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Biography

The 'truth' of Pepe Castillo

José "Pepe" Castillo musician, composer, singer and arranger.

He articulates his words with the cadence of the fifth plenero: open, dry, forceful and strong, with a good critical sense of the rhythm of life.

The truth is that, contrary to what was proclaimed in the classic "The Time Machine" by Rafael Cortijo, our "lololai" no longer rolls on the ground.

So says the singer Pepe Castillo, who has worked for 11 years as an interpreter in the family room of the Court of New York and who - despite the ups and downs in the Puerto Rican folklore circuit cultivated by the Puerto Rican diaspora in the Babel de Hierro - has never stopped composing.

Pepe, as an exponent of folklore, remains active, although he acknowledges that the popularity of rap and reggaeton has affected the medium of salsa. "The bomb, the full and the jíbara music is something else. The regimen does not affect us in the same way that it affects the sauce. "

As he usually does since he settled in New York in the mid-1970s, Pepe is a promoter of our culture in the Hispanic communities of the City of Skyscrapers. Then the bomb and full groups were scarce.

"They could count on a hand and had fingers left over. They were Víctor Montañez and the Pleneros of the 110 and Angel Luis Torruellas. When we formed our pump and full group it was a rarity for the Puerto Rican community, because before it was salsa, salsa and salsa. Canario was in New York, but it was another generation. The only one left was Torruellas. "

A teacher from Hunter College proposed to organize a percussion workshop and Pepe opted for the music of Puerto Rico, marveling at his acceptance in the cultural sector.

"There were no young people who could play our music. It was old people. And they saw it as a thing of the past. That's why I wrote the song "The Truth", speaking of our lelolai rolling on the ground because it was in an environment where our folklore was lagging, sleeping and dying. Today it gives me great joy because you kick a stone and a group of bombs and full. Not only here, but Puerto Rico, there are lots of bomb and full groups, "said Pepe, who in 1979 accompanied Bomplené on behalf of afroboricua folklore at the Pan American Games.

"Now we have to sing that our lelolai no longer rolls on the ground," he reiterated.

The song "La verdad", which also performed Lucecita in the concerts "I bring a town in my voice" and "In the hands of the people", premiered it in the disc "The machine of the time", that composed, arranged and sang for Cortijo, published in 1974 by the label Coco of the Jewish American Harvey Averne.

Pepe and Cortijo met at Parade 15 in Santurce, mecca of the album. Fran Ferrer introduced it. "He asked me what I was doing. He had disbanded the group with Jorge Millet and told me that he would organize the group again. I told him I was projecting another musical mentality. He invited me to a rehearsal. The guitarist Edgardo Miranda, who was my partner, told me that Rafael would not like that. But he liked it, got excited, looked for the musicians and thanks to God it was possible to achieve "The Time Machine".

Rafael Cortijo moved to New York, but Averne tried to promote the group in the salsa clubs, when the concept was oriented to a fusion of the folclor with the jazz. "That was to go to the places where they played Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo. It was something else we had in mind. It was not going to play for people to dance. We were in the making of music and not making salsa. It was our restlessness as young people. Thanks to Rafael's support, I was able to make a musical career in New York because when I started with this it was to have fun and I did not think it was going to be my future. "

"The Time Machine" was an avant-garde project. Today figures like Furito Rios, William Cepeda, David Sánchez, Papo Vazquez and Miguel Zenón, to name a few, fuse folklore with the language of jazz. Cortijo and Pepe Castillo were the pioneers.

Creation of Estampa Creole

After the album "La máquina del tiempo", considered a masterpiece, Pepe Castillo remained in New York with Edgardo Miranda. They organized the Estampa Criolla group, specializing in Puerto Rican folk music. In 2016 is commemorated the fortieth anniversary of its organization.

"People thought that we could not play a seis chorreao o la bomba as they played it before because they thought we did not know. And to show that we did, we did that workshop and recorded countless bombs, full and six. We made a record and the Museum of the Neighborhood protected us. And put us at the head of the music department and took us to many folk festivals throughout the United States and Canada. But the concern was to combat the great rejection of the producers and the community who saw us as abnormal. Frustrated and complex, we decided to mix the bomb and the full with other genres. We went to Canada and played John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps' and they applauded us strongly. "

Estampa Criolla planted the foundation for other groups to appear on the scene of Puerto Rican folklore cultivated in New York, such as Pleneros de la 21 by Juango Gutiérrez and Sammy Tanco.

One of the advanced records was "Banana Land", edited by Budda Records in 1984. The Pepe harvest, today, consists of works such as "Banana Republic", "Pa 'Cortijo", "Maví", "Oda a Canario "," The cement "and others in which he was careful not to repeat the sophistication and harmonious amplitude of the concept" The time machine ".

"We did it with part of the Estampa Criolla workshop, which originally was David Rosario 'Cortijito', which played drums, Reynaldo Jorge, Donald Lynch, Edgardo and myself. It was an accordion quintetite, four, bass, drums and trombone. We use the base of the bomb and the full, distorting a bit the melody, but without taking it to the level of "The time machine".

"Banana Land", although not an original composition, entails a strong social criticism and satire, against colonialism and Yankee assimilation. "The funny thing is that it is a number that gave me an American well known as a composer. The number goes according to my philosophy. I did not think it, but I inherited it. It is a number that has a relationship with the Caribbean and the Americans who went there as 'bichotes', when here was a crap. Mostly, where they went was to Mexico and Colombia. We recorded it at a time when we saw a lot of Americans go to Puerto Rico to do the same. And we saw it as a valid social criticism at that time. "

Polarized diaspora

To the question of how diaspora Puerto Ricans perceive the historical crossroads that faces Puerto Rico, Pepe clarified that in the United States two types of Puerto Ricans coexist: those who love the Homeland and those who have been separated from their homeland.

"This, the second, is sometimes even ashamed to be Puerto Rican. But Puerto Rican, who is 100% Puerto Rican, is more Puerto Rican than those there because he goes to the heart to show his patriotism, organizing events to support and confronts the government to try to help his brothers. Forums are organized to discuss the problems of Puerto Rico. We are sorry that after so long, people are talking about a colony, when we have always been. That is the result of colonialism. There is no other explanation. When the bolus is locked it is our problem and when it is nice it is good for them.

With the authority conferred on him by his decades-long work by the Puerto Rican community of the Iron Babel, Pepe Castillo does not consider that the diaspora really is, if opportunity arises, a factor in favor of defining Puerto Rico's status and its right To self-determination, even though there are more Boricuas in the band there than in the band here.

"The diaspora is divided. There is a part of the Diaspora that cares about three whistles Puerto Rico. Many are nothing more than they can get. Here we remain as a string of judges, that when one is going to leave, the one below will lay him down. We are still facing this evil as a community. We are not like Cubans, like the Chinese and the Jews, who unite and fight together for their common good. After I'm settled and cool, let the neighbor get annoyed. It's the attitude. I do not know how this will end. I break my head looking for a solution. "

Pepe Castillo, 73, recalled an anecdote with Congressman of Puerto Rican ancestry José Serrano, who motivated him to write and send some of his drawings to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

"The letter said: 'Unforgetable moments. I wrote 'unforgettable' with a single 't'. The emissary, who was Congressman Serrano, told me: 'You do not know how to write? Do not you know that 'unforgettable' is written with two 't'? And I said, 'Look, I'm an interpreter and I went to the school of the Boston Marialist priests, where they taught me English. Do you know why I wrote it with a 't'? Because this is an event for Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricans lack a 't': that of 'togetherness'. When Puerto Ricans join, I will write 'unforgettable' with two 't's. I do not know if the letter reached the President. "

New projects

With the cultural combativeness that distinguishes him, on September 29, Pepe Castillo will entertain the Gala of the Puerto Rico Bar Association in Chelsie Piers, activity for which he contracted the orchestra of Tito Puente Jr.

"This year I started to develop the Children Hispanic Music Center, the idea is to develop a series of music videos for children and distribute them in schools and cultural centers, through the cyber network. I met David Oller, a Puerto Rican who had one of the first recording houses in the United States. I hope before leaving, leave a catalog for children and those who interest our culture in general. The focus will be educational rather than anything. "

Pepe, whose most recent album is "Jolope! A Christmas Fiesta ", a documentary-theatrical-musical concept, has not recorded since 1999, when it did with the group Quatromanía de Yomo Toro. In his archives abound unpublished compositions that he longs to record.

"I'm looking for a way to record. I have a collection. Every time I go to talk to a producer I want to impose the music. And I'm too old for that. I want to record the music I have in my heart. I am 73 years old and I can make 10 more discs. But I want to contribute musically and socially. "

Finally, José 'Pepe' Castillo Díaz has not returned to San Juan since his compadre, the poet Ángel Luis Méndez, died.

"There is only my sister, who is very busy. I used to go three and four times a year. There was also Ramon Muñiz, who was my compadre and also left. The only one left in my soul is José Enrique 'Ayoroa' Santaliz. That is my spiritual and cultural brother. The only person who, if anything happened to him, would run to Puerto Rico. There is always someone special in one's life. And I have much to thank Quique Ayoroa. "

At age 73, the fifth that peaks in the critical thinking of Pepe Castillo has not lost its tune. Their commitment is with the full truth and with the bomb that detonates in the consciousness of the Puerto Rican diaspora; The present and the absent in the priesthood of making Patria.

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