from various other countries who collaborated and contributed to this powerful album that took a five year period to record and produce.
Earlier today I caught up the busy artist to ask him about his career to date, what went into the making of La Guerra No, and whether or not he will be heading down to LA for Sunday night's big event, the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.
Amoeblog: How many times have you been nominated for a Grammy?
John Santos: This is the fifth time.
Amoeblog: And how does it feel to be nominated?
John Santos: It's an honor.
Amoeblog: For those who may not be aware of your prolific body of work, can you briefly run down your rich musical history?
John Santos: Born and raised in San Francisco. I've been performing since the late 1960s, and composing, recording, teaching, writing, and record/event producing since the early 1970s. I've worked with acknowledged masters such as Cachao, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Bebo Valdés, Max Roach, Eddie Palmieri, Patato Valdés, Francisco Aguabella, Steve Turre, McCoy Tyner, Batacumbele, Omar Sosa, and Carlos Santana.
I was a member of the Latin Jazz Advisory Committee of the Smithsonian Institution. I've conducted countless workshops, lectures and clinics in the US, Latin America and Europe since 1972 at institutions of all types, including the Adventures in Music program of the San Francisco Symphony, the Berklee School of Music in Boston, UCLA, Yale, Stanford, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Michigan, Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal State Hayward, Humboldt State University (CA), Cal State Sonoma, Cal State Sacramento, Cal State San Jose, Tulane University of Louisiana, Jazz Camp West, the Los Angeles Music Academy, the Museum of the African Diaspora (SF), the Jazz School (Berkeley, CA), and La Universidad Inter-Americana in San Germán Puerto Rico.
I was founder and director of the internationally renowned, Grammy-nominated Machete Ensemble (1985-2006), who released nine CDs, mostly on my own Machete Records label. I currently direct The John Santos Sextet, a Latin jazz ensemble. Our second CD, Perspectiva Fragmentada, released in October 2008, was nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association (NY), and by Cubadisco (Cuban Grammys) as one of the top Latin Jazz releases of the year, and selected as one of the five top Latin Jazz CDs of 2008 by New York's All About Jazz magazine, among many honors. I've written, produced and recorded over 80 original compositions and been nominated for a Grammy five times.
Amoeblog: How important is it for you and for the music you make to be based in the Bay Area and/or California?
John Santos: There is a wonderful extended family vibe in the Bay Area among the musicians, dancers and audiences that I greatly appreciate, not to mention the generally relatively progressive attitudes around art and politics, so it is a natural occurrence that this type of project would emerge here.
John Santos ensemble perform from La Guerro No last July at Eastside Cultural Center in Oakland
(for breakdown of who is playing what in the above session click here)
(for breakdown of who is playing what in the above session click here)
Amoeblog: Tell me about the album up for the Grammy, its theme, and the work and contributions that went into producing it?
John Santos: La Guerra No (No War) is a convergence of spirits rooted firmly in Afro-Caribbean traditions such as rumba, Lukumí, palo, pregón and conga de comparsa from Cuba, bomba and plena from Puerto Rico, and quitipa and fulía from Venezuela. It was a labor of love, recorded and mixed over a period of five years. As is customary with this type of cultural expression, born of working class, marginalized sectors of society, there is also a strong element of experimentation and improvisation as well. Some forty musicians of several different generations from the aforementioned countries and the U.S. lent their considerable energy and talents.
The fact that they live in Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York, Europe, and California is another strong component to the collaborative brotherhood that gives this project great vitality. Many of them are among the most highly respected practitioners and pioneers in the field of Caribbean folk and popular music. They are: Juan De Diós Ramos, Carlos Aldama, Orestes Vilató, Giovanni Hidalgo, Sandy Perez, Anthony Carrillo, Harold Muñíz, Roberto Borrell, Jesus Diaz, Raul Rekow, Jose Clausell, Jimmy Bosch, Melecio Magdaluyo, Elio Villafranca, Quique Dávila, Eddie Resto, Marta Galarraga, Gustavo Ovalles, David Belove, Camilo Landau, Michael Spiro, Javier Navarrette, Saul Sierra, Chris Walker, Enrique Carreras, Fito Reinoso, Beatríz Godinez-Muñíz, Jose Luís Gómez, Willie Ludwig, Barbara Valladares, Ismael Rodriguez, Reynalda Nuñez, Manny Martinez, Erick Barbería, Carol Steele, Elena Pinderhughes, and Samora Pinderhughes.
All of these artists share a deep commitment to social change through the arts. The themes reflect Afro-Latin secular and spiritual identity and our strong desire for justice, resistance and peace. The music opens up one's eyes to the truth about our human condition and gives constantly evolving perspective in the form of questions and comments inspired by the bizarre, often grotesque living conditions imposed upon us in modern, so-called civilized society.
Amoeblog: Will you be going to the event in LA on Sunday night for the Grammys?
John Santos: No -- can't afford to take off work.
Amoeblog: If you win what difference will it make, do you think, to you as an artist?
John Santos: Impossible to say. It will certainly not change anything I've been doing for the past few decades, but hopefully it will give a little more attention and respect to a type of vital musical expression that has been sorely neglected, and open up some doors for presenting the music in a wide variety of international venues.
Upcoming shows for John Santos include at the Sitka Jazz Festival in Alaska, February 4/5/6, the Haiti Relief fundraiser at Pier 23 in San Francisco, along with several other groups on Feb 28th, and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, CA March 21st. For more information on the artist visit his website johnsantos.com.
Post Grammy update: The winner of this year's Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album went to Douga Mansa for the album Mamadou Diabate on World Village.
Below is a partial list of the CDs that Santos has produced, many of which are either available at Amoeba or definitely on his website:
Perspectiva Fragmentada • The John Santos Quintet (Machete) 2008
La Guerra No • John Santos y El Coro Folklórico Kindembo (Machete) 2008
Papa Mambo • The John Santos Quintet (Machete) 2007
Para Todos Ustedes • (2005 GRAMMY Nominee) • Los Pleneros de la 21 (Smithsonian/Folkways) 2005
20th Anniversary • J.S. and Machete (Machete) 2005
Para Ellos • (2005 GRAMMY Nominee) • J.S. and the Coro Folklorico Kindembo (Machete) 2004
Brazos Abiertos • J.S. and Machete (Machete) 2003
S.F. Bay • (2003 GRAMMY Nominee) • J.S. and Machete (Machete) 2002
Mambo Jazz • Bobby Matos/John Santos (Cubop) 2001
Tribute to The Masters • John Santos and Machete (Cubop) 2000
La Mar • John Santos and Omar Sosa 2000
Machetazo • John Santos and Machete (Bembé) 1998
Nfumbe • John Santos and Omar Sosa (Price Club) 1998
Flores • Conjunto Cespedes (Xenophile) 1997
Tierra Adentro • Claudia Gomez (Xenophile) 1996
Hacia el Amor • JS and the Coro Folklórico Kindembo (Xenophile) with Francisco Aguabella 1996
Machete • John Santos and Machete (Xenophile) with Cachao and Chocolate 1995
Skin Talk • Carolyn Brandy 1995
Vivito y Coleando • Conjunto Céspedes (Xenophile) 1995
Una Sola Casa • Conjunto Céspedes (Green Linnet) 1993
Africa Vol.1 • John Santos and Machete (Earthbeat) 1988
Mañana Para Los Niños • Orquesta Batachanga (Earthbeat) 1985
La Nueva Tradicion • Orquesta Batachanga (Sugarloaf) 1982