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Latin drummer follows beat to Livingston County

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell)

BRIGHTON, Nov. 15, 2013 (AP): Renowned Latin jazz drummer Pepe Espinosa has let the beat be his guide, from his defection from his native Havana, Cuba, to Spain, Sweden, New York, and finally to Michigan’s burgeoning Latin music scene.

In each case, Espinosa, now a Brighton resident, has gone where demand for his talents, both live and on recordings, was greatest.

After just two years, he has become a fixture in the Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and Grand Rapids music scenes, and a regular at some of Michigan's most popular jazz clubs, including Cliff Bell's and Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit.

But Espinosa, who once toured with Latin trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, puts countless miles on his odometer to stay immersed in music while enjoying a quiet home base in Livingston County with his wife, Reina Martin, and their daughter, Annabella, 1.

``I had been here in Michigan a few times. I always thought that this is a nice place to have a family,'' Espinosa told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus ( http://bit.ly/1eeYJOq ).

``Here's pretty quiet for us. That's what we really need for my family,'' he added. ``We're quiet persons.''

Locals may have heard Espinosa play with a variety of bands, most likely either Tumbao Bravo or Aguanko. He most often plays congas, bongos and timbale drums.

Tumbao Bravo won a 2013 Detroit Music Award for its album ``Casa Versailles,'' which features Espinosa.

He plays in both bands with Dr. Alberto Nacif, a Genoa Township physician who is also a percussionist.

Before making his way to the United States, Espinosa toured with renowned Cuban ensembles including the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Cubanismo.

His father, the late José ``Pepin Drum'' Espinosa, was a revered percussionist in Cuba in the 1960s and his son's mentor.

``He said, `You know this is very hard. You have to practice every day. It’s not easy to be a musician,' " Espinosa, 38, recalled.

``That was my life, all my life playing, practicing,'' he added. ``It's a part of my life, a big part.''

Espinosa began lessons with his father around age 4, and by age 12 was playing bongos with his first professional ensemble.

Nowadays, he is working on his first full-length album, tentatively titled ``Neutron,'' which he's producing with Nacif in Ann Arbor.

Espinosa's apartment complex doesn't allow him to play drums indoors, so he relies most on a drum practice pad for his personal rehearsal time.

``Every day, at least one hour, I have to do this. That's my drug,'' he explained at his apartment.

Espinosa teaches privately, but he also aspires to teach classes either at public schools or the collegiate level. In late October, he led a percussion clinic with 350 students through Michigan State University.

Nacif met Espinosa about 15 years ago during one of Nacif's many trips to Cuba.

Nacif later suggested that Espinosa consider moving to Michigan, specifically Brighton, to create his home in the United States.

Nacif said Espinosa never stops playing in some capacity, including when Nacif calls him on the phone.

``I hear in the background (drumming sounds) and I know he's practicing. The only time that he doesn't do it is when his daughter's sleeping,'' Nacif said.

``It's really funny, but that's who he is,'' he added.

Espinosa has become well-connected and in demand in a relatively short period of time, and is in constant demand across Michigan, Nacif said.

He said Espinosa brings a unique flavor to Latin jazz music in Michigan.

``His skill set is unlike anybody in Michigan. I could easily say he's one of the top percussionists in the world for this type of music,'' he said.

``It's only a matter of time before somebody snags him and just takes him on tour playing with some top musician, because that's going to happen,'' Nacif added.

Information from: Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, http://www.livingstondaily.com


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/20/13 09:59:41 -0800.




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