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Tito Matos, Virtuoso of Puerto Rican Sound, Dies at 53

Tito Matos, a master percussionist, respected educator, and lifelong champion of the Puerto Rican musical style, known as plena, passed away January 18 in San Juan, PR. He is 53 years old.

His wife, Mariana Reyes Angleró, said the cause was a heart attack.

Mr. Matos has a skillful technique of asking, the smallest and highest-pitched hand drum, or pandereta, used in drumming. Rooted in the song traditions of Africa, the plena emerged in the early 20th century on the southern coast of Puerto Rico and became known as “el periódico cantado” or “the fig newspaper”. In street corner style, it narrates stories, some gossip, about the love and concerns of everyday working class and black Puerto Ricans. In its early years, the wealthy elite didn’t like the genre.

Mr. Matos was a member of many advocacy groups but first gained widespread recognition with the band Viento de Agua. Cuban batá rhythm.

For Mr. Matos, the band’s first album, “De Puerto Rico al Mundo” (1998), opened the door to a dynamic career that has made him one of the finest practitioners of his generation. .

Héctor René Matos Otero was born on June 15, 1968, in the Río Piedras district of San Juan, one of three children of Héctor Matos Gámbaro and Hilda I. Otero Maldonado. His father is an accountant and a salsa enthusiast; His mother is a housewife.

Growing up in Villa Palmeras, a barrio of the Santurce section considered a link between bomba and pleas, Héctor accepted pleas at the age of eight when his grandfather gave him his first pandereta in Three Kings Day holiday. Héctor had no formal musical training and could not read sheet music, but his love for the instrument was planted.

He moved to New York in 1994 and eventually completed a degree in landscape architecture at City College. He joins a new community of musicians, join Los Pleneros de la 21, an intergenerational East Harlem ensemble, and learn from the masters of studies who immigrated to New York in the 1940s and 50s.

In New York, he met Ricardo Pons and Alberto Toro, two saxophonists-arrangers. “Tito is addicted to pleas,” Mr. Pons said in a phone interview. “Un fiebrú,” he said, laughing, “as if he had a fever.”

Historically, only certain families were custodians of the festival, responsible for keeping its traditions and rhythm alive. “That’s a problem, because they’re very limited,” said Mr. Matos an interview in 2010.

Instead, Viento de Agua sought innovation. “It’s not about conserving plena or bomba; “It’s about doing whatever we want with it.”

The group’s album “De Puerto Rico al Mundo” is infused with an imaginary, careless spirit. Writing in the New York Times, Peter Watrous praised it as “floral and raucous.”

The group has performed in Mexico, Cuba, and throughout the United States, sometimes accompanied by a full jazz band.

Ed Morales, a journalist, author and friend of Mr. Matos, said in a phone interview: “Tito is a super, super fun and charismatic person. Mr. Matos added he has a unique ability to reach Puerto Ricans both on the island and the diaspora and instill a sense of communion with them – especially when he performs in a biennial concert. times at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.

“You really have to feel the connection between the people of Puerto Rico and the people of New York more than anywhere else,” Mr. Morales said.

In the early 2000s, Mr. Matos returned to Puerto Rico, where he became an educator and cultural advocate. He co-founded Plenazos Callejeros, a monthly initiative that brings together musicians from across Puerto Rico for spontaneous musical performances on street corners.

“He has a lot of young people just to pick up a pandereta —” who don’t necessarily care about the plea, because maybe they think it sounds corny or something, Mr. Morales said. that, or it doesn’t look like salsa or hip. -hop or reggaeton. ”

Today, the plena is experiencing a cultural renaissance; In recent years, it has played a central role in radical political rallies and protests in Puerto Rico, including summer 2019 led to the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

Subsequent projects have led Mr. Matos to collaborate with stars such as Eddie Palmieri, Ricky Martin and the jazz saxophonist and composer. Miguel Zenon. Mr. Matos later founded the band La Máquina Insular, a band focused on bringing people back to its roots.

In 2015, he and his wife founded La Junta, a bar and performance space in Santurce, where they host live music and boi singing workshops. Hurricane Maria destroyed space in 2017, but its spirit is revived in “La Casa de la Plena,” a historical exhibition, curated by the couple, opening in May 2021 at Taller Comunidad La Goyco, a community center they established in an abandoned school in Santurce that they renovated.

In addition to his mother and wife, whom he married in 2013, Mr. Matos is survived by their son, Marcelo; two children from previous marriages that ended in divorce, Celiana and Héctor; an older brother, Yan Matos Otero; and a sister, Glennis Matos Otero.

On January 21, Mr. Matos was honored with a progress in Santurce. Friends, family members and dozens of fans walked the streets, drumming on panderetas and singing tributes. “Muchas gracias, te amamos,” they chanted – “Thank you very much. We love you.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/29/arts/music/hector-tito-matos-dead.html Tito Matos, Virtuoso of Puerto Rican Sound, Dies at 53

Fry Electronics Team

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