The Drummers and Singers
In an Ocha house with the sacred bata drums, there is really no such thing as a fixed group of drummers and singers. There are perhaps a dozen or more drummers who play Alfredo Calvo's two sets of Aña drums, and several of those drummers are also accomplished akpwons (lead singers). The chorus, of course, is made up of whoever happens to be at the tambor. But the best drumming celebrations tend to have the same core of drummers and singers, and those are the people who appear on both Kabiosile DVDs and the CD.
Alfredo Calvo Cano died August 26, 2011, and the world lost a true folkloric treasure. Alfredo was a priest of Agayu with more than 50 years of Ocha. He was an (if not the) Elder of the Egwado branch of the Santeria religion, of which his godmother, Fermina Gomez (Ocha Bi), is considered the founder. Affectionately known as El Gallo (the Rooster) for his strong, distinctive singing voice, he was one of the most talented and knowledgeable akpwons in Matanzas. He was the owner of the Aña Oba Tola bata drums heard on all Kabiosile's recordings, and was an accomplished drummer in his own right. Alfredo was a highly sought-after Oba Oriate (the high priest of the Santeria religion who is in charge of all rituals) and diviner with the dilogun (the cowry shells that serve as mouth for the Orishas).
Alfredo was also tata or high priest of Palo Mayombe. Many people come to him for readings with the chavalongo (shells used for divination in the Palo religion) and initiations. His enormous prenda sits alongside those of his grandfather and great uncle, both slaves from the Congo who brought the secrets of their prendas with them from Africa. Alfredo was also Nasaco, the highest level of initiation in the all-male Abakua society.
Alberto "El Gordo" Puñales Cabrero is a priest of Chango and the owner of the Bembe Macagua drums heard on Bata y Bembe de Matanzas and seen on La Fuerza del Tambor. He inherited the drums from his uncle Jose Geraldo de la Mercedes, also known as Cheo Chango. Alberto is also an Omo Aña (consecrated to play the sacred bata drums) and akpwon (lead singer). Like Alfredo, Alberto is also tata or high priest of Palo and Macongo or head of an Abakua group.
Alberto Calvo Prado, Artistic Director of Kabiosile, is a priest of Ogun with more than 20 years of Ocha. He is a highly sought-after diviner with both the dilogun and the chavalongo. Like his father, he is a very knowledgeable Oba Oriate, as well as a talented drummer and singer. He is tata and a very active member of the Abakua society.
Arnelio "Petiti" Urrutia Ruiz is known throughout Matanzas as a very talented drum and shekere (güiro) maker, a skill he learned from his father. He is the owner of one of the oldest sets of güiro in Matanzas. He made the bembe drums used in the drumming demonstration on La Fuerza del Tambor. He is Omo Aña, tata, and Abakua.
Michel Madrazo Betancourt is a priest of Chango and Oba Oriate in the Santeria religion, tata in Palo, and Iyanba (the head of an Abakua group). Although he is relatively young in Ocha, he is already highly regarded and sought after as an Oriate and diviner with the dilogun. He is training several other young Santeros to become Oriates, and has a very active Ocha house. He is an Olu Aña and a talented akpwon (lead singer).
Reynier Urrutia Fernandez is a priest of Ogun, Omo Aña, a Palero, and Abakua. He is training to become an Oba Oriate . He is an accomplished güiro player (a gift he inherited from his father, Petiti) and a very talented drummer and singer. He was crucial to the development of the lyric subtitles for the La Fuerza del Tambor DVD. In addition to participating in all of the Kabiosile projects, Reynier is a member of Rumba Timba, a hot new timba band from Matanzas, and lead singer for an Afro-Cuban folkloric group called Panorama Antillano.
Yaimel "Toribio" García Portillo is a priest of Ogun, a Palero, and one of the leaders of an Abakua group. He has been training for several years to become an Oba Oriate in the Santeria religion and is an accomplished akpwon . Toribio is an Omo Aña and is very likely one of the most talented young drummers in Matanzas.
Geronimo "Kiki" Rueda Amaro is a priest of Agayu in Santeria, tata in Palo, and Abakua. He is also Omo Aña and one of the few young Bembe drummers who knows how to play the caja and bajo in the old style, with two sticks.
Alberto Puñales Rodrigues is a priest of Elegua, a Palero, and Abakua. He is Omo Aña and the primary (and tireless) caja and bajo player on his father's Bembe Macagua drums (as you can see on La Fuerza del Tambor). He is also a tireless drummer with Rumba Timba.
Orlando Alfonso Fernandez was already a very talented drummer when he appeared in La Fuerza del Tambor at age 11. He is a priest of Elegua, a Palero, and Abakua. He had his hands washed to play the sacred bata drums, Aña, when he was 7. He can play whatever he touches--bata, bembe, güiro--and is already a respected drummer in the community.