Nancy Friedman

Interview by Yvette Martínez, December 28, 2020

Transcript

[0:10] Yvette Martínez: Hi Nancy. It’s great to see you. Thanks for joining me on this chat, this interview. It’s such a pleasure and an honor to be part of Raíces Cultural Center’s panel for Gender and Folkloric Expressions. It’s such a thrill and such a great group of women and we all have such great stories to share. 

 

[0:39] So, Nancy, introduce yourself, and share your story. Tell us something, we’d love to hear about you. And describe your artistic form, your research and your practice.

 

[0:52] Nancy Friedman: Hi Yvette, it’s great to see you. Likewise, it’s great to be part of this project, the focus on women, which is wonderful. And I’m a percussionist, a musician, songwriter, and I am a co-founder of a group called ¡Retumba!, which is an Afro-Caribbean women’s dance and percussion ensemble. And also we have a corporation, One World Arts, Incorporated, as well. 

 

[1:30] ¡Retumba! began for me when I was able to find people, like minded women, a small group of women, who had visions similar to mine, which was to study music from the Caribbean and music of the African diaspora, especially as a percussionist. That’s where it’s at, in Africa, and the many rhythms that they have. And of course, in the Caribbean, it was influenced by Africa, and so it was very important to me to find people with the same vision. We wanted to study the music of the African diaspora in the Caribbean- in Puerto Rico, in Cuba, Haiti. 

 

[2:27] And so it was wonderful to find this small group of women, especially other percussionists. And we worked together, we decided to study the music of the Caribbean, and we decided to rehearse all the time and really dedicate our time and our lives to performing this music and spending time together to develop this group, which actually wasn’t called ¡Retumba! until we had done a few gigs, which I thought was a great name. It was actually “Retumba con Pie” and we shorted it to make- just make it easier for people to understand.

 

[3:21] Yvette: So what influenced you to get into this genre of music, what called you to this particular, as a- I mean, there’s so many different types of percussion, music and genres, and what draws you to this in particular. 

 

[3:36] Nancy: Yeah, it’s so interesting because every person has their own story, their own- their own experiences which creates- everyone is unique. My early experiences where I was born in East Harlem, in Spanish Harlem, and so in the streets I heard salsa all the time and at home, of course, I heard different types of music. World music and classical music. Old English ballads and, you know, so rich in melodies. And so that had a strong influence on me.

 

[4:17] I was born a musician and music just had a strong impact and influence on me from the beginning. And it’s interesting because children, if you observe them, you can really tell, you can see where their interests lie and mine was certainly in music. So with that influence of the music that I heard in the streets, which was in salsa, and then at home, I had a pretty rich musical background, when I- as I developed and…

 

[5:00] Yvette: What instruments were you introduced to as a child? I mean, what did you play?

 

[5:08] Nancy: Well that’s interesting because the way I knew I was a music was, if there was an instrument in the room, I would go to it and I’d play it for hours. Any instrument, guitar- my father had a guitar- clarinet- my brother was studying clarinet, I would take it in and play along with the radio. And actually, the first- my parents gave us the opportunity. They said, this is the first time, you can buy any instrument you want.” We went into the music store, and I wanted bongos. 

 

[5:44] Yvette: Bongos.

 

[5:46] Nancy: Yeah.

 

[5:48] Yvette: That’s terrific.

 

[5:50] Nancy: Yeah, so those were my beginnings and music had a big impression on me. I remember going to the World’s Fair and seeing [Babatunde] Olatunji playing Nigerian drums, very dynamic, and it made a big impression on me as well. I remember my father saying when he saw my eyes light up that he knew that it was in my future, which it was.

 

[6:20] And anyway, with these- the women that we got together, we really wanted to dedicate ourselves to performing this music. It turns out, not only performing, but teaching. So we would study, we studied together, and started performing, and that was the beginnings of ¡Retumba! Eventually, we named it, named the group.

 

[6:49] Yvette: Excellent. I know it’s a great opportunity for expressing and for performing and for working together, you know. It was a great platform, you know, and it’s a great platform.

 

[7:04] Nancy: So studying the Caribbean music was not only- the only motivation that I had. I was also very aware of the social stigma that women experienced because I had it throughout my life. I was very athletic, I was always doing- my interests were what you would call non-traditional, so based on the social demands of individuals it was atypical. Yeah, I didn’t- I wanted to be in sports, I wanted to play baseball, I wanted to- and the instruments I wanted was the con- the hand percussion and congas. So I was aware of the sexism, that it was holding me down. I chose to disregard it. So one of my- one of- an important aspect of me was disrupting the narrative, that was an important thing for me to do.

 

[8:12] Yvette: I love it.

 

[8:13] Nancy: I wanted people to see. I wanted to perform and people to see that women were equal to men and could do things that were not necessarily a dictate.

 

[8:28] Well, that was important to me and another thing that was very important to me, that ¡Retumba! represented was multicultural. It was an important aspect of ¡Retumba! that it was ethnic equality, it was no difference between people of different ethnicities, we’re all people. And that- I wanted- ¡Retumba! represents that and I’m very proud of that.

 

[8:58] Yvette: Wow, yeah. That’s beautiful, beautiful. It is such a great opportunity. What’s your favorite repertoire, or piece of song or music, rhythm that you really love?

 

[9:17] Nancy: Well in studying music from Puerto Rico, I just took a- I had an affinity for bomba, I loved it. I loved that bomba was really very spontaneous. It was a group experience and what I loved- because I studied jazz also, I played saxophone, I studied jazz and I studied jazz improvisation with David Baker- and so I was thrilled with the fact that bomba was so involved, incorporated improvisation, And there’s communication between the dancer and the drummer and I love that, the dynamism, the dynamics of that was thrilling and just a lot of fun. Participatory with everyone there, it was vital.

 

[10:20] Yvette: Well, I have to say, I have seen you in performance, and it’s true, the dynamics of the dancer and the drummer in bomba, it’s such an important part. And not every drummer can play to a dancer, and it takes a very special, I guess, emotion or feeling to be able to really interpret the movement of the dancer and be in unison so, yeah, I’ve seen that and it’s very evident. Yeah, you captured that very well.

 

[10:55] Nancy: Thank you, thank you.

 

[10:56] Yvette: And I have to say that that’s one of the nice things that I’ve seen evident, and you not of that culture, can capture that, is amazing.

 

[11:09] Nancy: The connection between the drummer and the dancer was really very exciting to me. I- when I was in California- I played. Because I was born in New York, but I left New York for a time to go to California, and I bought my first conga drum and we used to have parties and I was very excited by the connection between drumming and dancing. It was something that definitely inspired me. And so when I found bomba I- it was great, it was exactly up my alley. I loved it.

 

[11:47] Yvette; Wow. So you captured that very early, the communication of the drum with the dancer. It’s something that takes people years to acquire and that’s a really- that’s very interesting because it’s almost magical when it happens, you know, when you’re able to- it makes a dancer feel so wonderful when that connection happens and it’s special, you know.

 

[1218] Nancy: Yeah.

 

[12:19] Yvette: Did you study in conjunction- I mean, your jazz- you studied jazz, you studied Caribbean. Was this all- were you doing this all simultaneously, at the same time or did you take- were you doing different types of studies at different times of your life?

 

[12:35] Nancy: Yeah, I did it all at the same time. I would even incorporate the saxophone into- I was in a group called The Harp Band which had the classical harp and percussion, and it was Latin Jazz. So I would play the saxophone, you know, pull it out and play the saxophone for one piece and then go back on the percussion it was- I used all of that.

 

[13:04] And my songwriting, all my background, all my studies, in jazz and in percussion and standards and club dates and all that experience in music, I brought into my writing. As a matter of fact, I wrote a piece based on a rhythm, a batá, rhythm. Batá is, as you know, is Cuban religious music, played on three drums, double headed drums. And one of the Orishas or deities in the batá’s religious form of music was Obatalá, and I incorporated that into a song that I wrote. I went from Obatalá, then I went into another Cuban rhythm, and then ended with another rhythm called chahalokefun. And that was just an instrumental piece that I wrote for a particular performance I had, that I had to write- they needed me to write a song for. And later on, I put lyrics to it, and the lyrics were interesting because they are basically my experience in life, the experie- and I was able to capture it in lyrics.

 

[14:37] Yvette: Oh, we’ll have to put the song with the interview, it’s definitely something we’re going to have to feature.

 

[14:44] Nancy: That’s a good idea, the song is called “A Dream Come True”

 

[14:47] Yvette: Ok, wow, that’s beautiful.

 

[14:50] Nancy: I’m happy with it, I am happy with my writing. I really like my writing.

 

[14:54] Yvette: When did you start writing?

 

[14:58] Nancy: You know, it’s so funny because I was composing as a kid.

 

[15:01] Yvette: Really?

 

[15:02] Nancy: Yeah, I heard melodies. Yeah, yeah, as I said, I was born a musician.

 

[15:09] Yvette: Right, right.

 

[15:11] Nancy: So I just heard melodies, it wasn’t conscious really. But now, as I’ve gotten older, it has become conscious and I’m very proud of what I do. 

 

[15:26] Yvette: And what comes to you first? Is it a melody that comes to you first, or the words, when you’re composing? And what do you compose on? What instruments do you use for composing?

 

[15:45] Nancy: Yeah, well the- it’s a great question. Usually, it’s the melody, and actually sometimes it’s the rhythm. I’m so familiar with so many rhythms and I can take the rhythm and create a melody from that. The lyrics come later and so that’s the way I like to write. I compose- for The Harp Band, I would compose on the saxophone, alto saxophone. And then, recently, I’ve composed on the guitar.

 

[16:28] Yvette: Oh, interesting.

 

[16:29] Nancy: But as I’ve said, using rhythms for the inspiration for a song is really exciting.

 

[16:40] Yvette: Yeah. What genre would you say your songwriting falls under?

 

[16:46] Nancy: Well, I think it’s original. 

 

[16:52] Yvette: Original.

 

[16:54] Nancy: It’s original. I know people like to categorize things but I really don’t, can’t- what did somebody call my…

 

[17:03] Yvette: Would it be like world music? Because I’ve heard some of your compositions and you have- you do Latin jazz as well as Caribbean rhythms. I would say it would fall under world music, would you not?

 

[17:20] Nancy: We could, we could. We could call it that.

 

[17:24] Yvette: Yeah.

 

[17:25] Nancy: Originally, the first composition I did for a group was for The Harp Band and I did a number of songs. You know, I tend end up writing cha-cha-chas, and recently I write ballads, I write 12/8s a lot, recently. But for ¡Retumba! I wrote an interesting song based on the clave, which was a comparsa and it starts with clave– because, you know, in studying Afro-Caribbean music, you have to- you’ve got to start at the beginning which is clave, and it’s vital actually. The orchestration of a piece for a Latin- even a Latin big band or Af- or jazz, Latin jazz, is clave, and the arrangements have to follow the clave, otherwise it doesn’t feel right. 

 

[18:32] Because with music the important thing is how it makes you feel, and that was always a strong aspect of my music and that’s really where I get the most pleasure from, is my melodies. Because it’s amazing that melodies can have such a strong impact. Simple melodies, it could be three notes, but the way they’re placed and the choice of intervals and the rhythms can create incredible feelings, and that’s how you have a hit really, is the melody. And the way it aligns, the way the melody aligns itself with the chords.

 

[19:15] Yvette: Wow.

 

[19:16] Nancy: That’s where the- that where the real songwriting comes in is, the way the melody is placed with the chords.

 

[19:25] Yvette: Wow, yeah, that’s interesting. Never thought of that, but it’s true. Yeah, because you can use the same chords and have different melodies, it’s totally a different song.

 

[19:35] Nancy: Oh, it’s amazing.

 

[19:38] Yvette: That’s interesting, thank you.

 

[19:40] Nancy: One thing I wanted to say about ¡Retumba! is it’s an extremely unique and exciting group. It has been such a pleasure working with ¡Retumba! And I’m looking forward to continuing the work. As I said, I loved working with women of a similar vision and I loved working with multicultural- multicultural aspect of it. To me it’s very satisfying and there’s a fullness to it, and the uniqueness of the choices of music that we make in ¡Retumba!, it’s a extremely unique and exciting group.

 

[20:23] Yvette: Excellent. Well it brings me- that bring me to the next question I wanted to asked you. How did the lack of female presence in the leadership influence your desire, you know, to stay or to start your art or to pursue it? Did that influence you in any way?

 

[20:49] Nancy: I knew that it existed but I actually chose to ignore it and although it’s hard to because you can’t get work- I mean, there’s certain implications from the sexism that we have to live with. I was very athletic. I have a story. My brother who- was wonderful- I remember it, to this day, when we went to camp together. And my brother- they were choosing sides and it was mostly boys, I think I might have been the only girl and so they weren’t picking me so my brother said, “Pick her, she’s better than I am.” It made a big impression on me, it’s a beautiful thing.

 

[21:35] Yvette: Absolutely.

 

[21:36] Nancy: And another thing I remember is that, I remember at camp, going to the baseball game and we were all- we were the girls sitting on the stands and we were supposed to be like, “Oh my god, Paul, look at Paul, he’s pitching,” and I remember feeling, “What am I doing? I want to be pitching,” you know? And that was a big revelation for me. And that’s what it is, I wanted to be- I didn’t want be- have anything to do with the social stigma and the sexism. I wanted to be my own person, and I did. And ¡Retumba! was a perfect opportunity for that.

 

[22:22] Yvette: Right, yeah. It’s a real- a true journey. Did you find that in any way, work was compromised or not available to you because of your gender, because of being a woman? 

 

[22:44] Nancy: Well- It would’ve been had I gone along with, but I didn’t go along with it. As a matter of fact, I was a union carpenter also.

 

[22:53] Yvette: Wow, so a totally whole different-

 

[22:59] Nancy: Yeah

 

[23:00] Yvette: -career path.

 

[23:01] Nancy: Yeah. So that was different. And they kind of left me alone, they didn’t pick on me too much. Don’t ask me why because, you know.

 

[23:11] Yvette: Did you establish it ahead of time, I guess? Maybe you just kind of….

 

[23:15] Nancy: Maybe I scared them.

 

[23:19] Yvette: And what kind of- I mean, that’s a very fierce thing to be in such- I mean, in such arenas of such- male dominated arenas, which are, you know, breaking down a lot of barriers.

 

[23:40] Nancy: Yeah, yeah, I have to look into that.

 

[23:42] Yvette: Where does this come from?

 

[23:44] Nancy. I have to look into that, I’m not sure. But I get attracted to work that is not necessarily designated for women.

 

[23:57] Yvette: Yeah.

 

[23:58] Nancy: Yeah, as a matter of fact, as a carpenter, I really saw a similarity between hammering and drumming and so maybe that’s what- it might have something to do with that. I still love hammering and I love drumming. I like making noise, but cohesive noise.

 

[24:19] Yvette: It’s interesting because I would hear those sounds, the hammering and the jackhammer and for me, as a dancer, I create dances out of those sounds, you know? Or any sound, any sound that you would hear, a consistent sound that you would hear, whether it’s a bus going over a grating or, you know, or the washing machine, I would make- I would create sounds- movements, dance.

 

[24:45] Nancy: Yeah, I think that was probably the beginning. Those sounds, nature sounds and drumming and things like that are probably the beginning of language. That came before language. 

 

[24:57]Yvette: Right.

 

[24:58] Nancy: And then language came around.

 

[25:02] Yvette: Yeah. So what do you hope to now do? Where do you go from here? I mean, what would you like to achieve or like to continue exploring?

 

[25:15] Nancy: Well, I basically, I love drumming, I love drumming for dancers, I love writing music, I love writing melodies that are moving to people. It amazes me how music affects beings, not only people. But, you know, people kind of ignore animals but I know they respond to music just as well. I remember thinking- it gave me a kick- of when I wrote “A Dream Come True” I would imagine starting to play the song outside and the animals looking up, you know, and listening to the music, and it was something I imagined. It gave me a kick. Yeah, but so writing music is something that I really enjoy, and playing music for dancers and just good music in general.

 

[26:19] Yvette: And I know- and you’re teaching also. And in your teaching, what kinds of experiences have you had? And what kind of methods do you use in terms of teaching children, I mean, who have never been exposed to percussion? What kind of example, how do you begin connecting with the students?

 

[26:45] Nancy: Children love music and percussion is challenging to them because it’s a little bit different and I find when working with children it- I learn a lot. And one thing I learn is the way not only children, but adults, they’ll play what they’re familiar with and then to break that down and introduce a new thought, that’s where the challenge is because people want to go with what’s familiar. So let’s say they’re used to starting on the downbeat, so let’s say you start on the upbeat instead of- or like with clave, for example, it’s a new concept for children to learn that and they’ll tend to play with what they’re familiar with, which is not syncopation. And to get them to do that is, that’s where learning takes place and it broadens the mind and really the way you become a more fulfilled person is opening new channels and broadening your mind, learning new things, not just what you already know. 

 

[28:00] That was the beauty that I found, with Cuban music, because that happened to me. I wanted to play what I was familiar with and it sure wasn’t exact- what the music- the Cuban- the rhythms- were intended. It was challenging and it had to open new channels, you know. So similar example, instead of starting on the upbeat- I mean instead of starting on downbeat and having it be that way, you’re starting on the upbeat or changing the phrasing or- and it takes a while, and then when you get it, it’s like, “Oh wow, that’s what it is,” and then your- automatically it opens your mind so it’s a real growing experience. The Cuban music is incredible because it’s very syncopated and new ideas. It’s a thrill. 

 

[28:55] Yvette: Yeah, that’s terrific. I love it when I see, in the children’s eyes, you know? When they finally get something and it’s such a thrill, it’s like, you know, a milestone that they’ve crossed and it’s really opening up the channels of, you know, in the brain and learning something new.

 

[29:14] Nancy: Of course. And then you have different personalities. You have some children who will say, “Oh, I don’t know how to do that,” and they’ll quit. But then you’ll have the other ones who really try to master it. And they do.

 

[29:30] Yvette: Wow.

 

[29:31] Nancy: You can be master anything. But it’s all in your mind. If you say, “I can’t do it,” and you quit, you never will master that.

 

[29:36] Yvette: Right.

 

[29:37] Nancy: And it’s good all around, music is really great for opening your mind.

 

[29:45] Yvette: Wow. Is there any one student that stands out from all the years of?

 

[29:52] Nancy: So many students.

 

[29:53] Yvette: How many years have you-

 

[29:55] Nancy: Oh, I remember, I remember yeah. It’s amazing, this kid because the comparsa pattern, I can’t even teach it to adults. It’s hard, it’s challenging. This kid took to it like, I couldn’t believe it. Who knows why that happens, but it’s a complicated two handed rhythm on the sticks- the bell pattern. And so he was- that was his part- I had to give it to him. And like I said, many adults, most adults can’t master that. So he was open to it in some respect, either his ear was familiar with it or he was just so open minded.

 

[31:30] Yvette: How old? Do you-

 

[31:33] Nancy: Well, he was probably in third or fourth or fifth grade.

 

[31:38] Yvette: Woah, that’s very challenging. Yeah, a very challenging rhythm.

 

[31:41] Nancy: Yeah, that was one- one student, but there have been many. It’s interesting too, sometimes we’ll teach a choreography to a group of kids and the- just the child’s movement, I’ll remember for years, the way they move to a certain little phrase.

 

[32:00] Yvette: Wow. that’s interesting, interesting.

 

[32:06] Nancy: But I wanted to also- just get back to- the vision statement that we have for One World Arts, which is very important to me and it’s “Celebrating the joy of life through the gift of diversity”. It’s, “Celebrating the joy of life through the gift of diversity,” and it’s a gift because it’s given to us by god or nature of whatever you believe in. It’s a gift, and it just makes life so much more interesting. Can you imagine if we were all the same? It would be boring, we’d probably start killing each other. Diversity to me is the key of life.

 

[31:57] Yvette: Yeah, absolutely, I know. And you teach a diverse group of students, from abilities to ages as well, right?

 

[32:12] Nancy: Oh absolutely, yes. Well, that’s the beauty of New York. You know, I teach mostly in New York City. And New York is so diverse and so- it’s a great opportunity for- I always tell the students, “You’re really lucky to be living in New York City because you have museums, you have culture, you have diversity, it’s a such a rich kind of environment,” so you know? I grew up in New York City, I guess it had an effect on me.

 

[32:50] Yvette: Yeah, great experiences, I know. Now in retrospect, would you have chosen this path of work?

 

[33:03] Nancy: You know, that’s really hard to say because I mean, I had a passion for sports. I really wanted to be a tennis player. And not spectator sports either, I wanted to be a participant, in singles. And so it’s hard to say, I mean, I would have loved that too. 

 

[33:27] But I had a passion for a lot of things and I also studied pottery, I was a potter. I made pottery, and I went to classes in the village. I got a wheel, I had a wheel in an apartment, my apartment, as a kid, you know? A wheel is what you turn the pottery on, I was fascinated. I remember when that happened, I was really young, three or four, and I went to this camp. My mother was a nurse so a lot of times she was there too and I remember they had pottery and I walked in and they had a potter’s wheel, and all of a sudden this person put their hands on it and they created a form, which was amazing to me, and that was it. I was hooked on that, and I still love pottery, but it killed my thumbs because you have to center the clay and it bashes and bashes your thumbs as it turns so I wouldn’t be doing that anymore. And then not that that’s the only kind of pottery. I mean there’s slab building and coil but I was interested in the centering, the piece of clay, and then making it a new form. 

 

[34:44] Just like when I saw photography for the first time, I stated, “It was like magic,” you know? You put a white piece of paper in the chemicals after you’ve taken a shot, a picture, and all of a sudden, you get a picture. It’s just kind of the magic of life, it thrills me.

 

[35:05] Yvette: Yeah, I know.

 

[35:06] Nancy: Just as writing music is sort of thrilling, you know. It’s so rewarding, and then the next thing you know you have a beautiful song to sing.

 

[25:17] Yvette: Yeah, absolutely.

 

[35:19] Nancy: And in the song, “A Dream Come True” that’s what I’m talking about. The magic of life, the difficulties of life, just the life experience. It’s pretty simple, you go through it.

 

[35:33] Yvette: Yeah, so let me ask you, is there any instructors that were very important and stood out in your learning? I mean, you’ve done so many- such a vast array of different styles of music. 

 

[35:55] Nancy: Yeah, I had quite a few teachers, master teachers. And my first teacher was Louis Bauzó and he was a theoretician and a performer and he was a great teacher. 

 

[36:14] Yvette: A percussionist right?

 

[36:17] Nancy: Yeah, he taught percussion at the school called Boys Harbor. He was mostly a bongo teacher but he taught everything. And he was tough, you know? He was tough with us. As a matter of fact one time, he told me, “You’re not” I shouldn’t tell this story. 

 

[35:41] Yvette: Well?

 

[36:42] Nancy: Anyway I’ll tell you. So Nydia is Cuban, she was my partner in percussion. And I’m Jewish, I’m obviously not Cuban and we’re learning this religious rhythm-

 

[36:54] Yvette: Your Jewish but your background is- what’s your ethnic background? Your grandparents were from?

 

[37:05] Nancy: Russia and Poland. 

 

[37:07] Yvette: Russia and Poland, ok, yeah, yeah.

 

[37:08] Russia and Poland, that’s my background.

 

[37:12] But so we were learning this religious rhythm, Cuban rhythm called palo. And boom- I got it, right away, it’s in 6/8 and Nydia was having a little bit of trouble with it. He said, “No, you’re not supposed to get this, Nydia’s supposed to get this.” You know, and it was a little bit discouraging to me but I didn’t let that discourage me either. 6/8, there you go, you know, doing something new and- but I, I took to it.

 

[37:45] Yvette: Wow, yeah.

 

[37:46] Nancy: But that was- but he was a great teacher, that was just one thing that happened. Who else was a great- oh, Roberto Borrell. He’s a Cuban dancer-

 

[37:58] Yvette: Oh, fabulous.

 

[38:00] Nancy: -and drummer. I call him. Oh I don’t know if he would be offended, but I call him “Cuban Fred Astaire” because he’s so graceful, he’s tall and thin.

 

[38:10] Yvette: Absolutely.

 

[38:12] Nancy: So graceful and just a wonderful dancer. But he taught me percussion, he taught me clave. Every place we went he’ play . We would be waiting for the elevator and he’d say, “It’ll come really fast if we play clave” and he’d bang clave, but he really taught me that rhythm, thoroughly, and he had perspectives on it that I’d never heard before which was starting on the bombo. That was amazing, it’s very hard for me to do and he taught me rumba- really well. He taught me rumba- how to solo on the rumba, I solo well on that. 

 

[38:50] Yvette: Oh, beautiful. He’s a fabulous teacher, the dance I’ve learned from him, the songs. Really. He- I remember we would get the lyrics of the songs and he’d, you know, he would hand them out and we’d start singing and we’d do the song maybe once or twice and the next thing he takes everything back, all the lyrics back and he goes, “Now you’ve got to commit to memory, now you gotta learn it.” He was tough, I mean I liked him for that, he was a taskmaster, he was terrific.

 

[39:28] Nancy: So those are two of the teachers I would think of. Felipe García [Villamil] taught me and my friend Robyn [Lobe] the batá and then we moved on to another theoretician, Jimmy Daniel, who continued with the batá, and that was challenging and as I said, expanding your mind, it expands your mind. Thinking things differently, to me that’s what life is about, thinking about things a little different.

 

[40:06] Yvette: Yeah, that’s a beautiful way of-

 

[40:09] Nancy: Yeah, opening up new avenues, I think you actually open up new pathways in your brain.

 

[40:15] Yvette: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I always believe that very well. It happens in dance too and it’s really vitally important. And really that’s so true. So let me see- let me ask you, what do you see in your future?

 

[40:37] Nancy: Music. I’m all about music. That’s- music and love, that’s what I’m all about.

 

[40:45] Yvette: And writing. You’ve been writing for quite- how many years have you been writing now, would you say? Songs that have been published and copy-written?

 

[40:58] Nancy: A long time. I guess around forty years. Thirty or forty years.

 

[41:07] Yvette: Very nice, very nice, I know.

 

[41:10] Nancy: I have a publishing company too. I made- I created my own publishing company, which my mom gave me the name for. She was so brilliant, my mom, she was very creative, this is where I get it from. She had such an open mind, you know? But anyway, I said, “I need a name for my publishing company.” And she came up with “Polygala” which is, it’s amazing, right?

 

[41:35] Yvette: Ah, Polygala. What does it mean, do you know? Polygala?

 

[41:39] Nancy: A flower. But it sounds like a publishing company.

 

[41:44] Yvette: It sure does. That was very creative. Absolutely, she was very smart.

 

[41:51] Nancy: Yeah, yeah. As a matter of fact Nydia’s mother came up with the name “Retumba con Pie”. That was Nydia’s mother, she was also a very creative thinker, very open minded.

 

[42:01] Yvette: Right, that’s right she was like the mother of ¡Retumba!

 

[42:06] Nancy: Yes.

 

[42:07] Yvette: That is very true. Well I think that it’s- it sounds like you’ve been doing exactly what your passion is, which is a great thing to be able to do and to be, you know, to have such great outcomes because I’ve heard some of your music and it’s really very, very beautiful music, beautiful songs.

 

[42:36] Nancy: Thank you.

 

[42:37] Yvette: And variety, you have a variety of different songs that we’ll have to share on the site so, you know, thank you for that. And, you know, any last words that you’d like to add? There’s so much information that’s so good to hear. Any last words? Any-

 

[42:58] Nancy: Yeah, I guess I would like to say, creativity really has nothing to do with exclusivity and I think it’s an important thing to learn. Being exclusive means you’re cutting people out, placing restrictions on creativity, so it’s really the opposition of creativity and it’s- That exclusivity is not a good sign, it’s a false sense of power and control an it’s a very bad characteristic that people suffer with, something to avoid.

 

[43:39] Yvette: Yeah, absolutely. So, in looking towards the New Year, any interesting projects that you are working on right now towards the New Year?

 

[43:57] Nancy: The New Year is almost here. I don’t know, I have to think about it. I just want to keep writing, I want to keep writing really impactful melodies, as simple as they are, don’t have to be complicated, and I continue to write music. Like I said, it’s the way the melody fits with the chords and the choices of notes that create. It’s powerful, extremely powerful. I think all people can agree with that, regardless of the type of music. Incredibly impactful on our lives, our moods.

 

[44:42] Yvette: Yeah, absolutely. Or it can make an environment- it can change the atmosphere, in a second.

 

[44:50] Nancy: Amazing

 

[42:51] Yvette: It’s wonderful. Well Nancy thank you so much for sharing this time with us and giving this, you know, wonderful information, and all these great stories that you shared. Thank you so much and I’m so glad that, again, that we’re part of this great project, and I want to thank the Raíces Cultural (Arts) Center and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful networking, and getting to know the other women in the project. It’s been a real, real, you know, exciting project to be part of.

 

[45:30] Nancy: And you know, you asked for the future, that is in the future, it’s an ongoing project that we started that will continue, so that’s, that’s one thing. And I want to say, you are a wonderful interviewer. It’s great to look at you. 

 

[45:46] Yvette: Thank you so much.

 

[45:48] Nancy: You’re very supportive and you- you’re good.

 

[45:52] Yvette: Well, let’s keep working, and let’s keep the energy going and let’s keep creating some wonderful projects. So thank you for taking this time, it’s great to see you, Happy New Year to you, and again, Raíces Cultural (Arts) Center, thank you so much for inviting us on this project. Be well. Thank you.

 

[46:18] Nancy: Thank you.

Project Support

This project is supported by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website or in our programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.