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Interview: Alex Acuna

A while back I asked legendary drummer & percussionist Alex Acuña if I could do an interview with him. To my delight he said yes.

(Paul)
As a Peruvian, the cajon is obviously part of your cultural heritage. What are some of your early experiences with the cajon?.

(Alex)
A great player his name is Canano Barrenechea used to record all the Peruvian music at the studio where I used to work in Lima in the 60s,  he played  the rhythms from the north of Peru,  (the tonderos and marineras styles) He show me some beats on the cajon, later in the late 70s I went to other players in Lima from Peru negro and they show me the rhythms of the Afro Peruvian music that were and still are very popular in Peru and all over the world NOW!!!!

(Paul)
What cajon players have influenced you over your life?

(Alex)
All of the Peruvians – Cajoneros of course, to name a few,  Ronaldo Campos, Caitro Soto de la Colina, Pititi, Chocolate Argendones and, also the younger players – present ones, Gigio Parodi, Rony Campos, Marcos Campos.

(Paul)
How do you feel about the ever growing popularity of the cajon across the world today?

(Alex)
Its fantastic!!!! – Im very proud of course.  BTW The first time a cajon was recorded in a major label, the artist was with Chick Corea 1983 in LA at Madhatters studios.

(Paul)
There are many players experimenting with new ways of playing the cajon these days. What do you feel about the development of the cajon?

(Alex)
Again fantastic!!!! the Cajon is an instrument that can fit any musical set up and genre, Classical, acoustic, jazz, Latin etc…  I love to see so many people playing it and of course there are many different techniques and ways of playing, etc…But I love to hear and see what’s happening with the Peruvian Instrument El Cajon Peruano.

(Paul)

You have played with many prolific artists in your career, who inspires you?

(Alex)

All of them for different reasons, there are so many it can take to long to elaborate, Ill mention some of them. Wayne ShorterJoe ZawinulElvin JonesJaco Pastorious Chick CoreaPaco de LuciaHerbie HancockJohn Williams. The list goes on and ON…

(Paul)
Was the cajon ever used in your time with Weather Report?

weatherreportn

Acuna with Weather Report in the 1970’s

(Alex)
No, but right after that I did it when we recorded with Chick Corea and Paco de Lucia  the name of the CD is “Touch Stone”.

(Paul)
As a set drummer, do you find the cajon, with its kick and snare type sounds, a good substitute for drum set in certain situations?

(Alex)
Well,,,,I know what you saying…but nothing can replace the real drums….I know,,,I know…But I have never thought of the cajon in those ways, but maybe  that will work when is played in a simple set up or simple beats..but when its played in the Peruvian hard core music, like the festejos, lando, etc… it is the main percussion instrument, who will dictate that style of music and the player must have lots of chops and great rhythm. The same will be when is played in the Flamenco music.  Another observation, The cajon player needs to know how to play drums to make it feel like a drummer, its all about the knowledge and attitude of the real set player…Honest opinion.

(Paul)
Do you ever use any other percussion, such as a conga, in a set up with the cajon or would you normally just play the cajon by its self?

(Alex)
Again because I am a drummer and a percussionist I have developed great coordination’s and that gives me so many choices to use the cajon in many and any ways I like.

(Paul)
In your opinion, what are some of the best cajon makes on the market today?

(Alex)
I have to say the ones made in Peru for my company – GonBops,  Alex Acuna Limited Edition,  its made the real ways because the Peruvians have been making cajons for a very long time –  some great cajons are also being made in Spain.

(Paul)
What projects are you working on right now?

(Alex)
This week I m going to play with Peter Erskine “Drummers of WR” and the next week Ill be in NY recording 2 CDs with Chick CoreaJohn MclaughlinPaco de Lucia and Jack d Johnette. Later I will be playing four concerts with John Patitucci in Peru, Santo Domingo, Chile and Argentina. In June I’ll be at the Puerto Rico Jazz Heineken, With Paquito d RiveraEddie PalmieriMichel Camilo, they’re all Jazz events Which I love so much.  And In the summer Ill be in Europe with Bobby Mcferrin…etc…always very busy, practicing, teaching and recording a lot.

It was an absolute pleasure to interview Alex. He continues to be one of the most influential drummers around today.

More info on Alex Acuna:
Alex Acuña was born in Pativilca, Peru. He played in local bands from the age of ten, then moved to Limain his teens. In 1974 Acuña moved to Las Vegas and began working with artists such as Elvis Presley andDiana Ross. The following year he joined the jazz-fusion group Weather Report, appearing on the albumsBlack Market and Heavy Weather. Acuña left Weather Report in 1978 to focus on work as a session musician in California.

Acuña has recorded and played live with Paul McCartneyJoni MitchellElla FitzgeraldJim WalkerChick CoreaWhitney HoustonPlácido DomingoPhil Keaggy, Sergeant Petter, Sam Phillips, former Weather Report bandmates Wayne Shorter and Joe ZawinulHerbie HancockCarlos SantanaAntonio Carlos JobimBeckRoberta FlackU2, and Al Jarreau. He can be found on recordings by musicians as culturally diverse as Javier Malosetti, Lee RitenourPeter GabrielJohnny CleggRobbie RobertsonJackson Browne and Flavio Sala.


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