Manuel “Papayo” Corao: Percussion With Pitbull

Manuel Papayo Corao

Papayo’s Percussion

Drums Pearl Bobby Allende Congas and Bongos
1 11" x 30" Quinto
2 11.75" x 30" Conga
3 12.5" x 30" Tumba
4 7" / 8.5" Bongos
5 14" x 24" Pearl Elite Fiberglass Djembe
6 14" / 15" Pearl Elite Brass Timbales
7 12" x 5" Pearl Marc QuiƱones, Q-Popper Timbale Snare
8 16" x 12" Floor Tom

Cymbals Sabian
A 16" HH Chinese
B 16" AA El Sabor Crash
C 13" AA El Sabor Splash
D 17" HHX Evolution Crash
E 18" HHX Evolution Crash

Electronics Roland
F SPD-S Pad

Percussion Pearl
G Trap Table includes Shakerine, Guiro, Chimes, Woodblocks, Cabasa, etc.
H Pearl Stacker with Cowbell and Block

Manuel “Papayo” Corao also uses Evans Tri-Center Synthetic heads (congas/bongos), G1 Clear (djembe), G2 Clear (timbales), G1 Coated (snare/floor tom) and Pro-Mark timbale sticks.

“We had no shows before,” he says. “We just hit the road and started working together. From that moment on until today, I do believe that my life has changed, personally and professionally. It’s hard to be on the road. I’ve been traveling for the past four years for Pit. Professionally, you gotta work double; you gotta help put it out double, which means I’m a percussionist but I also want to do some other things: I want to be an artist, I want to write songs. So you gotta record on the road. It gets lonely, but I love it.”

A little back-story here: “In 2007,” he says, “it didn’t come out until 2010, but I had a band and a CD called Concrete Rebels, a reggae jam band. I was the percussionist, vocalist, and producer of that band, doing everything. I realized that all the money I was making on all these other gigs, I had to say goodbye to commit to this.” Asked if Concrete Rebels will remain a band over the long haul, Papayo says, “I never like to close doors. I love reggae; it’s gonna satisfy me no matter what. We did five or six shows in Miami, and then we decided to go into the studio and record the CD.”

On the occasion of this interview, Papayo was on the verge of yet another tour with Pitbull, the band preparing to leave for a late-summer tour of Australia. “They’ll all be festivals, in arenas,” he says. “We’re going to be opening up for Enrique Iglesias. It’s going to be pretty exciting, because it’ll be the first time I get to open for Papa Enrique in front of these huge crowds.”

Playing with Pitbull is not your typical Latin percussion gig, given that he’s a rapper and the style of playing loosely falls into the category of Latin hip-hop. “Here’s the thing,” Papayo says, matter-of-factly, “there are different types of percussionists, and I respect them all. What I’ve had in mind as a percussionist is to always try to keep that tempo and [stay] in the key. My main focus as a percussionist in order to be able to complement the Pitbull show as a hip-hop artist is to understand the different patterns of percussion. Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the piano played or what’s the beat or what is it that you’re playing to. You gotta do a pattern, and you gotta keep the pattern. Because I think every person that’s on a stage playing live should think as a producer to be successful, and not clash with whatever the other musicians are doing in the band. I have written songs for Pitbull as well — they are part of the show. I think it has become like a family thing.”

Clicking With Omar

One of Papayo’s main delights here is his playing with Pitbull drummer Omar Tavarez. “We both have been playing together for so many years,” Papayo says, “that we both feel very good as musicians; we get along on stage very well.” In fact, their history predates Pitbull. “My first gig that I had with Omar was with Suenalo,” he says. “Suenalo was like the launching base. You know, they used to play that type of music, too, the Miami beats.”

His interaction with Tavarez, who, at 28, is just three years older, makes for a solid unit — a percussion team on equal footing. “I think it has to do with the number of rehearsals,” Papayo says. “We have been rehearsing for a long time. It has a lot to do with listening, too: trying to listen to what he’s doing, and trying to fill up the space and not try to place something on top of what he’s doing. I try to play something different than what he’s doing and then match up. That’s why I think my role as a percussionist in a hip-hop band or playing with a hip-hop artist like Pitbull has been successful. So, musically, I think Omar and me, we really click.”

Some drummers don’t play that well with percussionists. You have to be a certain kind of drummer to “click.” “What I like about Omar as a drummer,” Papayo goes on to say, “is that he shows respect for what I do. And I show respect for what he does as well. Again, it’s a matter of listening to each other, especially when percussion and drums are the rhythm base of the whole thing. He’s a really tight drummer; he can keep a beat. And we can alternate, doing different things. I play a cover here; you play this there. We never say ‘no’ to ideas; that’s another thing, too. And that comes with respect. I have an idea and I present it to him, and he does the same thing for me. So I think it means a really good music relationship.” It also doesn’t hurt that the two live together. “I see him more than I see my own family,” Papayo says.

Papayo is a big proponent of recording performances to get better. It’s something he and Tavarez do on a consistent basis. “If you don’t listen to what you did, then you wouldn’t be able to correct it. So that’s why we really focus a lot on recordings. Every time we do a show we try to record it and just listen back and see what we can come up with.”

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