A fixture in Winnipeg’s music scene, we spoke with Rodrigo Muñoz, the founder and leader of Papa Mambo, earlier this week to talk about life in a pandemic and how the trio has had to adapt in order to bring music to audiences, including WSO audiences.
The question we start with for everyone these days. How have you been coping with this pandemic and the lockdowns? What have you learned about yourself? As a trio?
It’s been very hard for the trio. We worked a lot before the pandemic hit. In fact it was our main source of gigging income. During the summer we manage to work a bit through Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and a few sponsored curbside concerts. We have also been maintaining our online presence by posting and sharing music. We learned that music for us, is not only our work but it is also a great part of our social life! (Something that’s both convenient and inconvenient at the same time)
How have you kept yourselves connected with your music?
We get together virtually and talk about our different projects, both as individuals, and as a trio. We plan our return to the stage when things get back to normal as far as performing goes.
Papa Mambo started as a party band and came to be recognized as an innovator in Canada’s Latin music scene. How do you carry that excitement over to the trio?
First of all it is impossible to totally emulate the Papa Mambo 10-piece ensemble, but there are some things that you can do as well and sometimes better with a small group like a trio. We’ve managed to sound very big! Meaning that when people hear us they can’t believe that they are hearing only three people! This is a real source of pride for us, but we have had to work hard at it! For instance, as the sole percussionist I have to practice doing the work of three percussionists by using pedals on each of my feet plus adding cymbals and singing backup at the same time. Amber is doing three things as well. Apart from her wonderful singing, she plays the chords with her right hand and the bass line with her left. And Victor! Besides singing backup, he has had to learn how to play all the horn lines on the guitar while keeping the ‘tumbao’ at the same time. ‘The ‘tumbao’ is a particular way of playing chords in Afro Cuban music.
How do carry it over to a string orchestra?
Our music carries over beautifully to strings. Bowed instruments and Afro Cuban music are a match made in heaven and not at all an anomaly. Strings and ‘son’ (the most popular type of Cuban music) go all the way back to the birth of the genre. For instance, the first Cha-Cha-Cha ever written was the work of the great Enrique Jorrín, a violinist and ‘Charanga’ bandleader. ‘Charanga’ bands are traditionally the most popular type of bands in Cuba and they always have a string section consisting usually of at least 2 violins, but sometimes a cello or viola (or both) are added. A contrabass playing pizzicato double bass lines is also always present. One of my favourite bands of all time, the great Los Van Van, is in fact a Charanga band with a violin section. Check them out! I’m sure you’ll become as enamoured of their style as I am.
What can you tell us about this weekend’s show?
The trio is usually very versatile in its repertoire, playing everything from traditional Latin music, all the way to pop, and even classical music. For our show with the symphony, we have prepared a program of well-known and loved music from the Afro Cuban song book as well as other historic Latin pieces. We’ll also perform one original piece and three beautiful Brazilian folk tunes sung in Portuguese by our talented songstress Amber Epp.
What is a fun/interesting fact about Papa Mambo?
Papa Mambo is amongst the oldest non-classical ensembles in the city and in Canada. We turned 31 this year and we are still going strong. In fact we have a new single (with video) coming soon!