Paoli Mejias: Santana’s New Conguero
A Young Professional
By the time he was 17, he was playing with a salsa band and touring the island. “People started talking about my talents and a lot of bands were calling me to play, including folkloric groups, Luis Enrique, La India, and Marc Anthony, before he was a superstar. I played one year with Luis Enrique and then I got a call from Eddie Palmieri.” Mejias stayed with Palmieri for more than ten years. It was the music he heard while traveling the world with Palmieri that inspired him to start his own band.
“I left everything behind to work on my own ideas,” he says. Mejias put together his own quintet and started recording an album of original music in June 2003.
Mi Tambor was released on his own label a year later and the record nabbed a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. “It was an exciting time. I produced everything with musicians and composers that were my friends and followed my vision of combining salsa, jazz, and folkloric music.”
The follow-up, 2006’s Transcend, added Greek, classical Indian, and other world music elements to move closer to the universal sound Mejias was developing. “I wanted a more complicated, more well rounded concept. I don’t remember the name of the group, but I heard tabla at a concert and wanted to investigate Indian music. I invited an Indian musician from New York that played tabla to collaborate with me. The rhythms are different than what I’ve known all my life and I wanted to do a fusion of Caribbean music with sounds you’d never hear on the radio in Puerto Rico.”
Mejias summed up the first phase of his solo career with De Jazzambia A Mi Tambor El Concierto, a Blu-ray disc he released in 2011. It included songs from all of his albums in complex new arrangements, as well as new material like “Rumba 7x4,” a tune that features folkloric drum group Yuba-Iré, along with four dancers. “I composed it in 7/4, a complicated rumba rhythm from Cuba,” Mejias says. “It’s an unusual tempo and it’s interesting to see people trying to dance in 7/4. At this moment, I’m working on something a bit different. I’m always trying to find new ways to express myself and I still practice. Every day.”
Mejias' Santana Setup
Percussion LP Galaxy Giovanni Series Congas
A 11" x 30" Quinto
B 11.75" x 30" Conga (seguidor)
C 11.75" x 30" Conga (tumbador)
D 12.5" x 30" Tumbadora (low bajo)
E 12.5" x 30" Tumbadora (high bajo)
Paoli Mejias also uses LP Triple Conga and LP Futerlite Conga stands, Sabian cymbals, Vater sticks, Remo heads, and Hansenfutz practice pads.