Singaporean beats in Puerto Rican song

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Noted Puerto Rican pianist and composer Adlan Cruz's Covid-19 song has a major input from Singapore: Joe Jayaveeran playing the djembe, the West African rope-tuned, skin-covered goblet drum.

Episkopos, a Greek word which means overseer, had a worldwide premiere on June 19.

Adlan, whose music career spans three decades, had composed the song 20 years ago, but waited for the right moment to put it together as he wanted musicians from around the world to contribute.

"It's a simple, catchy song, which people can sing along to," Adlan, 51, told tabla! over the phone. "It represents all my styles - classical, tropical, Latin, a little bit of rock and world music.

"It represents my feelings on being in a lockdown. I believe that is what everyone feels - being stuck in one place. It's a homely song."

Noted musicians from Honduras, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Russia, Tajikistan and Singapore play different instruments along with Adlan.

"The song is one big fusion," said Adlan, who has 30 musical productions and concerts in more than 60 countries, including Singapore, to his credit. "I have never done a video like this before. It feels like it is live and happening on stage."

The musicians recorded their bits at their homes because of the Covid-19 pandemic and sent them to Adlan, whose drummer and sound man Juan "El Zurdo" Carrillo did the final mixing and editing.

"I had never met Adlan before," said Joe, 50, a versatile percussionist who has performed at various popular music festivals in Singapore and overseas over the past three decades.

"Fellow percussionist Robert Nalin recommended me and Adlan called me on May 18 and asked me if I'm interested in joining the project. He didn't tell me what I had to do. He pretty much left it to me."

After hearing Adlan's piano piece, Joe, who teaches music at the Stamford American International School Singapore, decided that the djembe "will sound good along with it as the second part of Adlan's work has an overwhelming effect".

On May 26, the Singaporean recorded his part of the song at his Jurong West apartment after three takes. "I converted a corner of my living room into a makeshift studio," said Joe, who has performed with legendary musicians and Grammy Award winners such as Nestor Torres, Bobby McFerrin and Jacky Cheung. "I recorded my piece on my iPhone. The latest iPhone has good audio."

He then sent it to Adlan, who "was very happy" and decided that it should form the opening part of Episkopos. The song's opening has Adlan on the piano, Joe drumming the djembe, Robert playing percussion and Nantha Kumar, a Singaporean who lives in Madrid, striking a soothing note on the tabla.

"That combination was very exciting," said Adlan, who did a concert - attended by former President SR Nathan - in Singapore in 2006 to raise funds for children affected by the tsunami in Indonesia.

"Joe did an excellent job. It is very important that the percussionists know each other well. They sounded so good together."

Adlan, in fact, asked Joe to do the percussion mixing. "Joe's a perfectionist," said the Puerto Rican. "When I heard him play, I was like 'wow'.

"He knows his music. There is a part in the song where he and I play together - it sounded like we had known each other for many years."

Adlan added that "it takes a lot of effort to play the djembe perfectly".

"Joe is brave," he said. "I could have got someone from Nigeria to play the djembe because it is a very peculiar instrument. It was so well performed by someone who is not from Africa."

Episkopos has received rave reviews in Latin America, the United States and Europe.

santosh@sph.com.sg

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