Private Lessons

"A lot of Americans are buying these videos because they're interested in playing Afro-Cuban music," says Artiles. "Afro-Cuban music is popular all over the world right now. It's the right moment for us to be producing these videos."

Warner has also begun to fill a gap in reference materials in an area in which there is a dearth of written resources, especially in English. The Essence of Afro-Cuban Percussion and Drum Set, by Ed Uribe, a professor of Latin American and Caribbean music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, features, in addition to lesson plans, a concise history of Latin music styles, a glossary of terms, and maps tracing the origins of Afro-Cuban rhythms to their respective regions in Africa. It is highly recommended for musicians, scholars, and anyone interested in the fundamentals of Latin dance music. Among other enlightening works, a book of Spanish children's songs and games documents an oral tradition with easy-to-play music for piano with Spanish lyrics, accompanied by English translations.

The company's massive facility houses the workspaces of editors and graphic artists, a printing plant, and a shipping warehouse. In one office during a recent visit, an editor was going over a photocopied manuscript of a book on Cuban piano technique that had been submitted by another of Artiles's contacts, a musicologist who lives in Havana. The text will be translated and published by Warner this year.

Through Artiles's contacts, Warner has become instrumental in giving musicians on this side of the strait access to Cuban music and technique. Instructional videos and books on Cuban music are particularly important since they are prohibitively expensive to produce in present-day Cuba and have not been previously available here because of the island's political isolation. Videos and books featuring Changuito, the former drummer for the venerable dance group Los Van Van, provide lessons in timbales and outline the method for playing the complex Van Van dance rhythm, songo. Another videotape, Drumset Artists of Cuba, features four young drum whizzes: Samuel Formell, Raul Pineda, Jose Manuel Sanchez, and Jimmy Branly. A song book of ballads by troubadour Pablo Milanes is also available from Warner.

These and other books and videos produced by the company have a social as well as didactic value. While the lessons on the videos would be, for the most part, boring for nonmusicians to watch, they contain segments capturing intimate performances of musicians that might not be recorded elsewhere. Carlos Santana: Influences combines a lesson by the Latin rock pioneer with historic footage of some of his mentors: innovative jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, Hungarian fusionist Gabor Szabo, and the Brazilian player Bola Sete. Hidalgo's tapes include jam sessions with some esteemed colleagues. Conga Virtuoso, for example, features two acclaimed young talents: pianist Danilo Perez and saxman David Sanchez.

Hidalgo, who says he has three more videos in the works, considers the tapes an efficient way to spread the Latin music gospel around the world. Mostly he likes to think about the import they might have for his son's generation. "We have to keep on top of things and keep it going," says the highly respected conguero. "We have to do this in order to leave a really beautiful legacy behind.

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