[In March, our friend Nando Avericci interviewed pianist-composer Edgardo Jimenez, a/k/a Pachapo, on Salsaycontrolradio.com. We thank Pachapo, Mr. Avericci, the folks at Salsaycontrolradio, and Ms. Evelyn Raetz for her excellent translation.]
N: Pachapo, it’s a pleasure to have you here with us, thank you very much for sharing these moments with us. First of all we would like to compliment you on your new release entitled Pachapo y su Comparsa Alto Piano, brought out now after so many years …and imagine that all this was realized by only online contacts. Pachapo, welcome and tell us how many years have passed since your last release until the one that’s come out now, and which we’ll talk about here later on.
P: Thanks to all of you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you, big hug for all of you. Until the current one, I had released two albums in 1972 and 1978, up until today …or more precisely let’s until say four years ago when these new tracks were recorded but we never could publish them, these 5 numbers.
N: Pachapo, what is the reason for your absence from the scene and recording studios for so many years?
P: Well, remember it was the time of the salsa romantica and also of the Dominican merengue hype, in the 80s, only following this you could make it and I kept to my style, the salsa dura. I’ve always wanted to produce a third album but in the authentic old style like, for instance, how the orquesta Aragón is doing it, this great orchestra of some 70 years of existence and its arrangements and sound are still the same, this is the way I do it as well. Look, the new productions include electronic brass sounds or play on plastic drum skins, and are of mostly pretty simple arrangements…
N: Where does the name “Pachapo” come from?
P: This was a “present” from my aunt Nelida, my fathers sister, when I was a youngster of 21 years of age … and I am the only! There is Pacheco, Pachuco, Chappotin, everything, but I’m the only “Pachapo.”
N: Who’s singing the “Barranquilla para ti” you played live in Barranquilla in 2002?
P: That was Raphy Santana.
N: The people of Barranquilla are very proud that you dedicate to them a large part of your new production, this city has been a source of inspiration for you – well, Colombia in general, you also have a “virgen de Chiquinquira.” Do you have a recording of your Barranquilla concert in 2002?
P: A Colombian fan filmed it and about two years ago he sent me a copy or, let’s say, some 5 tunes of what we played there because the concert started around noon and lasted until the next day…
N: Who is the composer of your songs, of the majority of your repertoire, who’s in charge of this?
P: They are all mine, I just sit down and concentrate on composing. We could say there are only a few compositions as I am doing it all on my own, spending my time inventing things. For example, at the moment I have 8 new songs, old school salsa, some of them also dedicated to Colombia, and the arrangements are ready. I have a plan to go to Medellin to see the record producers there, I will present them the new material and see if some record company is interested, with the idea to record them there – or, well, it could be in any part of the world wherever they’d give me a chance …
N: What impressed you, motivated you to dedicate a song to the Barranquilla estaderos ( kind of open air music bars )? Are you looking for a job at an estadero…? – laughing
P: Laughs – They impressed me because, look, we do have something similar here in Puerto Rico, the so called “velloneros”, an expression that comes from the turntables. People go there to listen to music. A good friend of mine runs one: “la Nueva Copa Cabana,” it’s like the first estadero in Puerto Rico. You have a DJ there playing his program, it’s not like over there where people go and ask for their favorite song to be played and in Barranquilla DJ s do so mentioning and greeting whoever approaches them, this is quite different here.
N: We have to point out that “Alma libre” (Free Soul) figures among the best selling tunes in elWatusi.com where they show on their site what are the hits of the moment and the selling ranks. We would like to congratulate you on this success. We must remember that all this came true thanks to the directors of Salsaycontrolradio.com radio station, Heriberto Gomez and Pedro Cervantes. They informed me about the craze these songs caused in Barranquilla and asked me about what had happened with them. That’s why I got in contact with you then and brought us to the idea of offering them to this online store.
P: I’m grateful for this, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you, I hope to see you guys soon to thank you personally, what more can I say: thanks a million!
N: Would it be unreasonable to ask you if you started playing with Roberto y su Nuevo Montuno, or did you play with somebody else even earlier? What was your initiation as a piano player?
P: I started with Roberto y su Nuevo Montuno, it was my group, I founded it with some friends of mine in Naranjito, the village my father was from. We went to the same school there and met when we were around 16 years old, we formed a group and there was a piano player from Bayamón, who’s name was Luis Torres. He composed this tune, or let’s say we both made it, we played along on the school’s old piano and there came out the “el nuevo montuno llegó” (sings part of it). Then when I went to Bayamón to enter High School we followed the idea to build up a band, we tried out with several musicians and found Roberto: Roberto was already well known, he had a name there, he was older than us and so he took charge of the band but later on had some problems and left the group.
N: We have heard that one of the reasons for your sympathy for Barranquilla is based on, that you signed more autographs there in half an hour than you had signed within years …. in Puerto Rico as well as in New York. What is the story about this?
P: Well… in less than 30 minutes I was out of all the autograph cards and since the first day I arrived there …one time I was waiting for being picked up, I went to the toilet and a guy followed me there, had an eye on me, and said to me: “hey you, you are Pachapo…” and extended a small piece of paper and a pen towards me. A simple boy in shorts and sandals, very modest, and I had to beg him to wait until I’d finished… (laughs). This was the strangest autograph I’ve ever given in my life…
N: We listened to the tune “Alma Libre” and you mentioned that some verses, part of this song, refer to, or are based on, a theme of Abelardo Barroso’s: “en Guantanamo.” Also in the way you play the piano it seems to me there is a certain similarity with a song of Joe Quijano’s called “a Cataño,” you even hear his “aguanta la lancha…”?
P: (sings) “Quiero volver, volver, volver…” (and laughs) – yes, definitely I wanted to make a typical Puerto Rican song.
N: Another question we have is: what motivated you to become a pianist? – You are able to play I don’t know how many instruments …
P: I play percussion, I puff a little the trombone, I say “puff” because you know what it’s like, these drops falling off… once when I was younger I practised a bit with this instrument but my preference has always been for the percussion since early age. With Roberto for example I played the tumbadora (conga) but since I was a small boy I have played piano, I learned this from my mother and my father. You know they were from Aruba, a place of pianos, among 5 houses you find a piano in three or four, it’s kind of an indispensable piece of furniture there …and when I was a child and got up early so there was nobody around to play with I sat down at the piano. Later on they started teaching me the basics of the chords, how to build and combine them and all these things, this has lasted up until today, for more than 43 years.
N: Very well. Pachapo, so your last recording dates were from 1977 and was pulished in 1978. What have you done in all these years without any recording, without hearing much from you despite the great success and your being famous for your 2 albums. What has happened in these more than 30 years?
P: The time the second album came out in 78 it was a time of economic problems. In some places they wanted me to play for nothing to give them some support but after a certain time I said no and so I played very little. So I went to Aruba, and with my departure some of my musicians went to Cuba. In Aruba I started to play as a solo pianist in a hotel, so I did not play much with a group. This is the way I make my living now, for more than 2 years I have been playing in a hotel in Puerto Rico and also in a fancy restaurant in la Dorada, where I live, the “el Ladrillo Steakhouse.” From time to time I join and play with a trompetist, “Augie” Agustin Antomattei, who works with Bobby Valentin, and Tommy Olivencia, also with a trombonist, Melvin Vazquez, in a trio, we do have some activities. They are of the legendary guys and according to the demands they accompany me but the payment is pretty poor and we have to do countless favours – in the long run this does not work out.
N: This gives the impression that you are not very happy with the situation over there …
P: No, of course not. If you don’t have relations with someone of the TV you don’t get a dime, so I’m really grateful to have the chance to go to Medellin now …let’s see what happens. Also, an invitation for a concert in Barranquilla has been confirmed. Hopefully somebody out there is reading this and interested in me, it would be a pleasure to get in contact.
N: We wish you the best and great success. Now we come to the question about your song “la cumbia de Cúcuta”. Being a city of the interior of Colombia, on the Venezuelan border, so not a coastal town at all, the area you visited and know, what animated you to dedicate a song to this specific town?
P: What happened was that in Aruba we have a big colony of Venezuelans and Colombians living there, and a big part of the Arubian culture comes from these countries. One of my cousins got married to the daughter of the then Colombian consul, we set down to talk and it turned out that he was from Cúcuta. He told me much about his homeland, the people and there the idea for the cumbia came out from. A very successful piece, this cumbia.
N: We were really surprised when this album appeared in 1972, that a Puerto Rican musician offers us a cumbia and what’s more, referring to Cúcuta. We were impressed, though, it looks like this Borinquen man loves Colombian folklore. Pachapo, there are rumours that for your presentation in Barranquilla you’ll only go with a singer and that singer is not the one who recorded with you.
P: No, no. Ray Albino will be with me in Barranquilla.
N: We just listened to “tamarindo” and have to point out that the trombones play more solo parts than the director and the pianist plays, an excellent preference, it reminds me of Eddie Palmieri and of Wayne Gorbea who are also pianists and put a strong emphasis on the trombones, they like this trombone based sound.
P: Yes, I’ve always followed this line which apart from Eddie Palmieri comes from Mon Rivera who elaborated this strong trombone sound. They were the first: Eddie Palmieri, Mon Rivera and Willie Colón and I have followed their example in every number, like this: give it all trombone! Give it all timbal!, conga or bongo or let’s say these are not arrangements only for the singer and the chorus, I make music for musicians, for the instruments, every musician is exhausted when playing with me.
N: About Eddie Palmieri it’s said that he’s pretty intelligent: he plays his solo, ok, but also his musicians play a lot and in the end it’s him who receives the applause, they say: wow! Good show and in fact he’s the one who has played less. Eddie likes to give a solo to everyone.
Let’s now turn to the song “Barranquilla para ti”, tell us…
P: I’m really, really grateful, it’s a pleasure presenting it now. A music that never could make it, never has been very successful in my home country achieved such a success in Barranquilla and the way they treated me there really impressed me, up to the point I would start to cry, it was a dream.
How could it be possible, in all the radio stations, in every taxi or gas station that my songs were heard. A dream come true for any musician. Hardly walking out of the house there were people inviting me for a drink, “have another” and so on make you feel you’re famous and this is a miracle.
N: To be in demand.
P: Exactly.I arrived there with this song already prepared, it was meant for a musician, almost a cousin of mine, a Colombian.
N: We can feel your emotion and let’s take the chance to send greetings to all barranquilleros out there!
P: Oh yes, once again, thank you so much! These people made me feel the best a human being can feel. All the friendliness, the joy, with them I felt like being at home here in Dorado, in Bayamón, or any place of my Puerto Rico home and therefore I dedicated this song to them that says: ”the most beautiful of the coast”. Well, all the cities there in the coastal area are beautiful but it is only one that’s called “the Sandy city of the Marble Coast,” where the Magdalena river meets the sea, with its carnival, one of the most famous, with its happy way of living, the Colombian folksongs show that these people live with joy.
N: Listen, I’ve heard something like “I have a love in San Pachito” – the singer refers to this…
P: Well… once I’ll be in Barranquilla again I’ll reveal this secret… (smiles)
N: They have asked me about your connection with Aruba, as far as I know you have relatives living there and also your father is buried there.
P: To explain this I have to talk a bit about history, briefly. In 1942, during World War II, the Germans attacked the el Lago refinery in San Nicolas, the biggest of Aruba and, as a Puerto Rican, my father was a US soldier, the US forces sent troups to Aruba and my father was among them. There he met my mother.
N: I became aware of a curiosity: the Mexican sonideros (ambulant DJs running big sound systems) play your songs but with a little reduced speed, let’s say your songs are all played there in “slow motion.”
P: Yes indeed. I’ve watched videos about this on the internet. I don’t know how it works, if they receive the songs changed like this…
N: Oh no, it’s them, the DJs who manipulate the speed, an idiosyncrasy of the Mexican Sonideros.
Let’s now listen to a tune of the “El Super Tumbao” album dedicated to your home country: “las lomas de mi isla” ( the hills of my island). Is this also your composition?
P: Yes, it’s mine.
N: Pachapo, you always maintained the concept of a sextette or septette…
P: I always had two trombones, piano and bass, the conga and bongo, and on the first LP recorded in New York were Louis Kahn, José Rodriguez, David Pérez, Johnny Rodriguez, Frankie Malabé and the chorus by Adalberto Santiago and Yayo el Indio, but it did not burst out. So on the second one they still sang the chorus but we added Rolo and Sammy Gonzalez, and the conga player – this was doubled – also played the timbales, the same way Manny Oquendo or Eddie Palmieri did it. Finally in the last album it’s almost the same only this time it is the conga player who also plays the bongo and Carlos Lara is the timbalero.
N: You just mentioned a star duo regarding the chorus: Yayo el Indio and Adalberto Santiago. I think in one of your many songs there is especially one where their talent stands out. In “No le digan” on your first LP “la Cumbia de Cúcuta” the voices of Yayo and Adalberto give a brilliant example and I dare to say that I may note a certain influence of Raphy Leavitt and Sammy Marrero in it. What can you tell me about this?
P: Well, the first album was produced by Ralf Lew, who, at that time, was as famous as, let’s, say Pancho Cristal. We had played some numbers in Puerto Rico but these do not appear on the LP which lists the musicians who recorded with us in New York, these were Johnny Rodriguez, Frankie Malabé, on the bass is David Pérez who was the bass player of Ray Barretto and Eddie Palmieri.
On the new album appears Carlos Lara on timbales, he’s of the old school. We have Vitin Cantero on conga and bongoes, and on trombones we find the same as on the former LPs, the bass plays Edwin Morales, who is the bass player of Orquesta Mulenze, …the musical director has always been my bass player. On the part that was recorded in Puerto Rico he’s the bass player, on the first and the latest album. On the second album plays a very famous bass player of that time, Paquito Corselles. He played with Cortijo and with Tito Puente. Today he is with the orchestra of Tito Rodriguez jr.. But the bass player who has worked with me most is Edwin, although he is busy playing always with Richie Ray. In charge of the chorus on the current album is Henry Silva — he’s a trompetist as well and sings chorus with la Selecta. Henry has a very clear voice, very clean and as I use to arrange the chorus of a duo we put his voice more towards Yayo el Indio’s, the second voice singing is the son of a friend of mine, Mikey Perfecto.
N: You have to talk us about San Pachito (laughs) before getting to Chiquinquirá – and what’s more: I’ll ask you to say a prayer to the virgin of Chiquinquirá – for what you are going to reveal about San Pachito.
P: The band was there, we went around by taxi in San Pachito, one of the musicians was with his girlfriend. She was from that part of town and would not stop begging us to go there, telling us how great it is there and so on. We had a good time there, it’s a pleasant place, from there we went on to another barrio called “Con Cinco” or something similar, a part of the town without electricity nor paved streets.
N: That’s why they call Barranquilla the Sandy City… (laughs).
What inspired you to write the song of the “Virgin of Chiquinquirá”?
P: With all my admiration and respect, you know about the situation in Colombia, the conflicts, the lack of security and so on – well, it is by far better nowadays, thanks to God – these problems brought me to the idea of dedicating these lyrics to my brothers, wishing them peace; a nun of a convent I met in the Colombian consulate told me about the Virgin and the miracle painting. I was informed that it is more than 400 years old – I am catholic – the canvas was woven by an indian and some Spaniards painted it with flowers on it. It was the Virgen of the Rosary. It has some birds painted and the virgen holds a rosary in her hands. It was put in a chappel but suffered water damage there up to the point that the virgen was not visible any more. It is a big painting, about 24 inches wide and 28 inches high, there wais a Saint Andrew to one side and a Saint Antony of Paula to the other. So they took it out of the chappel in order to not be destroyed completely and took it to Chquinquirá. As far as I know, this is a village in the outskirts of Bogotá. There they left it stored in some place for eight years. Then there came a lady from Spain who recognized what it was and told the people about it. The miracle was that then the painting showed the original colours, just like new. For this reason the colombians adore this picture and take it as a symbol of miracle.
N: We highly appreciate these details which are of great value for us, we feel really moved for this dedication to Colombia, to Barranquilla, it’s just like you want to express: “you are my people” although you have not been in any recording studio for more than 30 years.
P: I feel thankful for all your attention, for giving me the opportunity to talk to you, and for the invitation I received from Medellin. Probably I’ll go there the 31st of March to offer the new album. You, Nando, are my representative and I’d like to invite everyone interested in me to get in contact with you. I’ve got 8 new songs which I’ll take to Medellin and see if I can record them there. The project’s title is “Pa Colombia.” Every musician who has visited this area tells me of its beautiful landscapes with its valleys, and about its arts and crafts. Let’s give you an idea of the title song:
Which musician has not deeply been impressed
When visitting these lands
Of high mountains and beautiful cities
Those who were lucky to know those villages
Their art feries and carnaval festivals
What is more pleasent than to stay a while
In an estadero
Listening to old school salsa with its flavour of modern times and past
What more can I ask for
If you are like this
My beloved Colombia
Always lending a helping hand
To your fellow countryman as well as to a stranger
With this song I like to honour you sincerely
N: Wow! … what an homage! Pachapo, regarding lyrics, what is the meaning of the lyrics of tour song “Dunami un sunchi”?
P: Dunami un sunchi in English means “give me a kiss.”
N: What else can you tell us about this song?
P: Dunami un sunchi Rosa, well: give me a kiss Rosa, then: a kiss of your rose coloured lips, give me a kiss that will drive me crazy…
it is a song of the Estrellas del Caribe, a group from Curacao of the ’50s and ’60s. It´s the successful number I most wonder about as nobody in the world, not even in Colombia, understands papiamento but nevertheless it is always the first and last song I play in my concerts.
N: A bit curious, for which of your songs, your compostions do you receive the most royalties? For example Federico y su Combo are playing your “la cumbia de Cúcuta,” what is is like, do you receive anything for it or does it just pass by unnoticed?
P: This is another detail: Federico y su Magia Caribeña have recorded this song and also “No le digan” and “Las malas lenguas.”\ I saw this in video clips; these guys go to Holland, to Belgium, to many places in Europe and I am very proud of my music being played. It is promotion for me. Royalties…? Well, there is a somebody in charge of investigating this for me, but up to now nothing has happened If anything will come out, fine, but I’m not going to starve if not. Also Los Melodicos from Venezuela recorded my “No le digan” and I’ve seen clips of Colombian bands playing it, this and the cumbia – for nothing, but it is an honour for me and I am happy to see that my music is being promoted.
N: You said that you would travel to Aruba soon, do you have relatives living there?
P: Oh yes, they are all there, all my family and my mom Eugenia Arens and my dad Angel Luis Jimenez rest there. I am waiting for the moment to go there. Well, first I’ll go to Medellin and there is also the invitation to Barranquilla pending, planned for June or July, after reaching this aim I’ll try to visit the island for a while.
N: Your trip to Medellin is for private purpose, right?
P: To Medellin I’ll fly the 31st of March, for a week or so, a close friend of mine will get married and they invited me to the wedding party, so it’s not for working, but I’ll try to present and promote my new project there.
N: Pachapo, we appreciate very much that you preserve this strong trombone sound that identifies your sound so well. Strong trombones are typical for the bands of Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón or Wayne Gorbea, but you do have your own specific sound, in a modest style like Tite Curet once described it on a record cover’s liner notes about Nacho Sanabria: “when Nacho enters the scene of a ballroom he comes without pomp or glitter but the very moment he starts to play …” this is what I wanted to express, it is something simple but really tasty.
P: This is what I try to do, less musicians with more sound, for me this is the clearest, the cleanest sound.
N: Well, we’ll “set you free” now so that you don’t get late to work, I understand that you are working as a solo pianist.
P: Every Sunday I play as a solo pianist in a fancy restaurant nearby, here in Dorado, the “el Ladrillo Steakhouse”, close to the main place of the town. You’ll always find me there after 2 P.M., this I have been doing for many years. Also on Saturdays I’m in the Comfort Inn, playing in their Puerto Bahia restaurant, not far from here, about 10 minutes. This is what I’m doing these days, also my activities with Augie Antomattei, well, getting prepared for the tour in Colombia …for playing some more concerts there.
N: A last question… do you take advantage of the new technologies like doubling the trombones for example, to make them sound harder?
P: No, no no… My thing is the “the real thing”, purely, I never double the trombones, we have two.
The only doubling is with the bongo and the conga. I prefer a united sound, all playing together. The Dimension Latina had 4 trombones and these sounded very strong but a bit too dominant. I like it more adjusted to the group. I do not use tricks, nothing like this. Look, when we were recording the last time of course we started with the percussion, piano and bass and later you put the trombones. In earlier times all were together in the studio but nowadays many musicians go to the studio and record all alone, one after the other. I am one of those “last chance to see,” I use a large studio and try to get the group together. Look at the Orquesta Aragon, they perform somewhere and in this very same place they are recorded, they exist and have continued for over 70 years, and so I do keep on doing the same thing. This is the sound of Pachapo y su Comparsa.
N: We are going to finish this interview now, we’ll say good bye with the song “Charangano y Yemayá” of which we have two versions, one studio recording, and one live recording from Barranquilla. We did try to answer and clarify all our listeners’ inquiries, which have been many, and caused this interview to last a pretty long while. We appreciate, very much, your dedicating us so much time for our conversation.
P: Thanks to all of you for your consideration, your interest. Greetings and best wishes to all my friends and listeners of our music, hope to see some of you soon in Colombia and all over the world. I wish you the very best, hugs and God bless you.