Bonilla is the all-around percussionist for a
woman who's short listed as one of the world's
most acclaimed Latin artists ever, Gloria Estefan.
But when he was growing up in New Jersey, it was
Motown, not Latin, he listened to.
age 11 he took drum lessons before switching to
percussion in high school. When Martin Cohen interviewed
him for MPR, Edwin recalled the beginnings of
his musical career.
got into timbales listening to Ray Barreto
back in the 70's. Orestes Vilato was one
of my inspirations, Nicky Marerro, and Tito
Puente definitely. I started listening more
and more to Latin music and not so much to the
Motown. From there I got into congas, bongos and
I started playing in bars when I was 13, 14, playing
timbales. My first gigs as a timbale
player were with Puerto Rican trios. I also played
Latin rock. Whatever bands were in town, I'd get
my gear and go rehearse with them. And that was
mainly my practice."
of the strongest influences on his career was
playing with the group Charanga Casino.
I started playing with Charanga Casino I began
to understand the depth music, of Cuban music.
I got into listening to the older material: Sublime
and Arcaño And that's how I picked up my
danson chops. Which has helped me now to do work
with people like Cachao and Arturo Sandoval".
is an 80 year old Cuban bassist and living legend
who frequently calls Edwin for studio sessions.
First of all, it's a very great honor to be working
with a living legend. He's been one of the greatest
inspirations in my life as far as playing Cuban
music is concerned. And it's an art that's been
lost. A form of music that hasn't been kept
up with and danson is a very important part of
our music, Latin music, Cuban music"
also recently begun working with Stevie Wonder,
which required him to adjust a bit musically.
don't play as much percussion with Stevie as with
Gloria. With Gloria I have to be more versatile
and play more rhythmically. With Stevie it's more
funk. I've done a few local gigs with Stevie before
and that's how I got the gig."
if this weren't enough to keep him busy, he also
just released a CD that's getting major airplay
around the world. Martin Cohen asked him about
a rumor that the recording was completed in just
3 days. How was that possible?
I have a compadre, a very talented guy, whose
name is Jesus Perez. He plays piano, bass, flute,
and arranges-he's a great arranger. Anyway, we
got together once in Montreal when I was there
with Gloria and he had this song about Cuba and
Puerto Rico together and how they swing. And I
said why don't we just do a demo. So he got a
studio and we went in and in a few hours we put
that down. Then we called in a trumpet player
from Montreal, Eduardo Sanchez, and he did a great
job--we got four tracks out of him. It was a 1940's
style, very simple, nothing fancy, every thing
straight down the pike for the dancer. And I played
it for Emilio (Estefan) and he loved it and said
can you bring me more like this. But he had me
busy with other things. Then I let music producer
Roberto Torres hear it--his fundamental has always
been Cuban songs--and he said Wow, this sounds
great. If you'd like to finish it I'll help you.
So I took a few days off and went back up and
we wrote and recorded all the material in 3 days
doing 12 hour sessions.
And it's getting airplay all over the world."
is the case with all great musicians, Edwin feels
that he will never stop learning and growing musically.
Throughout his career he has continued to hone
his skills on a variety of percussion instruments
from around the globe.
now one of my favorite drums is the djembe. I
really had to master that with Gloria. She loves
that instrument and so does everybody else in
the band. I think I became pretty good at it on
the tour, and I feel very comfortable on that
and Brazilian instruments like the pandeiro and
shekere are also part of his arsenal. Gloria Estefan's
current hit, Santo Santo, features Edwin on djembe,
tambourine, pandeiro, repenique, surdo, and congas.
With the mix of ethnic music becoming ever more
prevalent, percussionists must be fluent on a
range of styles and instruments. Given this trend
toward rhythmic and percussive music that shows
no signs of slacking, and because we are standing
on the threshold of a new millennium, it was only
natural that Martin ask Edwin for his thoughts
on the future of Latin percussion.
this is the perfect time for us Latin percussionists
because of all the crossovers that are happening.
Santana was one of the first, and Gloria as well,
definitely. Now you have Ricky Martin, Cheyenne,
Marc Anthony and all the others. Marc Anthony
has got a nice tune out that brings the Latin
element to the forefront. I did a song with Jennifer
Lopez on her latest CD--which is a great CD, the
production is great--and it's one of her best
tunes, "Let's Get Loud". That was a
tune I originally did for Gloria. It's a cha-cha-cha,
disco tune but it's got Latin percussion. It was
done for Gloria but Gloria gave it to Jennifer.
And I think when that tune comes out it will put
Latin percussion even more in the forefront."
last thing I'd just like to say is Hello to all
the fans out there at Congahead.Com. And
to all the people at LP as well, they're the greatest."
quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin
Cohen for MPR in October 1999.
written by Jim McSweeney.
to Edwin talk about his career.
learn more about Edwin Bonilla CLICK