When the Puerto Rican trombonist EDWIN “ZAPEROKO” FELICIANO traveled to Cuba in the early 80s, he was captivated by a new that was all the rage called “Songo.” Created by Juan Formell and Los Van and master percussionist Jose Luis Quintana “Changuito,” the rhythm fused elements of folkloric rumba with dance music and became a phenomenon. 
Edwin Feliciano, Frankie Rodriguez, Nelson Gonzalez
When Feliciano returned to Puerto Rico, he and the singer, and percussionist FRANKIE RODRIGUEZ, a veteran of the top salsa bands in the 70s, including Ismael Rivera, Larry Harlow, and Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, experimented with bomba, plena, funk, salsa, Cuban music, rumba, modern jazz, and Cuban songo. The potion resulted in the genre-bending albums Cosas de Locos (Montuno, 1982) and Still Crazy (Montuno, 1983).
Zaperoko’s concept was cemented during the making of Cosas de Locos. According to Feliciano, “It was a workshop and I had few musical arrangements. A lot was improvised and many things were created.” In this spirit, Zaperoko’s concept was cemented.” Since then Feliciano has strived to maintain Zaperoko’s distinctive sound and style.
As evidenced by Batacumbele’s Con Un Poco De Songo (Tierraza, 1981), Zaperoko was not the first to include Cuban Songo in its repertoire, but its interpretation was distinctive.
In a 1987 article in the New York Times titled “Puerto Rican Bands Dominate Salsa,” Larry Birnbaum captures Zaperoko’s distinctive sound. “Zaperoko juxtaposes various Latin American rhythms, from Brazilian samba to Cuban Songo, breaking new ground while affirming tradition. “Lo Dudo,” which appears on ‘Still Crazy,’ adapts a ballad by the Mexican pop singer Jose Jose to a Songo beat, dissolves into a jazzy solo by the Colombian pianist Edy Martinez and culminates in a mambo-like coda.”
Unfortunately, the ensemble’s progressive sound did not translate to the dance floor. According to lead percussionist Juan (“Long John”) Oliva, “The audience did not understand the ensemble’s music was suitable for dancing. For this reason, the band members argued,” and the band split into camps. Some argued for a progressive, multi-faceted approach. Others thought the repertoire should cater to the dancers. To complicate matters, Frankie Rodriguez died shortly before Still Crazy was released. 
Frankie Rodriguez’s contributions were fundamental to Zaperoko’s 33-year history and success. When Feliciano met Frankie Rodríguez, he knew him from his recordings with Larry Harlow, Chocolate, and Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino. “I realized Frankie was very knowledgeable about what we know today as World Music,” said Feliciano to journalist Jaime Torres. “Frankie introduced me to music from Brazil, Africa, Argentina, South America, and Cuban music that was hard to find in Puerto Rico. Also to Rafael Cortijo, Canario, and other legendary interpreters of Puerto Rican music.” Another significant influence was Nelson González (pictured above).
In 1989, Edwin Feliciano Y Su Conjunto Zaperoko released Tarde en la noche (1989, Zap Records), followed by 30th Aniversario (Zap Records, 2015), which includes the original composition, “Mucho Mas Loco” and a contemporary interpretation of Candita, which originally appeared on Still Crazy
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 appear to have little in common, but when Feliciano sat in with Truco, he liked what he heard. Directed by Héctor Valentín and Mickey Maysonet, Truco (like Zaperoko) 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).
As Puerto Rican bands go, Zaperoko was unique. To listen to the ensemble at its rawest and most inventive, I recommend Still Crazy and Cosas de Locos. Decades after their initial release, the music holds up amazingly well. 


Birnbaum, Larry – Puerto Rican Bands Dominate Salsa (NY Times, 1987)
Cantrell, David – Contributor
Cosas de Loco Liner Notes (Montuno, 1982)
Feliciano, Edwin – Contributor
Joe Goes Jazz” (Radio Show) – Interview with Edwin “Zaperoko” Feliciano (9/21)
Still Crazy Liner Notes (Montuno, 1983)
Torres, Jaime – Edwin Feliciano Interview (2015)


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