SWORN TO THE DRUM: A TRIBUTE TO FRANCISCO AGUABELLA
Director / Cinematography: Les Blank
Production Co.: Flower Films
Producers: Tom Luddy & Les Blank
Associate Producer: Jodie Faith Cahn
Editor: Marianne Yusavage
Sound: Chris Simon & Maureen Gosling
Narrator: John Santos
Narration: John Santos & Robert Farris Thompson
Gladys 'Bobi' Cespedes
Martin 'Doc' Dietrich
and a cast of thousands
No Certificate (exempt)
At the start of his brand-new documentary on master Afro-Cuban drummer and composer Francisco Aguabella, Les Blank throws us right into the heat and passion of a 1985 gig at Cesar's Latin Palace in San Francisco. The drum comes alive under Aguabella's hands, spinning rhythms that are thrilling, hypnotic - that speak directly to the soul. For Aguabella, who migrated to the U.S. in 1957, drumming is an integral part of his santéria religion - he's a master of the batá, a special ceremonial drum. So while he's played with pop musicians from Peggy Lee to Paul Simon, drumming for him remains a sacred passion. Blank's film explores Aguabella's drumming styles, his religion, and features interviews with associates such as Katherine Dunham and Israel 'Cachao' Lopéz. But it's the music that speaks most freely - and Blank's film has plenty of it.
- Kurt Wolff, San Francisco Film Festival Catalogue
In this new film by Les Blank, the world of Latin musical forms and Afro-Cuban religion are explored through the music and life of legendary drummer Francisco Aguabella. Aguabella, who came to the U.S.A. from Cuba in the 1950s, is a master drummer of the báta, the sacred drum used in Cuban santería ceremonies. In fact, Aguabella is one of the two longest residing báta masters in the United States (the other is Francisco's childhood friend, Julito Collazo). But Francisco is most known outside the Cuban community for his secular conga drumming, and for over four decades has played with all the greats. Although revered as a musician by his peers, Francisco Aguabella never became a household word, perhaps because of the demands of his religious drumming. In 1992 Aguabella received the National Endowment for the Arts' highly prestigious National Heritage Award, which designated him a national treasure, and was the occasion for special personal recognition from President Bush. This film covers both Aguabella's professional life in music, and his private world as a tambolero, or sacred drummer, in santería and other African-oriented religious celebrations.
Francisco's twin passions are revealed through blazing concert footage - a Tribute Concert featuring both secular and sacred music, and a Conga Summit which included a historic assemblage of Latin musical greats - through interviews with Aguabella and his musical compadres; original footage of musical celebrations in Cuba; an interview with the woman who 'discovered' Francisco, Katherine Dunham; commentary by noted Latin musician and historian John Santos and African Studies scholar Robert Farris Thompson; and through a rare look at Francisco's sacred drumming ceremonies, including a santería ritual. The powerful soundtrack, featuring traditional songs and live selections composed and played by Aguabella and his band, will delight Latin music enthusiasts.