Jose Caridad Hernandez, better known as “Perico”, is a sonero/percussionist/composer/songwriter who creates “organic cuban music.” Born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Perico is the second to the youngest of twelve siblings and the only one who became a musician. Perico began his musical training as a young boy in Havana. He watched the street rumberos creating amazing rhythms on the “tumbadoras” (congas), and after watching Patato Valdez play congas on a TV show, Perico decided that’s what he wanted to do. Perico gradually learned from the “rumberos” and at age 14 became the conguero for a neighborhood group, Conjunto Monte Carlo. He was eventually recruited to play with the popular Conjunto Casino. Regarding his nickname Perico, he tells the story that as a kid he walked around the neighborhood with an elderly man called “Perico.” Pretty soon the neighbors started saying “Here come Perico y Periquito.” Perico has said “Maybe the name was meant to be because I’m now a sonero and I like repeating good jokes!”
In 1970, Perico immigrated to southern California where it became evident that his musical experience with Conjunto Casino had prepared him well for a music career in the United States. He gradually began to play with various salsa groups in Los Angeles. Perico recorded/performed with salsa, R&B and latin jazz artists, and his music has been used in film/TV soundtracks. A big opportunity arrived when he was invited to participate in the Caravana Cubana recordings, “Late Night Sessions” and “del Alma,” as musical director, composer and sonero. These albums were a collaboration with visiting Cuban musicians and Los Angeles talent. Perico’s composition “Romanza Guijara” from the Caravana Cubana “Late Night Sessions” was considered for a Grammy in 2000.
Perico’s career has now evolved into independent CD production and films. He has produced two CD’s with his original compositions and performance: “Cuento en Clave” (2008) and “Rompiendo la Rutina” (2014). As for acting in films, Perico appeared briefly with Chayanne in “Dance with Me,” and more recently in Jon Favreau’s film “Chef.” Perico continually says that he is very thankful for the blessings God has given him and for all the people who have encouraged and supported his music during this long, incredible journey.
Describe your sound in one ramble-on sentence:
My sound is the melodic singing/rhythm of “las tumbadoras” calling out deep heartbeats, ancestral whispers, magical rhythms.
What inspires you to make music?
Everything that I see, touch and hear inspires me to make music, but above all, the beautiful colors that God has woven into the heart of the earth.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
What excites me the most is the creation of a new melody and the playing of new rhythms, as well as the search for words to tell a new story.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
The thing that discourages me is when I am unable to find the melody and the words. Finding a new melody and the right words is the most difficult part of writing a song. Why? Because there are so many songs that each one has to have a different system for the melody and lyrics so that they don’t all sound the same. But when that creative “la musa” arrives, the evolution of a new melody and lyrics glows and a new song is born.
What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings?
Most of the music by Johann Sebastian Bach. He is the great father of harmony. When I was a kid in Havana, I would hear his music on CMQ radio. I remember the harmonies would take me flying to other dimensions. A specific favorite recording is Ernesto Lecuona’s “La Comparsa,” in which his piano playing with the left hand is similar to the beautiful rhythms of las tumbadoras.
Name three people who have influenced your music, and tell us why- living or dead.
Carlos “Patato” Valdez, Roberto Espi, “Juanito”
Carlos “Patato” Valdez, was the percussionist with Conjunto Casino. I saw him on TV one night with Conjunto Cubavana de Alberto Ruiz. He was incredibly creative, and the sounds he could get from his tuning of the tumbadoras/congas was amazing. Roberto Espi, the great musical director of the new Conjunto Casino. He was a talented singer and very responsible with making sure the Conjunto always had work. “Juanito” (I forgot his last name) he was the delivery guy for his uncle’s cleaners in Havana. Why Juanito? Because we were young guys trying to copy the popular Conjunto Casino. When Juanito got off work, he would come to my house and say “Let’s go Perico to practice.” Our new group was called Conjunto Monte Carlo. I was 14 yrs. old! I have a story about this time in my life when I was starting my music journey. I can never forget this incident when Conjunto Monte Carlo played at a local dance. When we finished the gig, they told us “Yerba” this phrase meaning “there is no money!” I was young, 14yrs old and had no money on me. The dance ended about 11pm. I had no money for “la Guagua”/the bus, nor for a taxi. So I walked to my house carrying my two congas. I think it was about 8 miles. I arrived about 3am, sweaty and tired. When I walked in the door, my father was standing there and he said: “I told you that you are going to die of hunger. I told you!” I went in and put my congas down and that’s when I heard my mother’s voice coming from the bedroom saying: “Pancho, don’t tell the boy that! He likes it and he chose it.” At that moment I felt and thought “Sweet Mother, there is only one of you.” I turned and went to bed.These musicians taught me to be creative and take risks, to be responsible in the role of band leader, and to work hard, practice, and BELIEVE in what you have chosen to be: a musician.
Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share with us? Tell us about it
There are three projects that I would like to mention. One is a small role I played in the Jon Favreau film “Chef.” I played “abuelo”, father of Sofia Vergarra and Jon Favreau’s father-in-law! Favreau was very encouraging and supportive in his directing. It was a great opportunity and honor to have worked with all the cast and crew. I also performed my original composition “La Quimbumba.” Check it out!!