|Grupo RebolúGrupo Rebolú’s CD, Abriendo Caminos (or Opening Roads), |
offers the listener ten high energy tracks featuring the sounds of Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast. Nine of these tracks were written by the group’s director Ronald Polo with arrangements by co-director Morris Cañate. Friends since childhood, Ronald and Morris grew up together in Barranquilla, Colombia and first met as youngsters enrolled in the Escuela de Música de Barranquilla, Carlos Franco. Morris comes from a family of traditional musicians and dancers, and it was his aunt, an instructor at the school, who encouraged him to enroll. Ronald’s brother pushed him to join, and Ronald quickly made up his mind that music was going to be his life. They began as dancers in the school, and having won their category at Barranquilla’s annual carnival, the youngsters continued to develop as artists. By the time they were 17, they had recorded a CD and the school encouraged their group to travel internationally. Thirty members of the school performed in France, China, Japan, Spain and Portugal playing Colombia’s traditional music and some of Ronald’s original compositions. This experience profoundly shaped the lives of Ronald and Morris, and when they came to the U.S. years later, they immediately began planning a new group. Gabrielle Hamilton recently sat down with Ronald and Morris and Johanna Castañeda, a vocalist in the group and Ronald’s wife. They talked about Rebolú’s CD and what traditional music means to the group so far from their homeland. Here are some excerpts from that discussion:
Morris: The name actually came along in 2004 or 2005 with the thought of putting together a band, but we didn’t actually get together until 2008. And it started with my student in Chicago offering me a gig, and we put together a band for the show and Rebolú grew out of that.
Ronald: The first person to come to the United States was me and I asked Morris if he wanted to come and three years later he came with Fabian Diaz. The idea was to start a group because we all played together in the school and Fabian was one of the best musicians we had in Barranquilla. He played everything—gaitas (native flute), percussion, and trumpet. He decided that he wanted to move to Boston and then died suddenly of appendicitis. But it was really the three of us when we started here. We started a group similar to Rebolú. From there, Pablo Mayor invited me to sing with Folklore Urbano.
Gabrielle: Tell me about your writing process. Do you hear the music first? Do you sit down with Morris?
Ronald: The composing comes naturally. If I come up with an idea at any moment of the day, I’ll record the song on my cell phone with whatever melody I have. Then when I get home I write out the songs. And then I meet with Morris and show him my ideas and ask him what he thinks. Most of the time, he’ll tell me: “I like this song; we can arrange it like this” and we figure out the percussion.
Johanna: He has tons of voice recordings in his cell phone, because he comes up with stuff in the middle of the day at work.
Gabrielle: It seems to me that there are three different themes on your CD: songs about love and relationships, songs celebrating the traditional rhythms, and songs about immigration experiences, such as the last song: Manana me voy de aqui (I leave here tomorrow).
Johanna: It’s all life experiences!
Ronald: Yes, I write about things that happened to me or Morris or Johanna. La Manga is about my hometown. It’s named La Manga because it looks like a sleeve with one street running down from the mountains into the town. It’s not a town of rich people but they’re happy and I always think of my hometown. El Viejo José is about my dad, so I call him “Old Joe” and Morris’ dad too, who is also José. And Morris’ middle name is José too.
Gabrielle: And La Sorpresa? It seems to be about all the singer’s bad relationships.
Morris [laughing]: That’s not me!
Ronald [laughing]: It’s not only me! What I do when I write a song is try to find the humorous part and the true part too. So it’s not only my story but the story of a lot of my friends and a lot of different cases. If you hear the first verse it is about a man meeting a woman close to the river, but after he gets to know her he finds out that she married, and the next woman he meets is pregnant and the next is drunk. And so the chorus sings “don’t bother me!” Now, the second CD of Rebolú is coming out with more surprises! And I think I’ve grown up now, so the lyrics are nicer and explore issues like death. In one song, death visits the singer, they argue and the singer pleads with him to give him a little more time to write music.
Gabrielle: What does Grupo Rebolú mean to you?
Morris: Rebolú balances my life in the city. New York is not an easy city; you have to be strong and work hard and Rebolú is my escape.
Ronald: Rebolú is my other son; it’s my future; it’s the hope that things are going to be better. It’s cool music.
Gabrielle: What do you want your listeners to hear when they listen to your CD? Is there anything you want to tell listeners who perhaps do not understand Spanish?
Morris: I want people to feel the positive energy of the group.
Ronald: People should know they are listening to traditional Colombian Caribbean rhythms: gaitas, tambora, puyas, chande, bullerengue, cumbias,fused with a New York style. That’s my starting point. We are traditional musicians, so what I do is take traditional rhythms from the north coast of Colombia and add other sounds of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Peru. Everything you hear, you can get something from; and that’s what I do, picking up the vibe from Latinos based in New York City. We’ve created new sounds and a new group and I think it is a great band to hear and to see.
To contact Grupo Rebolú go to: www.gruporebolu.com
Read the Artist Bio for Grupo Rebolú in this section.