The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues
OCT 2022 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: Music

24. 1947-1948, New York

This drummer-composer-dancer usually gets new skins for his conga drums at La Moderna, a bakery on 116th Street near Lennox Avenue. Advertising itself as a “reposteria y pasteleria” that is happy to take special orders for “bodas, bautizos, banquetes y fiestas” and features, among other delicacies, turrones, mazapan de Toledo and membrillo de guayaba, La Moderna is owned and run—as most of the city’s Latin percussionists know—by an Afro-Cuban immigrant who may be the only person in 1940s New York with the skill to make great congas. The drummer, also Afro-Cuban and an adept of the secretive Abakuá society, has only been in New York for less than a year, but already has sparked a marriage of Cuban music and bebop that will forever change the course of American music. Sadly, he has only a year left before a smalltime drug dealer/bookie shoots him dead a few blocks south of La Moderna at El Rio Bar on 111th Street. Today, however, he is very much alive and urgently in needs of a new skin for his tumbadora. There are none available at La Moderna so he makes his way down to the Municipal Slaughterhouse on West 39th Street where he procures a fresh cowhide. Using a piece of glass from a broken bottle he scrapes off the hair and smooths out any rough spots. Then he soaks the skin before nailing it onto the top of his drum. Asked by an interviewer not long before he died how he is able to collaborate so well with the trumpet-playing leader of his current band even though he, the drummer, speaks no English and the trumpeter speaks no Spanish, he replies: “We both speak African.”

(Luciano “Chano” Pozo González, Simón Jou, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues