Skip to main content

Puerto Rican Drummer Meets Afrobeat: Henry Cole's Roots Before Branches

From a media release:

CD Release
Crazy With Joy: Henry Cole & the Afro-Beat Collective Find An Age-Old Mestizo Heart and Fresh Jazz Flash in Afrobeat on Roots Before Branches
Release date March 13, 2012

Quicksilver Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole knows how Wayne Shorter might have jammed with Fela Kuti. Or what Miles would have done if only he’d gone Afro-Caribbean with his rock-jazz hybrids. He hears how jazz can grab the rootsy sounds of bomba, plena, and Cuban rumba, and sparkle with electro sheen and rock energy.

He hears it, because these sonic roots have been intertwining in Puerto Rico for hundreds of years. “If I had been a Puerto Rican musician playing a few centuries ago, I would have had the same kinds of influences: African, indigenous, European,” Cole explains. “They’ve come together to create mestizo sounds forever, and I’m just carrying that forward.”

Cole & the Afro-Beat Collective on Roots Before Branches (release: March 13, 2012), a gently autobiographical yet firmly funky vision that channels the joie-de-vivre of Cole’s home scene in Puerto Rico and the bright sophistication of New York’s jazz heights. Equally able to jam with a hip hop crew or jazz masters, Cole harnesses his well-honed rhythmic power and his love of catchy, evocative melodies to create a deep, wide-ranging vision of unity, balance, and Afro-Caribbean creativity.

One night, the bold beat that shook up Lagos came home to Puerto Rico.

Cole had reveled in the diverse musical sounds of his fellow Puerto Rican musicians playing in the small clubs and bars of San Juan’s historic heart. He had played with the scene’s many vibrant and varied figures, often dashing from an early evening jazz gig to a rock show right across the street. Some of his artist friends did spoken word. Some rapped. Some played rock en Español. Some were hot international jazz performers—MacArthur Fellow saxophonist Miguel Zenón, Grammy award winning sax player David Sánchez—and some were old-school Latin roots musicians and salsa masters.

How could Cole find something that would let them all get down?

The solution: Afrobeat and the masterful grooves of Fela Kuti. “Miguel and I started doing jam sessions in San Juan at Christmas with a trio. It was great, but I missed all these other elements, like that salsa energy,” Cole recalls. “But when I heard Fela, I was like ‘Wow, this is it!’ He had tradition, he had the rock vibe, he had solos, and a really intense energy. The songs were relatively simple and you didn’t need a big rehearsal. I got to Puerto Rico with a chart, called my friends, and played. It was the perfect musical vehicle, but we adapted it to the island, with local percussionists and a poet instead of a singer.”

This cross-pollination grooves hard on tracks like “Trabájala,” where rap poet Hérmes Ayala rocks the mic with a pointed call to action, alongside Zenón’s wailing beauty of a sax solo. Or the organ-powered “Solo dos veces,” that puts the Cole’s spitfire drums play off of Afro-funky horn lines. He keeps all the elements in balance, thanks to a keen organic sense of timing and melody. For Cole, one pulse beats through it all: There’s a high voice, a low voice—and a language that moves everyone.

“In many traditions, the drum that speaks, that improvises, usually has a high and a low sound. You have two sounds in Puerto Rican plena, playing the language of the drum. The traditional players don’t think about it in terms of technique; they think about language,” Cole explains. “I wanted to learn the language from the main traditional sources and then orchestrate it from there.”

Like a language, the album evolved over years, as Cole dug into indie rock (“Una para Isabel”), electronic music (“Comienzo,” “Uncovered Fears”), and jazz classics—he imagined a post-bop horn player fronting Fela’s band, or an Afro-Caribbean version of Bitches Brew—or simply in a springing pulse that sparked a whole melody in his inner ear.

Cole brought highly versatile kindred spirits together in the studio in Puerto Rico and in New York: Zenón and Sánchez, the New Orleans-inspired post-bop tenor sax of John Ellis, Tito Puente trumpet man Piro Rodríguez, salsa master Cheito Quiñone (Arturo Sandoval, Julio Eglesias), and nimble, raw-edged guitarist Adam Rogers (Cassandra Wilson, John Zorn, Paul Simon).

Yet the tracks came together in a spirit of play, like the upbeat jam sessions in San Juan, capturing the sheer delight of making music that grooves . “In Puerto Rico, there’s a spirit of humility toward playing music, a real pleasure in the music,” Cole notes. “You can go crazy with joy and scream and play for fun. It’s a platform to be relaxed and happy. You play what you want, and you go back to the roots of playing, without attachments.”


What Else Is Hot This Week?

FACTORY presents World Premiere ACTS OF FAITH November 19 to 28 2020 - Free Livestream

 From a media release: World Premiere FACTORY presents  ACTS OF FAITH by David Yee Directed by Nina Lee Aquino Starring Natasha Mumba November 19 – 28, 2020 @ 7:30PM Streamed live for 6 performances Free of charge TORONTO (October 19, 2020) - To kick off its groundbreaking 2020/21 season, Factory presents the world premiere of acts of faith, by multi-award winning Asian Canadian playwright David Yee, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, and starring Natasha Mumba. Written specifically to be performed for a digital platform, acts of faith will stream live to audiences at home for six performances, November 19-28, 2020.  Thanks to the generous support of the TD Bank Group, admission is being offered entirely free of charge to audiences across the country and beyond. acts of faith tells a story about the power of faith, the inescapable persistence of our online identities, and the nature of truth in a digital age. The story follows Faith, a young woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. When a ques

Blues Single | Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020)

Blues Single Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020) Stream It From Your Fave Service Waiting is the latest in a string of singles released by Bushwick Blooze Band. The Brooklyn-based blues trio have been performing and recording the blues around the NYC area since 2018. Their first album "Cryin' for the L Train" was released in January 2019, and included covers of famous songs composed by their greatest influencers such as Little Richard, The Allman Brothers Band, Freddie King, and Eddie Vinson.  Bushwick Blooze Band is finishing up the production of their second album "Yes Dear" and unlike the previous cover record, this new album will be their first original contribution to the genres they love. Waiting is an upbeat blues track with a party kind of veneer over solid musicianship. What begins with a classic blues feel transforms into an extended psychadelic flavoured trip. Inventive guitar licks almost make you forget about the virtuosity

Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 Online - PWYC

 From a media release: Batuki Music Society and Alliance Francaise Toronto present A virtual concert featuring Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 at 8:00 PM Enjoy the concert from home! K inshasa’s vibrant nightlife has long been world-famous. It is home to the subculture known informally as the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People (SAPEUR), which has spread its influence through artists such as Papa Wemba. Blaise La Bamba is part of this scene. He has worked with some of the top names of Congolese music, in particular General Defao. I n 2018, Blaise La Bamba founded Kotakoli , an all-star collective of musicians that perform an energetic mix of Congolese rumba and soukous . In the company of Kotakoli, this veteran musician brings Congolese popular music back to the forefront, with spellbinding dances. The Details Date: Saturday November 7th, 2021  Blaise La Bamba and Kotakoli Virtual Concert Time: 8:00 PM Tickets: Pay what you can This concert is offered to you

Review: Night of the Kings / La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte

Review:  Night of the Kings La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte A France, Côte d'Ivoire, Canada and Senegal co-production Now Playing In The New York Film Festival ImageAfter Venice and the Toronto Film Festival, Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings has moved on to conquer New York City.  Image Courtesy of TIFF A young pickpocket (Koné Bakary), is incarcerated in the giant La MACA prison, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire. The prison offers a hostile atmosphere, where the guards have long given up keeping order and the prisoners run the show, albeit confined within the prison walls. They dance, sing, and mingle at will in a common area called The Jungle.  There is a violent power struggle between Lord Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who runs things, and the younger leaders of other factions. Blackbeard is old and infirm, and he knows he can't hold on forever. But, he does want to hold on long enough to leave on his own terms.  Image courtesy of TIFF Blackbeard designates the new

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020)

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020) New York City based singer and songwriter Shihori's new single Soul Trip is atmospheric and ambient. Interesting rhythms and interwoven melodic vocal lines showcase jazzy harmonic progressions in a slow groove mode.  As a songwriter, she uses electronic effects with impeccable musical taste. As a singer, her flexible vocals range from a sweet soprano to a strong mid-range. A veteran of the Japanese pop scene, Shihori moved to New York City in 2018, a move she talks about in a media release. "I was so surprised when I came to NY for the first time. Independent and strong women are respected and there are lots of different preferences in music and style. I thought, 'oh my God! This place really accepts uniqueness and freedom! I didn't know there is a place like this totally different world that allows you to be yourself. Everybody looks so different. So many races, colors, cultures, fashion, ideas...I am so