By Robert Waddell
Bassist Joe Falcon and poet Bobby Gonzalez describe their collaboration as a mélange and merger of poetry, various styles of Latin music and Taino and jibaro traditions. They join words and melody in their soon to be released CD “Encuentros” or Encounters. They bring years of personal experience to the genre and form a marriage of poetry and music.
“An Encuentro (an encounter) is something that comes together,” said Falcon, “either naturally or because you seek it; could be a friendship or an encounter with your past.”
Falcon stands at his bass and sways his body, playing fine mellow tunes to Gonzalez’s poetry, which talks of Puerto Rican and Taino culture. Falcon gives a smooth touch of jibaro cords as Gonzalez's tenor tells of ancient Taino gods in a contemporary setting. And Alto saxophonist Ricardo Strobert adds and improvises ideas, Falcon said.
“I’m always careful to acknowledge our African ancestry,” Gonzalez said, “and our Spanish culture...I was told by my mother that there are ‘African, Spanish and Taino spirits walking behind you so you should honor all of them.’ ”
In one of Gonzalez’s poems, he honors a Taino goddess called Atabex-gurra-pita, which is the goddess of the waters like the Yoruba Yemaya.
“Our culture is still here," he said. "We are still a dynamic force in the Caribbean and the United States. I want to communicate pride and love in who we are today that will empower people if they know this history.”
Falcon takes Gonzalez's words and conceives music that fits. For example, Falcon and Gonzalez take listeners to the past or a different place as with “El Yunque,” the Puerto Rican rain forest.
They both describe the feeling within their collaborations as surreal.
“Something far out, something real and unreal,” Falcon said. “The form is not direct. There’s no straight line. There are many lines.”
And, they are adding a jibaro and Taino contribution to this genre.
Falcon reads Gonzalez’s poetry, grabs onto an image and flies with the music.
Falcon recalled that he first saw Gonzalez in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, where he was giving a talk on the history of the Taino. And what struck Falcon were the images.
Falcon said he plays improvisational salsa that doesn’t speak to one approach or style. He lives up to Duke Ellington’s definition that music should go beyond category.
“I could play just one style,” said Falcon, “but if I’m not careful, we arrive there without really wanting to be and we’re boxed in. If you stick to only one style then you’re stuck to that one style.”
And Gonzalez's poetry compliments the music.
Gonzalez said his words come from his family traditions of going to El Barrio on the weekends, eating rice and beans and listening to salsa. They also come from Native American pow-wows and his Taino roots.
The poetry songs take the listener on a voyage,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in the Bronx. “This voyage takes them through the past, present and future.”
Falcon and Gonzalez said “Encuentros” tells and re-tells personal and collective Puerto Rican stories. Their poetry and musical come together, forming a dance that has a touch of jibaro, Taino, salsa, jazz, poetry and collective discovery.
“In a way, I’m fulfilling my fantasy of being the lead singer in a rock band,” Gonzalez said of "Encuentros."
Robert Waddell is a freelance writer from the Bronx who contributes his writings to Puerto Rico Sun.
For more information, visit www.bobbygonzalez.com.
Friday, Sept. 28
"ENCUENTROS" A jazz/poetry collaboration featuring Bobby Gonzalez (poet), Joe Falcon (bass) & Ricardo Strobert (saxaphone/flute) Admission: $10 at Cemi Underground in East Harlem. Visit www.cemiunderground.com.