b. Francisco Hernández Mora, Cuba. Tellingly, percussionist extraordinaire Pancho Quinto’s most widely available release is entitled Rumba Sin Fronteras (Rumba Without Frontiers). He offers an unconventional take on his home country’s most exuberant music, fusing rumba with rhythmic and harmonic elements from other Afro-Cuban and African-American traditions including jazz and hip-hop.
Quinto’s music career was started with performances in traditional religious ceremonies, earning the rank of omo ana or master/consecrated drummer, which is one who has been initiated to play the ritual drums. During the 50s, he performed in carnival groups and played rumbas, notably appearing with Celia Cruz. Nevertheless, despite his musical talent (and seemingly owing to the political climate in Cuba), Quinto worked on Havana’s docks, an experience that appears to have had a profound influence on his music making methodologies. In these shipyards, the workers were skilled in a variety of African cultural/religious traditions such as Abakua (a men’s secret society in Cuba, with customs, religions and music derived from the Efik people of Nigeria’s Calabar region) and in this environment, Quinto was able to become adept at employing many different drumming traditions. During the 80s, he formed a band, Yoruba Andabo, which notably recorded with Merceditas Valdés, the grand dame of Cuban folkloric and popular music.
On his first solo album, 1998’s En El Solar La Cueva Del Humo, Quinto presented a radical fusion of Cuban drumming known as guarapachangeo which incorporates bata drums and cajónes into the traditional rumba. Recorded with Octavio Rodríguez (percussion/babalao), Omar Sosa (pianist), John Santos (percussion) and Enrique Fernández (saxophone), Quinto’s follow-up, Rumba Sin Fronteras, explored the new possibilities of rumba tradition by adding new sounds and rhythmic combinations. Prior to the recordings, Quinto was apparently inspired by the percussive sounds he heard from San Francisco’s Latin barrio while visiting on a national tour of the USA. Astonishingly, the basic tracks on the album were apparently recorded at a single day session during a 1998 US tour and performed on a bass cajon (a large box which is sat on and ‘attacked’ with hands and sticks). Despite five years lapsing between the album’s recording and release, Rumba Sin Fronteras nevertheless sounded intriguing and contemporary upon its release.