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Interviews

Gumbi Ortiz: Stepping Out With Miami

By Published: July 13, 2006
Most fans are familiar with traditional lead instruments like bass, saxophone, guitar, piano, etc. But a percussionist as a bandleader is bit off the beaten path. Ortiz says that's part of what made the recording of Miami fun. "A percussionist—think of it as Santa's workshop. In Santa's workshop, there's all sorts of stuff. In African cultures— Cuban, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Dominican—they can take anything and make it an instrument. Our people are resourceful. In Trinidad, they made the steel drums. That's the most inventive thing. Even the conga drum is an invention of people being displaced from their homeland—without their instruments. With all the trials and tribulations, they still have that creativity. The Caribbean, Mississippi, Brazil—wherever there are African people, we are resourceful.

In poor regions of the world, people have been known to use anything that makes a sound when they don't have instruments. The oil barrel, for example, evolved into a musical instrument when drums, that had been associated with street violence, were outlawed. Some percussion ensembles employ some interesting devices, including an automobile brake drum. Ortiz's setup includes several drums, including congas, bongos and the bata, which he said is used in Nigeria to praise the gods. Ortiz also plays piano.

Ortiz explains a delicate balance between an artist's creative freedom and playing what audiences like, the latter of which may involve a bit of compromise. He says it's fine for an artist who feels something for the music he writes to record that, even if the recording is so weird that nobody wants to listen to it. However, such an artist should be prepared for negative responses. "Don't complain to me, Ortiz said with a laugh, "I told you not to make elephant noises records!

It's a lesson in futility to ask Ortiz about the inspiration behind certain song titles, apart from the self-explanatory ones like "T-Back and "Miami. "That means nothing to me because those are not the working titles, he said. "And then, when it's on, it's got a name. Man that is the worst; I am the worst at this. You know what I mean? I have a list of 15 songs, and then next to them, I can't remember what they're called now. I always have to go back to my iTunes over here. When people ask me, 'What about this one?' I stutter. I have to go look it up.

Gumbi OrtizSometimes, that doesn't help. "Even on my iTunes, it just says, 'Track 1.' The Janet Jackson song, we did the song, but we never knew what it was. It was always 'the Janet Jackson song.' That song, incidentally, is "Together Again. The other 13 tracks are originals, penned by Ortiz or members of the various lineups, including Lorber, Miles, Rodriguez and Weckl.

Ultimately, Ortiz will become more familiar with the titles. "At the end of two years, I'll know all the songs, he said. However, he hesitated when asked if he'll still be playing them in two years. "I don't know, but I'll know the songs, he said, laughing. It's an infectious atmosphere about the album. Whether you're a picky or insatiable, the smorgasbord that is Miami is sure to sate any musical appetite.


Selected Discography:

Gumbi Ortiz, Miami (Kwip, 2006)
Al Di Meola, Vocal Rendezvous (SPV UK, 2006)
The Latino Projekt, Soy De Aqui (Independent, 2005)
Los Hombres Calientes, Vol. 4: Vodou Dance (Basin Street, 2003)
Al Di Meola, Flesh on Flesh (Telarc, 2002)
The Latino Projekt, La Cura (Independent, 2000)
Al Di Meola, The Grand Passion: World Sinfonia (Telarc, 2000)
Al Di Meola, Orange and Blue (Bluemoon, 1994)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Gumbi Ortiz



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