His life and career
Ernesto Tito Garcia is a Nicaraguan bandleader and timbalero who has been part of many musical groups that passed from romantic salsa to mambo and many other Latin genres.
This astonishingly gifted artist has been playing professionally since the year 1971. A few years later, he formed his first orchestra called Ritmo 74, which was in charge of opening up for the biggest names in Latin music from back in the day. Both Ernesto and his fellow musicians were noted for their ages and the musical styles they used at the time.
He experimented with Latin rock during his youth until he heard salsa for the first time and wanted to devote himself fully to that musical genre. After spending a long time playing romantic music, he decided to experiment with hard salsa and added his own style to the rhythms played by La Orquesta Internacional.
We are very happy to get him in International Salsa Magazine today ready to go and talk a little about his life and musical career.
My father signed me up for music lessons. I did not like them very much, but they kept me busy and interested me. Thanks to those lessons I took once a week, my ear opened wide and I learned to read music, which is a very rare thing for a timbalero. In 1969, I was 13 years old and my dad was paying for weekly accordion lessons and when Santana came out in my eighth grade, I heard my first timpani and knew it would be my instrument. That’s when I told my dad not to spend money because I wanted to play the timpani. He was a good man who died in my arms because of the same cancer I have today.
On Broadway Street, San Francisco was where I began to learn how to play the timpani. My dad helped me buy my first timpani and I found a group that played Latin rock just like Santana, which gave me the opportunity to develop my technique. When I was in San Francisco, I did not hear much of salsa because it was more present in New York City, but my dad bought some records recommended by a friend containing the last of salsa. That was the first time I heard salsa and I was playing Latin rock with the group I already mentioned. When I heard that music, I met a girl who was interested in buying an electric piano that belonged to my girlfriend’s brother who was 15 years old at the time. From there, we formed our first orchestra in 1974, which we called Ritmo 74. When the music outside like Eddie Palmieri or Tito Puente came, people over 40 years old also came, but young people did not like it because the music was very regimented and had many pitoretas (wind musical instrument, also known as clarion).
About the time Willie Colón came out was when the orchestra started getting big because we were the young people of salsa. I was 16 or 17 years old, while the oldest member was 26 or 27 years old. We had agents who gave us the opportunity to open up for the biggest names in New York like Eddie Palmieri and Willie Colón. At that time, we were the only orchestra of our generation with that kind of playing. We were growing up, but the thing is that I liked education and for whatever reason, I found that I made good grades.
As our fame grew here in the Bay Area, I had to devote much time to rehearsals, learn new songs, among other things. That’s why my grades started to fall and I was about to graduate from high school. The last two years were the most important ones at school, so I realized I would not be able to do both at the same time. So I decided to quit music and knew the only way in which I could do it was to sell my timpani, so I went to a store and they gave me $60 for them.
I got my grades up, was admitted by San Francisco State University and the first year was amazing, but I met other Latino students who also played music. They began renting a room right there on campus to rehearse, so I did not have to go somewhere else. It was there that we founded La Orquesta Salsa Caliente and as soon as we got to be known, people liked us. About two or three years later, my grades started to fall again, so I quit music again. I graduated from College and was admitted to the school of optometry in 1985 or 1986. Thanks to that diploma I started working with a very skilled Salvadoran doctor. He was a surgeon and ophthalmologist. When I formed my own orchestra, I had two very simple rules for the members. The first was that when we played, we could not take any kind of drugs or alcohol, while the second was that we had to always wear a suit and a tie, that’s what no other youth orchestra did.
Do you think that the style of mambo that your orchestra plays is what makes it unique or are there other elements that stand out?
First of all, when I formed the orchestra, romantic salsa was in vogue just like its exponents included Eddie Santiago, Tony Vega and many more. The problem was that the music was boring because the arrangements were very simple. In 1996 or 1997 was when I heard Tito Puente with his orchestra playing mambo and that is what gave me the idea to do the same with four or five pitoretas. That’s when I lost several musicians and singers because they wanted to sing romantic salsa, but I was tired of that.
So, we started playing what I called hard salsa, which had mambo arrangements and singers who knew how to perform it. That combination pushed us on a new level. Those who wanted to sing romantic salsa formed their own orchestra. Julio Bravo was one of my favorite artists and I helped him with some musicians. There was also my comadre Denis Corrales, who formed her women’s orchestra. The orchestra looked very good with all the girls, but it was not what dancers were looking for. There is also the case of Venezuelan Eduardo Herrera whose voice was incredible and he also grew up with salsa music, but he did not know how to sing hard salsa.
Do you think having musicians from so many different countries has to do with the final product you present to the public?
This did not have a lot of influence on our music. Back then, our orchestra was called Salsa Dulce. When my agent retired, I got stuck with the orchestra. He wanted the orchestra to have my name in its title but did not want it to be too obvious, for example, Los Titanes de La Salsa Con Tito García or El Gran Combo Con Rafael Ithier. Regarding nationalities, the singer was Venezuelan, the bass player was French, the pianist was Peruvian, the conguero was Puerto Rican, the saxophonist was Irish and the trombonist was American as was the trumpet player. It was the reason why my agent suggested me to call it Tito García Y Su Orquesta La Internacional. I liked how it sounded so much that I called the group that.
What are your future projects?
I can mention an album dedicated to Tito Puente and am going to record it between San Francisco and Nicaragua. The problem is that his family has the rights to all his music and I do not know if they give me permission to do it. I hope they are not going to charge me a lot for those rights. Of course, we are going to make money with the project, but costs are much more comfortable and negotiable in Nicaragua. That is one of the reasons why I want to do it there.