Filiberto Sanchez: Cayo Hueso’s percussive icon
The venerable Havanese timbalero/trap drummer/bongosero Victoriano Marciano Filiberto Sánchez (better known as Filiberto Sánchez) was born in 1938 in the musically wealthy neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, where he learned the ABCs of music from his progenitor, who was featured as bongó player with Casino de la Playa and other popular bands of that era. A mostly self-taught percussionist, Sánchez paid his dues with Benny More’s Banda Gigante and Orquesta Riverside in the late 1950s. After the advent to power of Fidel Castro’s bearded Commies, Filiberto worked with the ICRT (Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión) orchestra before establishing his 10-year (1978-1988) tenure with Algo Nuevo, a group led by Juan Pablo Torres. To initiate our interview, I asked Filiberto what happened after J.P. left and Jesús Rubalcaba inherited Algo Nuevo …
FILIBERTO SÁNCHEZ: I worked with Jesús for about two or three years, until that group was dissolved. Then I went back to the ICRT orchestra. From 1998 to the present, I have been playing timbal with Ibrahím Ferrer’s big band. Keep in mind that I had not played timbal on a regular basis for over 30 years before I joined Ibrahím’s orchestra.
LUIS TAMARGO: Nevertheless, you were chosen to play timbal, along with Amadito Valdés, in the classic 1979 sessions of Estrellas de Areito.
FS: This was a rather amusing affair. Amadito and I arrived simultaneously at the studio, and I asked myself, “What the hell are two timbaleros supposed to be doing at the same time and the same place?” So I said, “You go first, Amadito,” and he replied, “No, let’s play together.” And that’s exactly what we did, from the beginning to the end. This alliance functioned very well because there was no rivalry involved.
LT: Could you name some of the timbaleros and trap drummers that you have come to admire throughout your extensive career?
FS: The first timbalero who made a significant impression on me was not Cuban. This happened when I heard Tito Puente’s rendition of El Rey del Timbal. There was also a great Cuban timbalero and trap drummer, Blas Egües, who died last year without ever receiving the recognition that he truly deserved. In addition, I enjoy listening to the distinctive and peculiar style developed by Amadito. I must also mention Orestes Vilató, whom I met in Havana, back in 1979, when we had a marvelous time while jamming at Fabián García’s home. In my younger years, I was enchanted by such Cuban trap drummers as Walfredo de los Reyes II and Blas Egües, as well as such U.S. players as Buddy Rich and Art Blakey.
LT: Could you identify your favorite instrument?
FS: The bongó. You must remember that I’m the son of a bongosero. As a matter of fact I played bongó throughout an entire Omara Portuondo recording.
LT: How many times have you traveled to the U.S. with Ibrahím’s orchestra?
FS: About eight times. Ibrahím’s music is very soothing and evokes memories of the elegant sounds generated by Benny’s Banda Gigante, Riverside, and other 1950s big bands. Due to his advanced age and delicate health, Rubén González is no longer touring with us, and we truly miss him.
LT: You must have been pleasantly surprised by the boom of traditional Cuban music generated by the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon and its orchestral by-products.
FS: As far as I’m concerned, it was an unexpected blessing. I had even thought about retiring before this happened. Unfortunately, when you get to a certain age, no matter how well you play, you get rejected by some younger musicians. You are expected to wear a little earring, dye your hair yellow, and be more of a clown and less of a musician. I have my own personal belief about the professional role of an accompanist. These young players will accuse you of being “old-fashioned” if you don’t play in a hyperactive and overly aggressive manner!
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