Latoya Newman

DURBANITES will have the privilege of seeing flamenco and jazz at its best at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Jazz this week in An Evening of Flamenco and Jazz.

Featuring internationally acclaimed percussionist Efrain Toro and the highly respected Linda Vargas and her Flamenco Dance Company, the show is surely one not to miss.

Having worked on more than 300 films, TV scores and with great music acts such as George Benson, Los Lobos, Chicago, Placido Domingo and others, Toro live in action is a must-see.

The Puerto Rico-born artist told Tonight he has played the drums from the age of 11 before moving on to Latin percussion in his teens.

But it was after playing the Bongo drums that he first fell in love with an instrument.

“I loved that instrument and I was very committed to music and Bongo drumming. At that point I knew I loved music and I was very serious about it,” he explained.

His dedication over the years has seen Toro become widely respected in music, film and TV.

Academically, he has written five books for musicians and artists and lectures extensively around the world. In fact, he is currently involved with – among other things – supervising a music student at a Durban university. He’s been in town for about three months now. Today Toro is considered one of the most versatile drummer/ percussionists in the world.

So how does one get to this standard of excellence in your career? Toro explains that it is hinged on commitment, a strong trait in his family.

“I didn’t know where I wanted to go with my career. I just practised. After studying at a university in Puerto Rico, I had the privilege of having my first best percussion teacher, Alan Dawson, at the New England Conservatory (Boston, US). I had some of the best teachers there… I just kept on learning, I never thought I’d be able to make a life out of it.”

This dedication to learning comes from his father’s family who are all highly qualified people, Toro explains humbly.

“My father and his brothers grew up on a farm and their mother made them work very hard.”

An Evening of Flamenco and Jazz will showcase the talents of Toro, and respected musicians Neil Gonzales and Demi Fernandez, complemented by the Linda Vargas Flamenco Dance Company.

Toro lights up when he speaks of the mentioned musicians and says he has a great respect for them.

“I met Neil when he was at the Grahamstown Festival (National Arts Festival) a few years ago and when I heard him play, I knew he was a world-class musician. I really was impressed with him. He is an efficient and great musician.”

Commenting on the Flamenco-Jazz fusion show, Toro describes it as a “special thing”.

“I grew up with traditional Flamenco of the highest order. Neil, Demi and I will play and then we will incorporate it with traditional dance. It is a special thing. Demi is also a very good Flamenco player. It’s a shame he doesn’t play more because he is busy teaching, but he is really good.”

Vargas said when she met Toro at KZN after chatting for a while, she realised we had a genius in our midst … He is so passionate about Flamenco and has played for some of the best Flamenco groups in the world. We wanted to work with Efrain. I didn’t want him to leave Durban without Durban getting to see him.”

Describing the show, Vargas said visually and musically it is going to be a great treat.

lAn Evening of Flamenco and Jazz runs at the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music on UKZN’s Howard College campus from November 21 to 25. Performances are nightly at 7pm and on Sunday November 25 at 3pm. Entrance is R100 (R80 for students/ pensioners). Book with Thulile at 031 260 3385.

• You can also catch Toro in Latin Songbook at Alliance Française – Durban. The evening of acoustic music in a tropical style features Melvin Peters (acoustic piano), Neil Gonsalves (keyboards), Haylea Hounsom (vocals) and Toro (percussion). The event takes place on November 30 at 7.30pm.

Tickets are R80 (R60 for members). For more info call 031 312 9582.