Playing with a rapper like Pitbull, which has included opening for big-name acts like Lady Gaga, Wyclef Jean, and The Flaming Lips, Papayo confesses, “I never thought I was going to be playing percussion with a hip-hop artist; I never liked hip-hop, I never listened to it. So, I guess I was just preparing for it.” And what about electronics? “I wish I had the taste for it,” he says. “Why? Here’s the thing: I love electronic percussion, but they’re kind of moody, you know, some things here and there. I use the Roland Handsonic HPD10 right now. For my upcoming tour, I’ll also be using an M-Audio Axion 29 MIDI controller, hooked up to Ableton Live and a Mini Korg Kaos pad for effects. Everything else is just playing with my hands, bro. My main instrument on percussion is congas, and I’m a timbale player, but I play every other percussion instrument as well.” As for recordings, check out Pitbull’s last two, Armando (2010) and Planet Pit (2011) for a full sampling of Papayo and Tavarez’s work with the rapper and the rest of his band.
Apart from Concrete Rebels, Papayo has been busy building on his separate career as a leader. He has a new album coming out this year, On The Road, an album of all-original music that he produced, sings, and plays keyboards as well as percussion on as he works with other musicians. How does it compare? “It’s totally different,” he says. “Concrete Rebels is reggae. For example, the song ‘Eres Tu’ is merengue, which comes from the Dominican Republic. In addition, the song has some influences from Colombia with the accordion. I have always been into tropical music.”
As for influences, the list is a bit surprising. “I grew up listening to salsa a lot. And later, a guy [I saw who] I found myself asking, How does he do that, was Anga Diaz, a percussionist in Europe. He passed away a couple years ago. He mixed electronic music with five, six, seven congas all tuned to different keys. He used to play congas like crazy on drum ’n’ bass gigs, and the sounds he made with congas were amazing. He would focus a lot on technique. I don’t care how flashy you can play. I don’t care how hard you can play. But I do care about how did you get that? How many sounds can you get out of that one single hand drum? And, again, reggae has been a big influence. It’s a really complete music, super simple. And there’s Giovanni Hidalgo and Robert Vilera, a well-known master percussionist from Venezuela who I consider a mentor.”
When asked if he had a magic wand and could come up with his own dream band playing what would be his favorite music, he responds, “I just like to go for it. That’s what I’ve always been doing. I’ve been playing in a salsa band, a reggae band, then a Latin-ska band. I try to get as much information as I can from everything.”