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Henry Cole: Puerto Africa

A drummer infuses Afrobeat with his own eclectic identity

Henry Cole
Henry Cole

Miles Davis’ prediction that Afrobeat would be “one of the musics of the future” was a prescient one. Captivated by Nigerian provocateur Fela Kuti, Davis saw something in the brash mix of jazz, Yoruba and funk that in recent years has inspired a bumper crop of Afrobeat groups to take the posthumous Broadway icon’s towering legacy and combine it with their own cultural traditions. Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole is one of the latest and brightest, bringing the folkloric bomba and plena styles of his homeland and the swagger of Latin hip-hop to his debut with his Afrobeat Collective, the self-released Roots Before Branches.

Rising up out of the close-knit community of jazz musicians in San Juan, Cole found an early supporter in Miguel Zenón, who appears on the album. “Henry is probably one of the most committed musicians I’ve ever met,” Zenón says. After the two became acquainted in the late ’90s, Cole began making frequent trips to New York City, staying at Zenón’s apartment. “We’ve been playing together for so long that I feel we hear a lot of things the same way, which makes making music with him almost like second nature.”

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