What are your inspirations?
The issues that inspired my work in the ’60s began when I took courses in political economy, in particular the Henry George theory of "Progress & Poverty" which then became a stepping stone for me to write compositions like "Justicia" and "La Libertad." The conditions that existed then are still prevalent today: hunger, racism, poverty and war.
You’ve been politically active throughout your career. How did that start?
I became involved with activist causes because of the conditions that existed and plagued poor communities. So my conviction led me to perform at functions that benefited organizations such as the Phoenix House in New York, Cesar Chavez and the farm workers in San Francisco, and, of course, for prisoners at Rikers Island, Sing Sing Prison, Attica and Greenhaven. I recorded a live album at one of my visits to Sing Sing.
What’s your favorite album?
My favorite album is a difficult question but I will narrow it down to three.
Azucar Pa Ti. At that time the record companies had a strict policy that each composition must be 2:45 seconds for radio play. When I recorded "Azucar," [our band] La Perfecta broke the barrier and set a precedent at that time with a composition that took 8:30 seconds. It was free-form like jazz but with vocals.
The Sun of Latin Music will always be one of my favorites because it was the first Grammy ever presented in Latin Music and I was blessed to win. The composition "Un Dia Bonito" and the orchestration were spectacular and to this day must be respected.
My album entitled EP, also known as The White Album, is one of my favorites because of the impeccable synchronization of the entire orchestra. All trumpet parts were done by Vitin Paz, and all trombones were done by my best bandstand buddy, Barry Rogers.
What’s next in 2007?
My goals for this upcoming year have been the same over my 50-year career. And that is to continue to present my culture throughout the world with the integrity that it deserves. With that mindset, I will always be blessed performing my music and being a role model for the younger generation.
After more than 50 years in the business, who do you find innovative?
Innovators, in my opinion, are hard to find nowadays, so I must answer this question simply by stressing to young people that they must study and prepare themselves sincerely for whatever they pursue in life. That is why I believe in the Multicultural Music Group. This organization, dedicated to free music education as a path to academic and personal success, strives to teach young people that commitment and dedication will lead you to the path to success with integrity. Those that teach our youth how to be positive members of our society are innovators.
What do you think of the INNOVATORS list? Who would you include? Click here to join the conversation at RACEWIRE, the COLORLINES blog.