In a career that already spans nearly 40 years, Bay Area percussionist John Santos has played many roles, including performer, bandleader, composer, producer and teacher. La Esperanza, with his Coro Folklórico Kindembo, has a celebratory, communal feel, addressing the roots, both religious and secular, of several Afro-Caribbean music styles.
The fourth release by El Coro Folklórico Kindembo, La Esperanza comprises 12 tracks, all but one a tribute to a significant musical, social, spiritual or educational figure. Some of them are very much alive; others have passed. The list includes the widely known—Abbey Lincoln, Francisco Aguabella, Patato Valdés—as well as those who are not as famous but no less influential: master percussionist Esteban Vega “Chachá” Bacallao, one of the founding members of the classic rumba group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas; singer Merceditas Valdés; scholar Robert Farris Thompson; and members of the Bay Area Afro-Latin scene.
Here, Santos has assembled a terrific group of musicians that is reconfigured in subsets according to each song’s needs. It’s a testament to the players’ technical abilities and knowledge of the tradition that religious-based tracks such as “Palo Monte,” “Shangó” and “Obatalá” flow smoothly to and from pieces such as the title song, the bomba y plena “Recuerda” or the son “Para Ser un Buen Sonero.” As in so much African-American rooted music, the sacred and the secular are often two sides of the same coin.