Charleston’s Gino Castillo Quartet regularly makes people get up and salsa dance to their highly energetic Afro-Cuban jazz.
The dynamic band will debut their new album, “GC & the Cuban Cowboys (BIS Music),” at a special concert at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa.
“It’s a mix of traditional songs, jazz standards, and originals,” Castillo said. “The arrangements are really different...The band is a collaboration between musicians from different parts of the world.”
Castillo was born in Ecuador, but was raised in Cuba. Bassist Jake Holwegner and saxophonist Michael Quinn are from the U.S., but pianist Abdiel Iriarte is from Venezuela. Savannah’s Ricardo Ochoa of the popular Velvet Caravan, who is featured heavily on the album, but won’t be at the concert, is also from Venezuela. Each member of the diverse and talented group get several moments to shine and show off their chops.
Castillo began playing drums when he was five-years-old and later enrolled in a music conservatories in Havana. After discovering a passion for Cuban Jazz, Castillo dropped the drums for congas and eventually studied under the legendary Oscarito Váldes of the band Irakere. Castillo collaborated and recorded with many international artists before moving to New York for several years to make it as a solo artist.
Moving his family to Charleston in 2010 was a challenge for Castillo because there was not much of a Latin music scene to draw from, but he is a self-described fighter who was ready to hustle and make it work.
Castillo’s bopping percussion is the driving force of his music and generates its rhythms from an unusual setup and approach that he had to develop out of necessity.
“It’s a hybrid set that I use to replace all the other percussionists,” Castillo explained.
Castillo plays a set composed of two congas, cajón with a bass drum pedal, timbale, hi-hats, cymbals, and cowbells.
“When I moved to the Lowcountry it was so hard to find musicians that I could play with,” Castillo said. “When I was in New York my format was with a drummer and I was just playing congas. When I moved down here the only two drummers that I know in Charleston that played at that time...were both insanely busy all of the time...Then I decided to build this hybrid percussion set.
“It’s so hard to develop this set because I have no examples to follow,” Castillo continued. “I need to discover how to do it. You have to know how to play each instrument separately first. Then you have to investigate and practice how to simplify. For, example, I have to play two congas with one hand. You need to decide which are the most important sounds you need to keep the groove.”
Since lighting up the Latin music scene in Charleston, Castillo has earned many Best Jazz Artist accolades and is now passing on his knowledge to the next generation of drummers at various schools and workshops. “GC & the Cuban Cowboys” represents the culmination of his hard work and development as a dynamite percussionist.
“The most important thing for me is being able to share with Savannah people the Cuban music that we do,” Castillo said. “I know Savannah people really know about Cuban music because a lot of different, great concerts happen with the Savannah Music Festival.
“They bring a lot of good, really good concerts from Cuba, so I know people from Savannah know about the quality of Cuban music. That’s a nice thing for me to know because I am excited to go and share what I do for people who know and appreciate this style that I play."