Ruben Esguerra Tears York a New Groove

Summer, 1998. Of the half-dozen djembe drummers parading around Yorkville and Little Italy as a "street team" for some direct marketing company -- I don't remember the product we were supposed to push, only our red t-shirt uniforms -- one dude could do more with one little salsa bell than I could do with, well, an egg-shaped shaker. High and low tones plinked out in a syncopated beat, and although I got the feeling he could tear it up on the bong贸 or congas, Ruben Esguerra seemed more than happy to keep the backing beats steady.

Every time I've checked in with "Ben*e" Esguerra since then, some things change -- he'd taken up tabla drumming at York, or, now holding an M.A. in Ethnomusicology, he's conducting Cuban music ensembles there -- but his passion for roots music remains constant. In fact, he's now leading and performing in New Tradition, a project exploring various Afro-Colombian styles "while incorporating original musical ideas influenced by Latin urban music." So it's no surprise to see his name among those highlighted at the upcoming Drum and Dance Extravanganza, part of this year's World Music Festival, which began Monday and continues until Friday up at York.

In the Myspace bio on New Tradition -- a growing, professional ensemble excited by and devoted to the drums of Colombia here in Toronto -- Esguerra lists himself as director, on maraca and vocals. (It's not always about the biggest or "hardest" drums!) But that group's only one of a handful he co-leads or conducts.

The free Friday night event includes performances from several ensembles, including the Cuban one (led by Esguerra, Rick Lazar and Paul Ormandy) and others showcasing West African and Korean drumming as well as Brazilian samba batucada. The World Music fest, which earlier that day features a klezmer concert, comes as part of a larger annual Faculty of Fine Arts festival. The calendar for this showcase of "the next wave of outstanding young artists and performers in Canada" packs in baroque choirs, photography exhibitions, ragtime concerts, visual arts open houses and more into the event series' run from March 9 through to April 1.

Drum and Dance Extranvaganza
Friday, March 16, 7:30 PM, free
in the CIBC Lobby, Accolade East, Keele campus, York University

Image of Ruben Esguerra from New Tradition's MySpace

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