Eguie Castrillo: Taking audiences back in time!

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Kicking off another great season — and year — of arts events this January, is Grammy Award-winning timbalero, Eguie Castrillo. As he preserves a musical tradition with performances that “transport you to the New York Ballrooms of the 1950s & 60s,” this master of mambo, accompanied by his Palladium Orchestra (an 18-piece big band), will not only bring the entire audience back in time but to their feet with his electrifying Mambo Mania coming to our Villa Victoria Center of the Arts.

We sat down with the artist to talk about his amazing career, his impressions of Boston’s arts and culture scene, and what he’s most excited about for the future.

You said that after you saw Tito Puente playing timbales, that’s when you knew you wanted to be a timbalero. Can you tell us more about that experience?

I saw him live in concert in 1978 and it was the most crucial experience in my music life. It started everything for me. I was already playing by then, but, that day, I said to myself, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”

You received a Grammy Award for Arturo Sandoval’s Latin Jazz 1998 record of the year; would you say that this was one of your proudest moments as a musician? Or is there another memory or moment that comes to mind?

It was cool… and very important in my life, [but] my proudest moment as a musician was when I played a sold-out show – Mambo Mania – at Carnegie Hall with my big band and special guest, Alberto Santa Rosa.

You toured with Arturo Sandoval for 6 years, what do you think is the most valuable lesson you took away from that experience?

Ha, many! What to what to not do, visiting almost all of the countries in the climate, how to be a professional musician, a touring musician. That was an amazing school for me, and I’m very glad to Arturo for giving me that opportunity. [Arturo] was and still is one of my idols, how many people can say they toured with their idol?

What influence did touring the world have on your musical future?

I think more global now, [and more about] what people call world-music than before I toured. I used to think more local – like salsa – now, I have influences from [places like] India, Brazil.

In 2000, you said you attended Tito Puente’s funeral and made a promise to him -that you would carry on the tradition he started – wanting to bring the mambo back with some new touches. How do you think you’ve accomplished this in the past 17 years?

Every time I play with my big band, I keep that promise alive… When you play this kind of music, with a big band, with this specific style, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Sanchez – you have to know the style and play it that way. You will see when I play Tito Puente’s arrangements I play in his style, same with Rodriguez, they’re all mambo but they each have their own style so you have to play it that way. That’s how I keep my promise.

Tell us a little about what you think of Latin music in Boston – how have you seen it change?

It’s grown since I moved here in 1999. The only thing is we don’t have too many venues to play; thank god for the Puerto Parade, Tito Puente Latin Music Series, Festival Betances, and the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts. But outside [these], we don’t have [a lot of] places to perform [that are] good paying. It’s not only here, it happens in New York too. [They’re] closing clubs and it’s a little bit more difficult every time. The Latino community and the music here is growing [though], little by little each year.

We’re very excited, but we want to get our audience excited as well so… What can people expect from the performance?

We are going to take everyone in a time machine back to New York in the 50s and 60s to a club called the Palladium Ballroom where the Mambo Mania and the Mambo Wars started. [Audience members] have to come ready to dance, and if you don’t want to dance, then you have to come ready to sing. It’s a family event, and for at least those three hours, you’ll forget about [everything outside], you’ll be in the Caribbean. I’ll show you to have fun!

You’re not only a successful musician but also a highly sought-after educator; what is a key piece of advice that you offer to your students that should serve as a lesson for all young musicians?

First, they have to follow their dreams. That’s very important, you have to dream. No dream is small & no dream is impossible. After that, you have to listen to a lot of people, study & practice as much as you can, and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be humble. Respect everybody – the very famous person to the one who is studying – respect all of them and you’ll have more things happening in your life.

I didn’t plan to play with my idol(s) – I dreamed big… [And] I believe I’m the very first Puerto Rican – born in the Islands – that played a headline in Carnegie Hall.

Lastly, we wanted to know your thoughts regarding IBA’s mission to promote Latino culture through the arts. How important do you think this is in cities across the United States?

It is very important. Latinos need places to get together and talk and meet each other. Through IBA, I’ve met a lot of amazing people. We should have this more around the United States. It’s not only culture through music and arts, but education – it’s amazingly important – and I’m very happy that I’ve gotten to know all the people [at IBA] and we’ve become good friends.

You can see Eguie Castrillo live in concert on January 19 at our Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, tickets are selling out fast so get yours before they’re gone!

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