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Saturday, October 3, 2020 | 2 p.m. Pacific

At Home with
John Santos
An Online Conversation

A survey of Afro-Latin percussion and a conversation with this renowned musician.


About the Event

Hello everyone – I’m really looking forward to our conversation on October 3! I plan to share some history and insight around some Afro-Latin percussion instruments, namely the tumbadora (conga drum), guiro, claves, cowbell, and chekeré. I think you’ll be surprised by what those simple instruments hold and reveal. I’ll speak, demonstrate each instrument, and take whatever questions you have. Whether or not you are a percussionist, there will be a lot to dig into. I’ve also submitted a couple of audio files for you to practice to, and/or just enjoy before and after our conversation. The first one, Tichín, is from my brand new CD, Art of the Descarga, on the Smithsonian Folkways label. If you are interested in obtaining the whole CD (12 songs), please go to The second example, Mazacote, is a classic live recording from 1958 (recorded in San Francisco) by the great Cuban conga drummer and bandleader Mongo Santamaria. Both pieces are laid back tempo-wise to facilitate hearing the rhythms and playing along if you so desire.

– John Santos

About the Mentor

More than a master percussionist, internationally renowned multi-Grammy nominee, composer, producer, educator and bandleader John Santos is an educator and cultural activist. He is a keeper of the Afro-Caribbean flame steeped in Cuban and Puerto Rican folkloric traditions as well as salsa and Latin jazz. A 2012 San Francisco Latino Heritage Arts Awardee, born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District amidst an extended family of Puerto Rican musicians, he’s been at the center of the Bay Area’s Latin music scene for over four decades. He served on the Smithsonian Institution’s Latin Jazz Advisory Committee and has played an essential role in expanding Latin jazz’s rhythmic lexicon beyond the foundational Cuban grooves. He has produced a steady stream of critically acclaimed, peer-respected recordings on his Machete Records label since 1984 and has travelled the world as a performer, teacher and lecturer since the mid-eighties.

John is known for his innovative use of traditional forms and instruments in combination with contemporary music. He has performed and/or recorded with masters such as Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Cachao, Eddie Palmieri, James Moody, Omar Sosa, McCoy Tyner, Giovanni Hidalgo, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Steve Turre, and Bebo Valdés. He is faculty at the California Jazz Conservatory, SF State University, College of San Mateo and Jazz Camp West. John has lectured and taught extensively in the United States, Europe and Latin America including such prestigious institutions as Yale, Stanford, the Museum of the African Diaspora, and the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He is an Advisory Board member of Oaktown Jazz, Living Jazz (Oakland), and the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance (NY), and a Trustee of SFJAZZ.

John’s work has been recognized and supported by the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Smithsonian Institution, the California Arts Council, United States Artists, the Zellerbach Family Fund, the Fund for Folk Culture, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, the East Bay Community Foundation, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, the Creative Work Fund, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.

He was founder and director (1985-2006) of the internationally renowned, Grammy-nominated Machete Ensemble, and currently directs the Cubadisco-nominated, John Santos Sextet. Their newest CD, Art of the Descarga, was released in August, 2020 on the prestigious Smithsonian/Folkways label. November 12th, 2006 was proclaimed John Santos Day in San Francisco by Mayoral proclamation.

Learn more about John on our blog.