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New Groove

Published: 2004/02/29
by Cory Tressler

Cyro Baptista’s Beat the Donkey

Eccentric, multi-faceted, electric, spontaneous, eclectic, wild, inspiring, and rhythmic. All of these words can represent Cyro Baptista's self described United Nations band which consists of drummers, percussionists, dancers, a guitarist, and an accordion player who were "found" in different locations all over the world. Baptista formed his multi-cultural and multi-talented band of freaks by meeting people on street corners, in alleys, and in recording studios and basically saying, "Come on in and play." This open attitude has resulted in a constant change among the performers in the band. Beat the Donkey originally consisted of fifteen members and has since performed as a ten-piece and a seven-piece ensemble. Baptista's philosophy with Beat the Donkey is to create a spiritual, communal event where everyone can make music and perform whatever talent they possess. Seeing Baptista with Beat the Donkey is like watching theatre, dance, and mad drumming all at once. Throughout their live performances they create a rotating stage of different talents, ranging from playing funky rock to tap dancers to something that resembles Japanese performance art.

Like many people in the jamband scene I first saw Brazilian native Cyro Baptista as a member of Trey Anastasio's touring band. I remember seeing a Trey solo concert in Detroit and immediately thinking, "who is that crazy percussionist?" When touring with Trey, Baptista takes on the role of a faithful percussionist who adds layers of rhythm and texture to Trey's already complex wall of sound. When Baptista performs with Beat the Donkey his role changes to that of an intense music conductor who directs and coordinates all of the controlled craziness that is happening on stage. A Beat the Donkey concert can consist of music ranging from Hip Hop to ritualistic drumming circles to Jazz to Classic Rock to World Music in a matter of minutes. Likewise the Beat the Donkey album represents these genres of music while never straying too far from Baptista's amazing percussion sounds and multi-leveled beats.

Currently Baptista and Beat the Donkey are recording their second album at his home in New York. While Baptista brings most of the ideas for the album into the recording process he says that things always change and sometimes come out totally different than what he originally envisioned. On the first Beat the Donkey album this communal recording style resulted in a very diverse album that is a pleasure to listen to and was picked by the New York Times as one of the ten best alternative albums of 2002. Baptista's vision for his new album is to capture the spontaneity of their genre hopping live performances. In a recent phone interview with Baptista he said the new album will have more heavy metal and reggae influences in comparison to the world flavor and drumming that was represented on the first album.

I also had the chance to ask Baptista about his impressions of the jamband scene. MMW's Billy Martin, who Baptista had been friends with for a long time, introduced Baptista to the scene a few years ago. Baptista was becoming tired of the Jazz scene, where he shared the stage with Jazz legends Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock, and many, many others, and Martin suggested that he come perform with MMW at New York City's Beacon Theatre. Cyro was immediately impressed with the energy of the crowd and the fact that they were so open and enthused about his playing. After the concert, Billy Martin introduced Cyro to Trey Anastasio, and Anastasio asked Baptista to come and perform in Albany, New York with his touring band. Once again Baptista was blown away by the energy and excitement that was present in the crowd and a year later he officially joined the ranks of Trey Anastasio's band and assisted in the recording of Trey's self titled solo album. Since then Baptista has performed at both Bonnaroo Music Festivals (the first with Trey and the second with Beat the Donkey) and he is looking forward to returning to Manchester, Tennessee this summer to play at the third Bonnaroo. The fans that were at the first Bonnaroo Music Festival made a huge impression on Baptista, he said "they had balls of steel" and "that 75,000 was louder and more enthusiastic than the 150,000 I played in front of with Paul Simon!" (Referring to a concert that Baptista played while touring as part of Paul Simon's band during Simon's Rhythm of the Saints tour.)

Since joining the jamband scene Baptista has come to appreciate the fact that the musicians and bands involved with the improvisational rock genre are making music because they love making music and not worrying about imaging, marketing, and record sales, but rather just concentrating on making great music for the sake of the music itself. Baptista feels like the jamband phenomenon has given him a chance to start his music career over and he is enjoying making music that is both appreciated by fans and artistically satisfying. Although playing with Trey Anastasio and Beat the Donkey are such intense experiences resulting in his full concentration during each project, Baptista has noticed some other bands within the jamband community including: Derek Trucks, Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Jazz Mandolin Project. Baptista is really impressed by all of these bands, especially Derek Trucks, and stated that he would love to get more involved with the scene and acts like these.

For tourdates and more information on Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey check out www.cyrobaptista.com.

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