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Interview: A Conversation with Rebeca Mauleón-Santana

by Robert Kaye

Rebeca Mauleon might very well be Latin music's Renaissance woman. A much sought-after pianist, she is also an arranger, composer and author of the best selling instructional books The Salsa Guidebook and 101 Montunos. Writer Robert Kaye caught up with her after a recent concert.

Robert Kaye: How did Round Trip's gig go at the Fillmore with Planet Drum?

Rebeca Mauleón: "It was Mickey's [Hart] idea. He wanted to do a band featuring the women of Planet Drum, myself and Bobi Céspedes. She's a singer and has been performing in the Bay area for years with her own group.

The concert was produced in conjunction with Bill Graham Presents, who usually covers anything associated with the Fillmore folks -- Grateful Dead and members of. They usually have concerts called the Fillmore Sessions at the Fillmore [West]. Typically, they'll host a variety of bands, usually ones that haven't really been heard of before. But in our case, we'd already been established as "the pillars of the Latin musical community." And so the idea was to have us create a night at the Fillmore that would bring in a very diverse audience. And certainly to reach out to people who might not ordinarily go out to hear "Latin music."

We had the disadvantage of having like 10 days to pull it together with no publicity, etc., etc. But we had the advantage of being able to announce it at our New Year's gig with Planet Drum at the Henry J. Kaiser Center before 9,000 Grateful Dead fans. So we ended up having a great night there. My particular group, Round Trip, is, for lack of a better word, eclectic. One of the things I'm striving to do with this is sort of break through the boundaries and stigma of solely being associated with Latin music or being a salsa player or whatever.

Even from the CD, which I hinted at, and especially live, it's an extremely worldly experience where we combine elements of reggae, Afro-Cuban, flamenco, R&B, blues and gospel and so on. It's all original music, which I've written and arranged ... Including your gratuitous James Brown funk a la'60s, and '70s. So I'm really trying to say, "music is music," trying to shy away from giving it some kind of label.

The gig went great. I think people got a taste of something different. Especially at the Fillmore, they went nuts! They want us to come back, even to organize a series. And we did a webcast, so it went out to hundreds or thousands of people live. It was a lot of fun. It looks there'll be future events. For example, Mickey and I are going to start this series featuring a great array of world music players at the Fillmore.

RK: Who's in Round Trip now? There are many personnel on the CD, with whom do you tour regularly?

RM: Our working band is still fairly large. We have 12 people, with this particular last component. And I think for touring we're going to have to go down to eight or nine, we're still working the details out on that. Of course, myself ... but usually, I don't like to say everybody's name because some of the players shift around due to their working schedules. It's one of those situations. But our featured artists include Orestes Vilató on timbales and percussion, Brenda Boykin on vocals. And then sometimes we bring in other background singers including members from Bobby McFerrin's group ... incorporating that vocal element into it. A nice brass section with Jeff Cressman on trombone, and of course, other players but the numbers may vary according to the gig. There's a powerful rhythm section featuring Jesús Diaz on congas [from Talking Drums], David Belove on bass, and Paul Van Wageningen on drums.

RK: I see from your bio you started off as a flamenco dancer, and then switched to music. How'd that come about?

RM: I'd been dancing flamenco for several years and was part of a professional theater company here and had also danced in Spain.

RK: As a child?

RM: Mmm, hmm. I grew up in the Mission district of San Francisco, where I was sort of surrounded by the music. And it was just one of those moments where everything just sort of synched together. I happened to be walking down the street near my house. Some drummers were playing rumba in the park nearby. I was with my girlfriend, she and I were dance partners at the time. Monica, she's still dancing, she's the one featured on my record. We'd danced together since we were kids. Anyway, these drummers were playing all this stuff and one of them said, "Hey, join us! Sing this song, 'Ave Maria, Morena ...' " It was the first coro (chorus) I'd ever learned. We were all playing and singing and I was like, "Wow! What is this?" It was very intriguing to me.

One of the guys explained a little bit, what he could. And I found out later that was Karl Perazzo, [who's become] my long-time friend, who's now a member of the Santana band. But he was the person who [first] told me where to go to take lessons and how to get involved.

RK: So you were both kids then?

RM: Yeah, we were 15 years old. So I started following all these great Latin bands in the Bay area. One of them was a charanga group ... and I was very intrigued by that sound, I thought it was very beautiful. They told me where I could take free classes at the Mission Cultural Center here in San Francisco, which is part of the Arts Commission. It has several different centers throughout the community. At the time they were offering free classes because the teacher had been given a grant by the arts council.

So I went there but had essentially forgotten all of my [music] training from childhood. I had taken piano lessons as a little girl but never was really serious about it.

RK: The standard classical repertoire, Hanon Etudes, etc.?

RM: Oh yeah, which I did not like. I'd played some ragtime which was a lot of fun. But my teacher would always scold me because I was relying on my ear, and I wasn't studying correctly. But when I heard this music, I wanted to play again. It motivated me. I went out and bought my first record which was Eddie Palmieri's Gold and I started taking these classes. Two week later I joined my first band -- playing vintage charanga from the '20s to the '50s. It was like a school/workshop/and live-in situation. We all moved in together -- it was a very '60s sort of thing in the '70s.

RK: And how old were you when you did this?

RM: I was 15. But I'd already graduated from high school by that time.

RK: I see... a bit of a child prodigy?

RM: No, no ... Well, I'd gone to private school. Maybe there wasn't so much competition. [Laughs]. But it was a school that focused on the academics. I had absolutely no extra-curricular activities. And because I already had a thriving artistic life as a dancer, I had enough things to keep me busy. So I basically finished all the work that I needed to do. A lot of it was very independently driven where you weren't working on a grade curve in a classroom. You were basically working at your own pace and setting your level and you could only do 90% or better. So you just keep going until you finish everything that you're supposed to. Again, another kind of '60s thing. But most of the other kids were from upper-middle class families. I was one of the only ones from a working-class family. The music sort of propelled me. I heard it and said, "This is what I want to do."

RK: More so than the dance?

RM: I was actually juggling both things for a couple of years, still dancing and playing music. But at one point, though, I had to make a decision. Having had a back injury, that sort or prompted me to give up the dance. Especially flamenco which is very hard on the back. Oddly enough, that injury happened at a music gig. I was playing at the old Army base and the [stage] structure collapsed under me and I fell. I still did the gig, but I regretted it later. Ever since then, I've had back problems. And so I don't do much crazy flamenco dancing anymore ... a little rumba doesn't hurt every once in a while [laughs].

RK: Let me see if I have this time line straight from your resumé. After going back to the piano when you were 15, just three years later you formed Orquesta Batachanga and a year later produced your first album, La Nueva Tradición. Is that correct?

RM: Yeah, in '81. That was my first record and my first studio experience. Really interesting all the way around because a lot of the music was original. This was the opportunity for me to finally write something original. I'd been learning to do that, which is the reason I went back to college. I had done the college thing for about a year but had still felt a bit ambivalent about the whole thing at first.

RK: When did you go back to college?

RM: I was about 18. And I did it for about a year and a half. I just didn't think I was motivated enough or knew what my field of study should be so I went back into the music world for a while until I realized that this is what I wanted to do. So I went back and did my undergraduate work and finished.

For me it was a moment to just explore. I really wanted to compose and that was the main reason I went to school, so I could get the [music] theory I needed. Just to say, "I want to know what the hell do I write down so that I can communicate my ideas to other people." For me, composition has always been a sort of a torment where I hear everything all at once, simultaneously. If I only had a MIDI, I could plug into my brain and just spew out all the information, I'd be fine! (laughs).

But getting back ... the first recording we did featured a piece that I collaborated on with our bass player. He came up with the bass line, which turned out to be the introduction. And, at first, even though I thought his line was interesting, I went home but since I had no process or method of working, I sort of tabled it. I just shelved it. But then one night I basically dreamt the whole piece and woke up frantically trying to get everything written down. But since I'd just started taking music classes, I was very slow. The transcription process was killer. It took some time but I finally got it. Subsequently, a lot of pieces that I've written have emerged first in dreams or dream-like states.

RK: I sometimes hear music in my dreams but can't remember the tune specifically when I wake up ...

RM: Oh no. I wake up with entire arrangements. I mean the whole score is there. And usually it's in the middle of the night or whatever -- an inconvenient time to go up and start working. I just take a piece of paper and essentially, whatever fragment that I'm hearing ... if I'm hearing the vamp -- which usually is the hook. Juan Formell style: start with the montuno and then go right to story.... If I'm hearing a specific melody and if I don't have any music manuscript paper I'll do my little interval notations, one, five, flat-three, minor seven, what have you. And any particular rhythmic nuances or texture, feel, tempo, etc.

Anyway, so this was a very important experience for me when I first recorded just to have the opportunity to compose. And also to help arrange, and that sort of thing. Again, having very minimal skills at that point it still was very exciting. I still felt very much the pup. I just realized I wanted to do more of this, I wanted to study more.

So again, going back and forth with the educational thing, it was really important for me just to have those skills. I was thinking to myself, "I have a really great ear. I have to match it with the other stuff, the theory, I have to do more, more, more ..."

RK: If I'm understanding your resumé correctly, concurrent with developing your studio chops you were also continuing your educational career. What went through your mind when Tito Puente asked you to compose a piece for him. That must have freaked you out ...

RM: It did. Well, the first thing he asked me to do was to come in and "fix" something that someone else had already played on, it was some Latin jazz tune.

RK: How'd you meet Puente?

RM: I was playing at the time with Pete Escovedo's Orchestra, we were doing a big carnival, and Tito's band was also playing. He came up to me and he said, "I really like the way you play, I'd like you to come do something with me." But he was approaching me as a jazz pianist and I was totally floored because I thought I knew nothing about jazz. But obviously some of it had made its way into my playing but I'd never consciously studied jazz. I loved it and love it, and listen to it all the time...

RK: But you were studying mostly classical composition?

RM: Right. And baroque and that kind of thing. I never really studied jazz, as much as I'd listened to it. I felt like there were so many other qualified people to do it, I didn't want to be just another casual player doing wedding gigs and that kind of thing. I just didn't see myself in those days, with the connection with Cuban music [getting into jazz], although now I do. So in those early days, I was just plugging along, listening to Cuban music and jazz, not realizing they were related.

And so Puente came up to me and asked me to overdub this certain part. He wanted it on keyboard as opposed to acoustic piano. Again, not even considering myself as a keyboardist, but more of an acoustical player, it was very unusual. Nonetheless, that started a relationship which would eventually go on to having me do some arranging on the following project with him, Salsa Meets Jazz [Picante CJP-354], and composing on a royalty piece which he actually commissioned for me.

From that point, every time he'd come in town, we'd get together, go have Cuban food, he'd ask me about my travels to Cuba. And I'd bring tapes and we'd just hang around and watch them. So it was kind of the godfather relationship in music, "Hey Rebeca," he'd say in his thick Brooklyn accent, "Come on over. Let's go eat and check out some tunes!"

Anyway, when he first approached me I just kind of stood there asking myself, "Is this really happening?" But it was really an important step for me. Then, at the point at which I was commissioned to write the piece... there was sheer terror and intimidation because here was this little, you know, "babe" coming into the session with all these hard-core New Yorkers with her original tune. I was hoping and praying there wasn't one wrong note ... Actually that was the feeling I got with the arrangement I'd first done. Later on, when I'd written the piece, by that time I had a little bit more confidence. But at first, like I said, there was this feeling coming from the other players like, "Who's this chick?" Not that they didn't know me but it was just this feeling at first of sheer terror. But once we started playing everything was fine. We did a couple of rehearsals and then, boom! It was like a second taker on the sessions, I think.

So that was very important for me, too. To get a hint of that kind of pace during the recording sessions, musically. Because eventually, that would become my way of working. I'm not into rehearsing something to death. And finally brushing it off and going in and doing 10,000 takes. I like things on the edge and raw. As a producer I really believe in that. I like to have people on their toes. So that was something for me that was very valuable, to have that kind of pressure.

RK: Otherwise you get "rehearsalitus."

RM: Yeah. Plus, you know, my whole theory throughout my college life was, "Term paper? Sure. Write it the night before." So unfortunately or fortunately, whatever the case may be, I might have been a little more anxious while in school, but I never suffered grade-wise from it. So that kind of pace works for some people, and I guess in my case it does. But ... long story short! [laughs]

RK: I know we're jumping around here, but you've already hinted at it a bit. Do you find the music scene in general, and probably the Afro-Cuban scene in particular, still to be male-dominated, especially when it comes to instrumentalists.

RM: Oh, absolutely!

RK: Yet you've been able to assert yourself rather strongly, despite the odds. What are some of the challenges you faced along the way?

RM: Well, usually it's not related to the fact that it is male-dominated. In my case, it's geographically impeded or impaired. Here on the West Coast, [in San Francisco] we don't have that much of an industry -- the big management, the big record labels, or anything like that. We don't have the arm of New York or the big salsa machine of Puerto Rico.

What we have here is a very eclectic and close-knit community of do-it-yourselfers. A lot of independents. A lot of people who sort of take it upon themselves to do their own projects. And here, there's always been, generally speaking, more women involved as players who have crossed over into the Latin thing. Crossing over from either the jazz or other traditional music genres. Still, there have never been many women playing Latin music, but certainly more now than ever before.

And I don't know what to attribute that to, other than, of course, the sheer message of machismo that one finds in the music [laughs]. And the fact that maybe there haven't been as many opportunities of educating women. But I've made it my mission to change that. As an educator, my main focus is to share information. Never limiting the scope of who is going to receive that information. So as a result, more women are studying and playing and that kind of thing.

RK: That's great.

RM: It's really important to me to say, "Yes, this is the history and it's very negative ..." I mean look at all the negatives in the history of the music: racism, slavery, genocide and everything else that goes into the long time-span of this music. Coupled with the machismo and misogyny and all those issues. But, if you're strong enough, you can rise above that and look at the music for its own sake.

RK: It's amazing how music sometimes gets mired down in other issues. You just want to say, "Enough! Just the music, please."

RM: Right. I'm also not a believer in "women's music" and trying to go out and find just women to play with because I'm just not a separatist. I really believe it takes everybody to make the world go 'round, to make music happen.

So any other issues that happen on the West Coast ... especially here in the Bay Area, which I really favor because of the climate. The vibe of people [laughs]. Here in San Francisco in general, I think there's been a lot more openness to that. Or maybe it's just that it's never been an issue for me. Sure, I got all the comments from the general public, "You play good for a girl!" or "Hmmm, she's the only girl in the band, woo woo woo, wink wink."

But whatever, my theory has always been that I wasn't going to pay attention to that. And as a result, it never phased me. Hopefully at some point you garner the respect of your peers. And eventually, people whom you consider your mentors become your peers. That's probably the biggest reward -- when you can look around and say to yourself, "Wow! Look at these incredible people who, at one point, I considered to be my idols, and now we're working together."

RK: Because your talents and abilities speak for themselves.

RM: Thanks. But you know, you never really get there. For me, I'm just striving to do different things. In my artistic career, now, I see the turning point is moving away from the labels and the stigmas of being associated with a certain kind of music. For me, having always had an eclectic background, the more I can express that through my compositions or the music that I play, maybe the happier I'll be, or the more frustrated I'll be! (laughs)

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Are there too many ingredients in the soup? Are there too many cooks?" I don't know. Obviously some things work whereas others don't. And in our case, I've always been focused on music to make people dance and make people groove.

But if I want to do a jazz concert, I can and will. Recently, we did just a quartet performance for the San Francisco Jazz Festival. You know, I really didn't think that much of it, but afterwards, people came up to me and said, "Oh my God, I haven't heard you play like that before!" Because usually I'm in a big band and I'm sort of doing a Duke Ellington approach. And this was just raw, naked Rebeca and Orestes [Vilató] and bass and drums. So it was really a lot of fun -- we did some original things, some traditional pieces. You know, that might be a little direction to go in whatever the case may be. But again, there's another long answer to your question. (laughs)

RK: So as you continued to grow professionally, unlike some who drop out of academia to pursue a full-time gig, you stayed pretty much within it. And continued to obtain advanced degrees and [pursue] extracurricular studies, like traveling to Cuba on several different occasions ... How'd all that come about? You seem to have a real drive towards academia and applying it to your craft, which is great.

RM: Well the main reason is because of the sheer lack of information and access to this kind of world music in academia. Hence, my mission is to try to eradicate that. First, by becoming educated and second, by coming back into the institution and presenting this knowledge to whomever is interested.

In my first trip to Cuba, for example, I met so many great musicians. Emiliano Salvador, Merceditas Valdés, and Guillermo Barreto and I got to see all the bands. I'd already met "Chucho" Valdés in London, along with other members of Irakere. So when I got to Cuba I was able to meet up with them again. It was like the beginning of a lifelong relationship with a lot of these folks. Unfortunately, some of them have passed on, Emiliano and Guillermo and Merceditas, a married couple, who were both very important and influential musicians in Cuba. They were sort of like my godfather and godmother ...

RK: Oh yeah, you dedicated your album to her.

RM: Right and to Librada Quesada and Princess Di, go figure. Because the song is for Oshun and to me, they're all daughters of Oshun. [According to Yoruba mythology, within the Santeria religion of Cuba, Oshun is deity of rivers and springs; of coquettishness and femininity.]

RK: Who's Librada Quesada?

RM: She was one of my dance teachers. She was a member of the National Folklore Company of Havana, with whom I studied whenever I went to Cuba. Merceditas was one of Cuba's premier vocal divas. And Guillermo Barreto was a drummer, and again very influential and pioneering in his efforts to bridge the world of Cuban music to jazz.

RK: Is he Julio Barretto's father?

RM: No. He's his grand-uncle or something like that.

RK: Because Julio is one bad cat.

RM: Yeah, yeah, he is. It's amazing -- they're all such incredible musicians. They're from another planet. They're doing something different. And you know, with the massive amounts of Cubans being able to travel musically now, it's like, "Look out! Better keep your day job!"

RK: That's what I'm telling all my friends, some the best musicians I've heard as of late are Cuban. Especially the drummers ...

RM: It's absolutely phenomenal, the technique, the training, the concept, the rhythmic versatility ... And Guillermo was a pioneer in his efforts in the '40s and '50s, working with the Tropicana Orchestra, he worked with Tommy Dorsey and all the other big bands coming down from the States. He was one of the members of the Cuban jam sessions which were done by [Israel López] "Cachao" and all the great folks in the '50s. So again, another important figure.

And me, being the frustrated drummer that I am, I end up hanging out with a lot of drummers and percussionists. Maybe I shouldn't say frustrated drummer ... For me it's like I never took that up as a serious art. But it's ultimately part of my world and I always sit down and play as much percussion as I can. And I always tell my students to do the same. So, anyway, there were many other musicians during my first trip to Cuba whom I would develop relationships with and then come back more enriched from having met them.

And here's the thing about Cuba: it's accessible. As an artist, as a researcher, when you go ... It's not like if you came to America as a star-struck person and you wanted to meet Madonna. Well, good luck pal! But you know, you go to Cuba and you want to meet the top music stars, they're accessible to you. And again this is popular music and it's not met with the same degree of secrecy and star mentality that we have in the pop music vein here. [There] it's about music of the people and because of that, it's a lot more humanly possible to get to these folks.

RK: Cuba, in allowing many of its top musicians to tour internationally, has lost many because they've defected. Horacio Hernández, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Tony Martinez ... many of them.

RM: Well, here's the thing. Have you read the January 10th issue of the New York Times Magazine on the new salsa? It's really important because it's talking about the new reality of Cuban musicians. It's called "The Revolution Will Be In Stereo." It starts off, "Cuban Salsa stars are its first capitalists and Castro fears its most potent opposition." It's very well written, focusing on this new mentality, a sort of street mentality of a lot of the groups that are emerging in Cuba now. And it's talking about how this new generation of Cubans are completely out of touch with the philosophy of the revolution. They're extremely commercial and capitalist-oriented. They have no revolutionary designs. They're essentially bent on survival.

It's an ironic situation because all of these very gifted musicians are products of the revolution's schools and whatnot. But they don't follow the message of the revolution. They're not concerned with that. They're concerned with survival. The message of the music is extremely street-oriented, to its lowest degree. They've returned to the more sexually derogatory vein; and it's all about how you look and if you can get money. Without putting them all down, there's a lot of the new breed of musicians and groups in Cuba who are now focusing on that message.

RK: Now there's also another crop whom I was alluding to, perhaps more jazz-focused, like the first generation with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. And now you have some of the cats whom I just mentioned, Barreto, Rubalcaba, Horacio ... all those guys.

RM: I think what you're seeing, of course, is the economic reality of the island. If things were better, obviously they wouldn't have the need [to defect]. But there are very little [professional] opportunities and with the state constantly changing its mind there from, "Okay, no more dollars," to, "Okay, you can have dollars but you can't play in clubs," to "Okay you can play in clubs but you can't earn dollars." It's like, make up your mind already! So as a result, there's no stability. And ironically, even with all that, musicians live better than most physicians and lawyers and other bureaucrats in Cuba because they have access to dollars, they can travel, they can collect per diems. They save their per diems, they pretty much starve themselves so they can save their money and buy their trinkets. But, again, the sort of mentality of a lot of the artists is to buy the fanciest car and how many gold chains can you wear ... I mean, gee, where have we heard that before? It's the American dream! (laughs). It's sad in a way but the reality of the situation is that this is a new youth in Cuba that is searching for something different.

But you still have various levels. That's not to say that all the popular musicians abide by that code. Certainly, for example, you have Los Van Van, which is and will always be the top dance band in Cuba as far as I'm concerned. They've never sunk to that debauchery. They've always maintained the dignity in their music. And even when they're attacking the system in a very subtle way, it never goes over. It's always very tasteful and done with humor. And that's the brilliance of Juan Formell.

Here's the thing. For me, I don't really want to focus on Cuba during my interview but, yes, it's a very important part of my life. But it was a very important lesson.

RK: How so?

RM: At first I had this young, idealistic view of Cuba. I wanted to go and meet all these people ... Again, focusing on the music. But over time, and it's now been now almost nine years since I've been going -- although I haven't been there in three years -- But today there's a feeling of change happening. Constant change. How is that affecting the music? That, for me -- as a sociologist or as an anthropologist or an ethnomusicologist or whatever you want to call me -- is the most important thing. The music continues to reflect the society, and therefore, what happens to the music when "X" happens? And then, if I can get that down and transmit that in any tangible shape or form, that's my mission, again as a "spreader of the word" so to speak.

I've never been interested in politics. And I know people often assume, just because you're going to Cuba, you're politically motivated. But that's farthest from my reality ... don't even go there. For me, it's always been about the music and about the people. And how the hard realities of the political situation there have had an effect on the music and the people. It's a fascinating study. I mean I'm not looking at it through a little window, and sort of trying to analyze all these people. I'm really trying to become a part of all that, in as much that I can ... and think that I have, you know?

For me, the most important issue in my travels hasn't been about trying to make a message. It's been about trying to establish a close relationship with these people and their music. And that's hopefully something that I can share or transmit in some shape or form as an educator.

RK: So, now let's talk about you as a musician. You've always been active as a side musican on various projects. When did you decide to step out on your own, to create a solo album? That's such a massive project.

RM: I think it was the next obvious move, once motherhood came into play, I realized this was a new moment for me. I'd been a sideperson in everyone else's projects. I'd contributed to other projects as a composer, as an arranger. It was 20 years that I'd been in the business. It was time. It was really time.

My husband, Manuel Santana [no relation to Carlos, Jorge, etc.], was the big motivation behind that, saying, "You have to do your thing." After giving birth, and all the new realities of being a first-time mother, it took me quite a while to get my rhythm back, so to speak. My flow. How was I going to get back into my compositional process? My inspiration? Now I was on my baby's schedule. So that was the biggest challenge. And it took a few months. I wouldn't call it writer's block but initially I had very little to contribute to my musical side because I was so completely focused on being a good mother.

RK: Were you still hearing tunes in your dreams?

RM: I don't know. At that point, I wasn't getting much sleep because the first two weeks after Alejandro was born were impossible. I was sort of bedridden with these horrible headaches and couldn't get up. And he was up pretty much every hour, every two hours. So the first year was a nightmare. (laughs)

And I was in graduate school at the time, so you can imagine trying to do that. So I figured I wasn't going to even deal with trying to compose anything. I was doing everything purely academically. I was writing pieces for school, articles for various magazines ... that was the scope of my creativity, a sort of work-for-hire kind of thing. It wasn't until I got my first full night's sleep...that gave me the inspiration to return. (laughs)

So at this point, I began to sense it was time. Things would always seep in here and there even before that, but I didn't really feel the flow until I got things settled in. And I'd been doing a lot of teaching and had also traveled to Finland and that was a big to-do.

RK: Right. How'd that come about?

RM: A person whom I'd met during one of my courses in Cuba was from Finland and he invited me to his school. And then he ended up arranging visits for me at these different conservatories in Finland where I went as a teacher and also as a mentor to a couple of bands. I had put a little student group together and they performed ... it was very nice. So I went over there two times.

RK: Alejandro had already been born?

RM: Yes. He was like, three months the first time -- it was just awful to leave -- and five months old the second time I flew over there.

RK: Then Manuel had to be a full-time father.

RM: Yeah, for two weeks. We had help, but it was still very difficult. You know, I'm sure my baby missed me but I can tell you I was in tears every night. And plus going to Finland in the middle of their cold winter and not really knowing anybody, it was just kind of meshugenah. But it paid quite a few bills so whatcha gonna do?

So again, the creative aspect kind of took a back seat for the first year. And once I did get my flow back, I started realizing that I had all this eclectic stuff in my head and always had. It had manifested itself in my senior thesis recital and my master thesis recital. I was very proud of them both, actually. Especially my senior recital, which was back in '89, before I'd been to Cuba, and you could just hear how much the music was pouring out of me. I mean, I wrote music for a three hour concert. And I had over a hundred performers, multimedia, did video, and had dancers, a 75-voice choir...

RK: You wrote all this?

RM: Yes, it was a typical Rebeca Mauleón overachiever type of thing. And then the masters thesis was a little toned down. I had about 50 or 60 people, and I wrote, among other things, string quartets and woodwind pieces and I had a real variety of things, vocal ensemble pieces, that sort of thing.

Something that I've been doing with my group, Round Trip -- ever since I did my debut performance in conjunction with the CD release -- is incorporating the concept of theater, bringing in dancers and singers to create that kind of atmosphere.

That's one of the things we're doing at the Theatre Arto in our three-day stint in April, is incorporating all that. And because it's a theater space you can really do that as opposed to a club or whatever ...

RK: Are you familiar with the Nuevo Flamenco group from Barcelona called Jaleo? They incorporate dancers, stage design, lighting ...

RM: Oh yeah, they're very cool. With Round Trip, I'm incorporating flamenco and Afro-Cuban dance. And what we do is cross them over. We have those dancers interacting when we mix the genres of flamenco and Yoruba music together.

RK: Similar to what Riverdance does.

RM: Exactly. Because this is what I'm envisioning. This is Broadway, this is Las Vegas. But it's done tactfully and it's tasteful and it's real. Not phony and watered down. But my vision is to show how these things really do interact. You know, as a dancer I also participated in a few things that were similar to that where'd we do these big huge productions ... nobody would make a lot of money, but it was fun.

Now the idea is we can do this and turn a profit. And it's really a beautiful thing. I think people respond to the concept of theater, you know, they're tired of just going to see a band. They really want to be entertained on a larger scale.

RK: Looking at your CD here, you have some real heavy hitters on the album, like Horacio Hernáandez is gigging Santana now, he's a superstar in his own right, flying all over the place. How'd he appear on the album?

RM: He's a friend of ours. You know, when your husband's Cuban, and he knows everybody ... and he's a psychologist, so he's really trained in getting people to do what he wants, never letting them know that's what's happening. (laughs) No, seriously, it's just that we have these friendships with lots of people. So Horacio told me, "Whenever you're ready to do your record, I want to do it." And he made a window in his schedule between touring with McCoy Tyner and Santana to give me a day in the studio.

I was so grateful and, you know, it was really nice. Plus, my son loves him because he's the drummer, of course, so he got to have "Uncle Horacio" come over one night. And he brought Alejandro toys ... so you know, it was the perfect thing.

RK: I think he's one of the best drummers out there, period.

RM: He's amazing, he's really amazing. And you know, he met Carlos Santana through us because we produced an event back in '95, just two days before my son was born, called Irakere West. We brought him out for that. We brought Chucho Valdés and Bebo Valdés. It was like, a big deal. It was the first time we'd brought people of this caliber together and had developed this whole show ...

RK: And you were what, over 9 months pregnant?

RM: I had false labor the second night of the show. Carlos Santana was running around and bringing me water ... so Santana met Horacio that night. And he sort of like thanked me, "Oh, thanks for the great drummer!" that sort of thing.

RK: Where was Horacio before, out of curiosity?

RM: He was in New York. He had done stuff with the United Nations Orchestra and a lot of work. But you know, he was also sort of establishing his residency at that point so he was kind of stuck. And then with Santana, that sort of helped him open up his travel situation.

RK: I'll bet!

RM: Yeah, it's like Carlos would say, "I want this guy in my band now!" and they'd go, "Yes, sir! (laughs)

So that was Horacio's situation. And everyone else was local. I had this amazing roster of friends and colleagues who were all right here. And that was the other message for me and what I wanted to say with the album: "Yeah, I can go out there, like a lot of people, and hire all these stars from New York and Puerto Rico to do my first record. But for me, the message was, I have Orestes Vilató, right here, who is a treasure with this music. I'd talked to him before about this project. It started in the studio, but it started as wanting to put a band together of really great people and play good music.

And I wanted the record to reflect the talent that we have right here in the Bay area. And, again, with my sort of cross-cultural vision of bringing elements of gospel, flamenco and Afro-Cuban together.

Author of the extensive The Salsa Guidebook and co-editor of The Latin Real Book, both published by Sher Music Company, Mauleón-Santana has just published her third instructional project for Sher Music, entitled 101 Montunos. It is bilingual and comes with two instructional CDs.

She states in the introduction, "The purpose of 101 Montunos is to explore in detail the role of the piano in the various types of rhythmic styles associated with Afro-Caribbean music, and to demonstrate the highly improvisational nature of the piano's primarily rhythmic as well as harmonic function. The rhythmic styles presented here run the gamut of generations and cultures, and are presented in fairly chronological order according to their stages of devlopment ..."

ROBERT KAYE is an award-winning, internationally published writer. He currently writes for Bass Player and Rhythm magazines as well as a variety of regional publications in Florida. Kaye also teaches bass guitar and collegiate music theory.

Photo Credits: David Garten and David Bellove

Rebeca Mauleón-Santana / Resumé

E-mail: / Web site:

Rebeca Mauleón has specialized in Afro-Caribbean music for over twenty years as a pianist, composer, arranger, author and educator. Firmly rooted in the Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz traditions, Mauleón has recorded and performed with several luminaries in the Latin music scene, including Tito Puente, Carlos Santana, Israel "Cachao" López, Steve Turré, Carlos "Patato" Valdez, Francisco Aguabella, José Luis Quintana "Changuito," Giovanni Hidalgo, Joe Henderson, Armando Peraza, Walfredo de los Reyes, Orestes Vilató and the Machete Ensemble. Her piano and vocal work are featured on several Grammy Award winning and nominated albums, including Tito Puente's Goza Mi Timbal (1990 Grammy Award Winner), and the 1995 Grammy Nominee Ritmo y Candela , with Patato, Changuito and Orestes Vilató. She is also the Musical Director of Mickey Hart's Planet Drum , and tours and records regularly with the group.
Mauleón has been commissioned as a composer and arranger by an array of leading artists and companies, among them Tito Puente, Steve Winwood, Ray Obiedo, The Oakland Youth Chorus, the San Francisco Jazz Festival and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. With her 1998 debut solo cd Round Trip , Mauleón launched a powerhouse ensemble along with many renown Bay Area performers, as well as a new independent recording and production company: Rumbeca Music . The Round Trip CD quickly rose to top-ten status on all Latin Beat Magazine Hit Parades for eight consecutive months, including #1 in Los Angeles in March. Her Round Trip ensemble has been dubbed "sensational" by Chronicle music critic Jesse Hamlin, and Rebeca has been crowned as "the next big thing in Bay Area Latin Jazz" by the SF Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express. She is also the recipient of the Guardian's 1998 Goldie Award for artistic excellence.
As an educator, Rebeca is much in demand as a teacher and clinician throughout the US and Europe, conducting classes and lectures for Stanford University, City College of San Francisco, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, Jazz Camp West, The Jazz School, Mills College, Monterey Jazz Festival, Banff Center for the Arts, Sibelius Academy & Pop and Jazz Conservatory (Finland), IAJE (the International Association of Jazz Educators) and others. She holds an MA in Composition from Mills College, and is the author of the critically acclaimed "Bible" of Salsa music, the Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble ( Sher Music, 1993), which has been incorporated as an official text by such renowned institutions as Stanford University and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is co-editor of the Latin Real Book ( Sher Music, 1997). She has also published several articles for top music magazines, including Keyboard Magazine, Modern Drummer, Mix en Español and Bass Player. Her newly-released book 101 Montunos ( Sher Music, 1999) has just hit the stands as the first and only bi-lingual Afro-Caribbean piano method book/cd package. Rebeca is currently in production of her next recording.

Selected Discography

Mickey Hart & Planet Drum, Supralingua , Rykodisc, 1998.
Rebeca Mauleón, Round Trip , Rumbeca Music CD-001, 1998.
Steve Winwood, Junction Seven, Virgin Records, 1997.
Carlos Patato Valdez, Ritmo y Candela , Redwood 9503, 1995. *
The Machete Ensemble, Machete , Xenophile 4029, 1995.
Tito Puente, Royal 'T' , Concord Picante CCD-4553, 1993.
Ray Obiedo, Sticks & Stones , Windham Hill Jazz 10142-2, 1993.
Carlos Santana, Milagro , Polydor 314-513 197-2, 1992.
Tito Puente, Goza Mi Timbal , Picante CCD-4399, 1990 **
Ray Obiedo, Iguana , Windham Hill Jazz WD-0128, 1990
Ray Obiedo, Perfect Crime , Windham Hill Jazz WD-0115, 1989
Tito Puente Latin Ensemble, Salsa Meets Jazz , Picante CJP-354, 1988
Pete Escovedo, Mister E , Crossover CR-5005, 1988 ***
The Machete Ensemble, Africa Volume 1 , Machete M-102, 1988
Tito Puente Latin Ensemble, Un Poco Loco , Picante CJP-329, 1987
Pete Escovedo, Tito Puente & Sheila E, Latin Familia Video, Lorimar, '86
Orquesta Batachanga, Mañana Para Los Niños , Machete M-101, 1985
Orquesta Batachanga, La Nueva Tradición , Sugarloaf SR 2000, 1981

* 1996 Grammy Award Nominee
** 1990 Grammy Award-Winner
*** 1989 Grammy Award Nominee

Publications & Music Programming/Software

1999 101 Montunos , Sher Music Co, Inc.
1998 "Cachao: Legado de la Música Afrocubana," Mix En Español , June '98.
1998 E-MU Systems, Carnaval Sound Module, MIDI, Loop Programmer and Sequencing
1997 PG Music, MIDI Sequencing for The Latin Pianist version of Band-in-
the-Box Music Software.
1997 The Latin Real Book (co-editor), Sher Music Co.
1996 "The Heart of Salsa: Exploring Afro-Caribbean Piano Styles", Keyboard Magazine , January '96.
1995 "Changuito's Groove", Modern Drummer , November '95.
1995 "The Bass Players of Cuba" (Parts I & II), Bass Player , Nov. & Dec. '95
1994 "The Drummers of Cuba", Modern Drummer, June '94
1993 Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble , Sher Music Co, Inc.
1992 The Piano Stylist , Vol. 7, No. 6, excerpt of Salsa Guidebook .

Teaching Experience/Residencies

1999 Program Director/Faculty, Afro-Latin-Jazz Music Course, Cal State Fresno. (Summer '99)
1999 & 94 Clinician, International Association of Jazz Educators (I.A.J.E.).
1998-Pres. Music Faculty, City College of San Francisco.
1998 Cal State Monterey Bay, Guest Lecturer/Clinician.
1998 Guest Lecturer, Stanford University, Spring Semester, designed course in Afro-Cuban music history and performance.
1998 Mills College, Guest Lecturer in Cuban Music History.
1997-Pres. Faculty member, The Jazz School, Berkeley.
1996 Lectures, performances and workshops at Sibelius Academy, Pop & Jazz Conservatory, Tampere Conservatory, Jyväskylä Conservatory and other institutions throughout Finland.
1996 Guest Conductor with Jyväskylä Big Band (Finland), at Jazz Philharmonic Hall, St. Petersburg, Russia, White Nights Swing Festival .
1995 - 97 Graduate Assistantship at Mills College, Oakland, Ca. Taught courses in Afro-Cuban Music History, Performance Ensemble and Musicianship.
1995-Pres. Clinician, Monterey Jazz Festival, Annual High School Competition
1995 - Clinician, Community School of Music and Arts, Mtn. View, Ca.
1994 - Residency, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, Calif.
1994-Pres. Stanford Jazz Workshop, faculty member, Stanford, Calif.
1994 BANFF Centre for the Performing Arts, clinician and program director, "Afrocubanismo" Festival, August-September, Alberta, Canada.
1991-1992 California Arts Council Artist in Residence, New Traditions Alternative School, S.F.
1990-93. S.F. Symphony's Adventures In Music Program, performer/lecturer.
1990-93. S.F. Young Audiences Program, performer/lecturer.
1989 - Salsa Piano/Ensemble Workshops and Performances, West Germany.
1988-Pres. Jazz Camp West Summer music program, music faculty.


1997 Master of Arts in Composition , Mills College, Oakland, CA.
1993 Afro-Cuban Folklore Course, National Art School, Havana.
1993-94 Cuban Popular Music Course, National Art School, Havana.
1992-94 Independent study in Cuban musicology, piano, dance, percussion and song, Center for Cuban Music Investigation and Development, Havana, Cuba.
1990-94 Cuban Music & Dance Studies, National Folklore Company, Havana, Cuba; Tijuana, Mexico; Stanford University, Ca.
1989 Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music/Composition , Mills College, Oakland, Ca.
1987 Associate Arts Degree , City College of San Francisco, Ca.
1965-Pres. Independent study in piano, composition and World Music.

Awards, Grants, Commissions & Honors

1998 Sundance Composer's Lab Fellow
1998 Goldie Award for Artistic Excellence in Music, presented by S.F. Bay Guardian.
1997 Flora Boyd Prize for Piano.
1996 Honor: Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.
1996 Commission: "Singing The Circle," for the Oakland Youth Chorus.
1993 Commission: "Second Wind," original composition for Tito Puente,
Royal 'T' , Concord Picante CCD-4553, 1993.
1992 Wammie Award, Latin Band: Machete Ensemble.
1992 Commission: San Francisco Jazz Festival (Machete Ensemble).
1991 CAC Artist In Residence grant, Artists in Schools Program.
1990 Commission: "Each Day Dies With Sleep". Musical score for Berkeley Repertory Theatre Production.
1990 Outstanding Achievement in Dance, FolkCuba, Havana.
1989 Commission: San Francisco Jazz Festival (Machete Ensemble).
1989 Phi Beta Kappa, Mills College, Oakland.
1989 Mauretha Friedberger Cup for Outstanding Musicianship.
1988-89 Academic Honors, Mills College.
1987 Academic Honors, City College of San Francisco.
1983-84 Jammie Award (Jazz Artist Music Award): Orquesta Batachanga.


"The History of Songo" (1996), instructional video for DCI (Warner).
"From Afro-Cuban to Rock" (1995), instructional video for Latin Percussion.
"Sworn To The Drum" (1995). Produced by Les Blank and Zoetrope Films.
"Havana Nagila" (1995). Produced by Laura Paul. Compositions used for sound track.
"Henry and June" (1990). Film directed by Philip Kauffman, featured performer.
"Havana Bienal" (1990). Documentary by Susanne Girot and Andy Bither. Compositions used for sound track.
"Walker" (1987). Performer for film score.

What the Critics Have Said

" An outstanding performer, composer and arranger." L.A. Jazz Scene * "Fiery piano. One of San Francisco's best pianist/arrangers." J. Poet, Utne Reader * " A Talented Performer." Philip Elwood, S.F. Examiner * "Visceral, tumbao-style piano." John Lannert, Billboard * "Solid, often surprising." Jazziz * " A wonderful technician with a sparkling approach to the keys [who] displays a deep knowledge of Cuban musical history." Chiori Santiago, Express * "A world-class pianist, composer and author." Jesse Varela, Latin Beat * "Sensational." Jesse Hamlin, S.F. Chronicle * "The next big thing in Bay Area Latin Jazz." S.F. Bay Guardian

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