Spoiler alert: Miguel’s drumming gets crazy about 58 seconds in.
I wanted to share Miguel’s unique perspective with you since he was born in Puerto Rico and later moved to the Las Vegas at age nine. For anyone, moving is a difficult transition. Moving somewhere with a completely different lifestyle and language is even more of a challenge. In Miguel’s case, his Puerto Rican roots differentiate him as a musician.
So, how exactly did growing up in Puerto Rico affect Miguel’s style as a drummer?
Learning music as an exchange
“My dad is a drummer too and drums were always around my house. I was a baby, really, really young. There’s pictures of me on drums like two, three years old. I just kinda picked up sticks. The drums were always there, set up around the house. I would always hear my dad practice. So I was like ‘I’m gonna try to do that, too.’ ”
“I was still a kid though and I wasn’t taking music seriously because I was a die-hard baseball player. My parents did not want me to become a musician at all. My mom is a dancer and my dad is a professional musician. It’s a hard life, you know. If you’re born in Puerto Rico, when you come out of the womb, you’re either handed boxing gloves, a basketball, or a baseball. That’s just how it is over there. They didn’t want me to become a musician. Then they started realizing that I could play when I was fourteen or fifteen. I had a natural ability to pick up and copy rhythms, and play music on the piano. In sixth grade we had beginning band and percussion, and I got enrolled in that, and that’s when I really started learning how to read music. I was really into it and I felt really cool. In seventh grade, they bumped me up with the eighth graders. I felt like the young cool kid. That made me obsessed with playing drums all the more.”
“My dad didn’t really teach me how to play the drums. I watched him. Like I said, he didn’t want me to become a musician. When I started playing, he was like ‘alright you want to do this, you’re learning on your own.’ He would do this thing where instead of paying for lessons he would say ‘hey man will you teach my son and I’ll teach you’. That person would want to study with my dad, but instead of paying my dad, he would just give me lessons. Everyone wanted to learn how to play Latin drumming. When my dad plays the drums, he has a whole bunch of cowbells and he can do all these things with his limbs, and everyone wants to learn how to do that. With me learning music, it was more of an exchange. It was really clever of him to do that.”
Puerto Rican influence became musical signature
“I took a lot of the rhythms from Puerto Rico when I started learning music here. I like to mix it up. I’ll take a rhythm from over there and mix it up. Like if we’re playing jazz standard, I’ll play a rhythm from Puerto Rico and it just changes the entire song completely. It’s hard to explain in words. So here when they teach Latin music, they teach Latin music in a certain way. The drummers here have never seen my style. They ask me, ‘Oh you do that?’ You can’t be taught Latin music from a book. You have to come from the actual place to know what it is. I end up teaching them how to do it. Also, I’ve arranged a lot of music. Like popular music from the states. I take my flavor from it and mix it together and it sounds completely unique. That’s what I mean by unique. I’m taking the things where I’m from and then just putting them over here. That’s what sets me apart from everybody else.”
“Music [in Puerto Rico] is a lot of salsa bands, a lot of plena bands. Plena is the style of music that came out of Puerto Rico. Bomba is another style of music that came out of when the African slaves were living there at the time. They had these big barrel drums that they would play. So Puerto Rico has those two basic styles that don’t exist anywhere else. In Puerto Rico, there’s about eight cities that cultivated their own version of these styles. You might hear one style with a little cowbell on it, but the other style might not have that. That happens in a lot of countries, like for example Argentina and Spain. I’m sure you know Flamenco in Spain, but, Argentina has their own Flamenco with their own style. All these places have their own twist, and it’s cool to see.”
“I’m saving money to actually go to these places, spend time, like five to six years in each country and just learn. Sometime I want to go to India and learn Indian music, which is completely different. They have a whole system of reading music, like they use their fingers for counting. I want to go to learn that. And then I want to go to Brazil and learn Samba, rhythms down there. It’s better to go to the place and learn it. Sometimes you get lucky and you have a teacher that’s from there, who will teach you here. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to go to these different places and stay there and study. Eventually I want to go to Africa, that’s where all music came out of. There’s a native rhythm, it’s called the Mother Rhythm. It was taken from Africa and passed down to New Orleans. That turned into blues, which turned into jazz, pop, rock and roll. It all came out in Africa, so I want to go learn that. It’s better to just go to the place.”
Music first, Miguel second
“From what I’ve done so far, I’m still trying to get into the music business. I’d just say go for it. If you really want to do it, you have to practice a lot, and devote time to building up your craft. You have to spend hours and hours. With everything, you have to spend hours and hours perfecting it in order to get it right and be successful. It’s the same thing with every job and with music. You have to spend 3 hours practicing everyday to really get going with your career. Always be creative, be open to meeting people, and be yourself. Don’t create a fake persona. I know so many musicians who try to fake their way, they say something and they’re not really meaning it. Just be yourself, always, and stay professional. Stay humble. You’ve always gotta be humble when it comes to music. Because then people will always want to play with you, and be around you.”
“When I first meet somebody, I let them know what I do, which is kind of a problem sometimes. I wish more people could see what I do. I wish more people knew that I’m a drummer and what I do with my craft. Of course I want people to know my personality, but mainly I want more people to listen to my music. Knowing me comes later. It’s music first, Miguel second.”
Bottom line: Miguel’s message is to stay humble, celebrate music, and use your cultural differences to your advantage. Miguel channeled what was different about him, his Puerto Rican culture, to make unique music. What do you think about how our cultures influence music? The comments are yours.
Until next time, Salud!