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Rodney Barreto is one of the best conga drums players in Cuba, and if you get to Havana he can be found playing at various venues including La Zorra y el Cuervo, Jazz Café Miramar, Sarao, el Sauza, and el Teatro Mella. When he was a little boy Rodney Barreto never dreamed about becoming a musician. He liked music, but was more interested in sports, specifically basketball. His father had been a basketball player, and he instilled a love for the sport in his son. However, his uncle, Julio Cesar Barreto, was one of Cuba’s best conga players, and his influence eventually was much greater. “I was fortunate because my uncle lived with us for a time, I was there when he practiced, and my passion for the congas started.”Rodney began to study music when he was nine-years old. He admits that it was very appealing to him how a person can play an instrument while simultaneously moving their entire body. At his young age, he has already played with Chucho Valdes, Ruy Lopez Nussa, Alexander Abreu, Descember Bueno, Alain Perez, and more.CY. What do you think about your musical training at the Guillermo Tomas Conservatory in Guanabacoa?RB. It followed along classical lines, traditional, as is usual in schools. That is how you learn the basics and take your first steps, but I didn’t learn much about drums there. I practiced the tumbadoras at home, watching my uncle, on the street, with friends, some of whom are now great drummers. That is how I was introduced to popular music. I have a very funny story about Ruy Lopez Nussa. This occurred when I went to his house for my first drumming lesson, I was in the middle years at Amadeo Roldan. When he saw me he said, “What are you doing here?” I responded that I was there for class, and he said, “But you already play the drums!” It was very funny at the time, however, I actually began learning to play the drums in my third year. Since I liked popular music so much, especially Jazz, we shared any information we could get. At that time in Cuba it was difficult to obtain foreign music, and we did it through other musicians who travelled overseas.

CY. What are some of the most important projects in your career?

RB. My first project was about six years ago with Oliver Valdes. It was titled “Drums La Habana” and it was an achievement for us. With so many generations with great drummers in Cuba, there wasn’t a single CD that was dedicated to just those instruments, the drums and congas. It was the first of its’ kind, and it was well received, we were both very proud of it. We felt like we were representing all the greats that had come before us. Thank God it was popular, it couldn’t have turned out better.

CY. How important was it for you to have participated in “Re-percusiones?”

RB. It was a great pleasure and honor, and it brought me much joy. It was the first show dedicated to drumming in Cuba, the idea was Ruy Lopez Nussa’s, born out of his desire to organize a concert to showcase all of his works. He also created a piece at the request of his colleagues, which required six drummers, and a timpanist. It took a year to put together because each note was prepared for a specific drummer, including myself. This shows the level of commitment we have, and how well the musicians in Cuba collaborate.

CY. What are you working on now?

RB. It’s still cooking, but I want to do a CD of solos. It should be ready next year. I have many ideas, and I work with many great musicians. I plan on working with Rolando Luna and Esteban Puebla for this. It will be a retelling of my musical history. This will tell the story of all of the styles I have played through rhythm, and I am concentrating on this at the moment.

By Clao York

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