Featured in the film Calle 54, venerated elder statesman Román Díaz is a master percussionist from Havana, Cuba, and a musician known for mentoring young musicians including Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Yosvany Terry and his brother, bassist Yunior; pianist and composer David Virelles; and Grammy-nominated percussionist Pedrito Martínez, featured performer and producer of Díaz’s recording. Today Díaz – an important Olú Aña or “keeper of the sacred drum” – is considered a pillar of the New York City jazz avant-garde and one of Afro Cuban music’s great innovators.
Initiated by his elders into the ancient African brotherhood of the drum, Díaz holds steadfast to their teachings on his first U.S. release as a leader, L’ó Da Fún Bàtá [Casting the Sacred Cowrie Shell Oracle for Bàtá ], which debuts November 7, 2015, on Motéma Music. The album aligns the sacred traditions of Afro Cuban Bàtá drumming with a Yoruba choir of five women from Harlem in New York City whose stirring interpretations of Yoruba chants are a standout feature of the recording. Most of the tracks feature oracle poetry by Díaz in the Afrocubanismo style of the late 1920’s and early 30’s, a cultural movement that coincided historically with the Harlem Renaissance.
Conceived by Díaz with Martínez in 2013 after a performance honoring Celia Cruz, the recording is a mosaic of Díaz’s life and career and represents the confluence of New York City’s tradition of music of the African diaspora. Since Reconstruction the spirituals and songs of praise of African descendants resonated through the streets of New York and formed the core of Harlem’s historic cultural community. For migrants from all points south, the African context remained a vehicle for worship and expression. The percussionists and vocalists performing along with Díaz on this project attest to the special relationship these artists have to Díaz and his music. Together they share a commitment to Osha, the sacred Yoruba religious practice, and their collective styles represent different eras and influences in Díaz’s life.
Pillars of the African American community in New York City, the Yoruba choir of Amma McKenn, Amma Oloriwaa!, Denise Ola de Jean and Tima Baker are renowned for their interpretations of Yoruba chants and regularly accompany legendary artists of the Afro Cuban music scene including iconic artists Milton Cardona and Orlando “Puntilla” Rios. Nina Rodriguez, an outstanding figure of the Osha community, is an internationally sought after Akpuon, Yoruba chanter, and one of Díaz’s favorite singers. Rodriguez is also one of the most celebrated voices of the New York City house music scene.
L’ó Da Fún Bàtá brings together the very best of New York City’s thriving and resilient Afro Cuban music scene to celebrate the importance of tradition in the creative throws of musical innovation.
Recorded in the shadow of New York City, these praise songs to the major Lukumí Orishá emerge from Havana lineages of batá playing styles developed and nurtured by past leaders of the batá guild including Andrés ‘Sublime’, Pablo Roche, Andrés Isaac, Trinidad Torregroso, Raul Díaz, Jesús Pérez, Regino Jiménez, Sergio y Papo Angarika Angel Bolaño, Francisco Hernandez Mora (Pancho Quinto), Jose Fernández Almendáriz (Pito El Gago), Andres Chacón and many others who are evoked by contemporary players in their moyubas or ‘prayers to the ancestors’. As a child in La Habana, captivated by the fierce devotion of his elders to their African-Cuban heritages, Román learned from them and has passionately studied their legacies ever since. – From the liner notes by Dr. Ivor Miller of the University of Calabar, Fulbright Scholar and Smithsonian Fellow
Biography. Upon his arrival to New York City in 1999, Díaz was cast in the film Calle 54 by acclaimed Spanish director Fernando Trueba alongside legendary percussionists Orlando “Puntilla” Rios and Carlos “Patato” Valdez, both infamous for their command of Afro Cuban traditional music and the innovations they contributed to Afro Cuban jazz. The film literally documented the passing of the torch to Díaz and Pedrito Martínez as the filming marked the last time these four great artists would appear together. Only Díaz and Martínez could carry on the legacy of innovation rooted in tradition that has made New York City a vital locale in the history of Afro Cuban music. As a member of Cuba’s groundbreaking Rumba group Yoruba Andabo, Díaz aided in the creation of the sound that has defined rumba since the 1980s and performed and/or recorded with legends including Merceditas Valdes. Díaz has participated in notable projects by Jane Bunnett, Michele Rosewoman, Danilo Pérez, Omar Sosa, David Virelles and Henry Threadgill among others. Díaz has been featured on compilations including the Calle 54 soundtrack; the Grammy-nominated Raíces Habaneras project; and rumba compilations with Martínez including The Routes of Rumba (1999) and Rumba de la Isla (2013). In 2009 Díaz, Martinez and Angel Guerrero created the Afro Cuban classic Enyenison Enkama (Africa Speaks), hailed as “a masterpiece of Afro Cuban music…” by Descarga.com. Diaz and Martinez also figure prominently in the documentary Rumba Clave Blen-Blen by Arístides Falcon. Díaz is featured on the sophomore release by The Pedrito Martínez Group coming in spring 2016.