Home Puerto Rico Project Revisiting Zaperoko’s Seminal Recordings

Revisiting Zaperoko’s Seminal Recordings

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When the Puerto Rican trombonist Edwin “Zaperoko” Feliciano traveled to Cuba in the early 80s, he was captivated by a new Cuban rhythm called “Songo.” Created by Juan Formell and Los Van and master percussionist Jose Luis Quintana “Changuito,” it fused elements of folkloric rumba with dance music and became a worldwide phenomenon. 

When Feliciano returned to Puerto Rico, he and the singer, and percussionist Frankie Rodriguez, a veteran of some of the top salsa bands in the 70s, including Ismael Rivera, Larry Harlow, and Grupo Folklorico Experimental Nuevaorquino, experimented with bomba, plena, modern jazz, funk, salsa, Cuban son, rumba and songo. The tasty potion resulted in two genre-bending albums, “Cosas de Loco” (Montuno Records, 1982) and “Still Crazy” (Montuno Records, 1983).  

As evidenced by Batacumbele’s “Con Un Poco de Songo” (Tierraza, 1981), Zaperoko was not the first Puerto Rican ensemble to include Cuban rhythms into its repertoire, but Zaperoko’s interpretation was unique. 

Regrettably, the ensemble’s progressive sound didn’t translate to the dance floor.  According to lead percussionist Juan (“Long John”) Oliva, “The audience didn’t understand the ensemble’s music was suitable for dancing. For this reason, the band members argued.” For this reason, the band members argued.” The band split into camps. Some argued for a multi-faceted approach, and others thought the music should cater to the dancers. To complicate matters, Frankie Rodriguez passed away before “Still Crazy” was released.

In 1989, Edwin Feliciano Y Su Conjunto Zaperoko released “Tarde En La Noche” (Zap Records), followed by “30th Aniversario” (Zap Records, 2015). In the spirit of the Zaperoko of old, 30th Aniversario opens with “Mucho Mas Loco” (“Crazier Than Ever”). Also, it revisits the tune Candita, which appears on “Still Crazy.” According to Feliciano, the original version was an “aggressive songo.” The new version is “mas bailable” (more danceable).

Over the years many musicians have passed through Zaperoko including Giovanni Hidalgo, Long John “Penalty,” Nelson Gonzalez, William Cepeda, Oscar Hernandez, Edy Martinez, Angel “Cuquito” Palacios, Ismael Miranda, Charlie Santiago, Jesus Jimenez, Angel “Cuquito” Palacios, Carlos J. Soto, Giovanni Lugo, Candido Travieso and Antonio “Tonito” Vazquez, among others.

In the late 90s, Zaperoko and the Bomba and Plena ensemble,Truco, formed Truco y Zaperoko. Outwardly, the groups have little in common, but when Feliciano sat in with Truco, he liked what he heard. Directed by Héctor Valentín and Mickey Maysonet, Truco has always been open to experimenting without compromising its folkloric sound. “We have been around for nineteen years. During that time, we have gone through several transitions where we included trumpets and trombones in the group,” explained Maysonet. To date, Truco and Zaperoko released three acclaimed recordings including Fusión Caribeña (Rico Latino, 1999), the Grammy-nominated Musica Universal (Libertad, 2003) and En Plena Rumba (Lujuria Music, 2008).

All of Zaperoko’s albums offer something unique, but to appreciate the ensemble at its most inventive, I highly recommend “Cosas de Loco” and “Still Crazy.” Four decades after their release, Zaperoko’s music holds up amazingly well. 

SOURCE
  • Birnbaum, Larry – Puerto Rican Bands Dominate Salsa (New York Times, 1987)
  • Cantrell, David – Research
  • Joe Goes Jazz (Radio Show) – Interview with Edwin Feliciano (September, 2021)
  • Zaperoko – Cosas de Loco Liner Notes (Montuno Records, 1982).
  • Zaperoko 2 – Still Crazy Liner Notes (Montuno Records, 1983)
ZAPEROKO DISCOGRAPHY
  • Cosas de Loco (Montuno, 1982)
  • Still Crazy (Montuno, 1983)
  • Tarde en La Noche (Zap Records, 1989)
  • Zaperoko – 3 (Libertad Records, 2005)
  • 30th Aniversario (Edwin Feliciano, 2015)

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