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Cyro Baptista & Beat The Donkey at The Wardrobe, Leeds, UK

Philip Songa By

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In Cyro Baptista's new "home country" of New Jersey, people like to renovate their homes - for fun. Baptista prefers to take his apart and create odd-looking musical instruments out of them, like the PVC-pipe contraption (played with sandals) that inspired the home renovation joke. He appeared with these and more together with his 7-person Beat The Donkey ensemble at The Wardrobe, the premier venue for Leeds Jazz, on the 21st of February 2005.

Playing a mix of percussion instruments and items, Baptista leads the camaraderie from the front, with a mix of child-like eagerness, unbridled enthusiasm and the skill of an accomplished musician. Playing to a fair-sized crowd, Baptista's return to Leeds after nearly 20 years was a loud and joyous one. He obviously enjoys performing before a diverse audience, and the predominantly English did not disappoint.

The ensemble plays a variety of instruments, mainly percussion instruments such as drums (including a drum kit), cymbals, a variety of specially-created shakers, accompanied by keyboards, guitars, ukulele, violin, voice and whatever else catches their fancy. The repertoire includes tap-dancing, song, chant and high energy performance.

Beat The Donkey embrace humour as a form of communication, and break into spontaneous celebration on a whim. Having worked for so long with a diverse range of musicians, Baptista has honed his skills and does well as a leader; inspiring, but also showcasing the individual talents of the ensemble. They display excellent musical skills, exchanging instruments and roles at will without losing a step.

On the night, they played a mix of songs and sounds, but for me the love song "Maria Teresa" was the highlight, particularly the Japanese monologue by Chikako. Overall, an impressive outing, and certainly deserving of a larger crowd. Well worth the purchase of one of their CDs, if only as Baptista says, "to help give the baby milk".

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