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Gene “Negro” Perry: Biography

Gene PerryBiography Source

A native son of Santurce, a town in San Juan, Puerto Rico also known as “Cangrejo” or “crab,” Gene is an Afro-Latin Percussionist Extraordinaire.

During his upbringing Gene was surrounded by African rhythms fused with the rhythms of the Caribbean and Latin cultures. Arriving in the mainland with his father they lived first in Philadelphia then moved to San Diego, California in 1968. His father, a pianist, provided support and encouragement for his musical interests.

Bomba y Plena are traditional Afro-Caribbean music forms from Puerto Rico that influenced Gene greatly in his youth. His passion for the music and traditions of his homeland shine through when he talks about them.

BOMBA is “pure African sound” in which the dancers and the lead drummer entertain a dialogue, a sort of competition led by the dancer. The dancer tries to challenge the drummer with movements to be mirrored by the rhythms. Played on barrel shaped drums, the Bomba rhythms relate back to the African slaves who would meet to sing and dance in the sugar cane fields of the islands where Perry was born. Pioneers of these two African derived musical and dance forms include Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Cachete Maldonado, and Modesto Cepeda. These pioneers are held in high regard as vital influences.

PLENA is "el periodico del pueblo” or the “newspaper of the town” as he breaks into the song of a pending hurricane, the plena verse is created:

“Temporal, temporal,
Aya viene el temporal,
Que sera de Puerto Rico
cuando llegue el temporal?”

In English, “Hurricane, hurricane, the hurricane is coming. What will become of Puerto Rico when the hurricane comes?”

Settling in the San Diego area Gene began building on his musical vision and was successful at bringing together Afro-Caribbean and Latin musicians. In 1969 he established a dynamic Sunday jam session at the Pepper Grove Park by the Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego’s Balboa Park that thrived until 1974. From this group Gene produced the band “Drums on Fire,” a premier Afro-Caribbean percussion band in San Diego.

Mentors and master congueros, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, and Patato Valdez, were all solid influences. Perry studied with Mongo Santamaria, a prolific teacher, in 1970.

Playing at gatherings, injecting Afro rhythms into the community, Perry’s performances have drawn record crowds in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Gene also interjected his developing passion for style. He takes great pride and attention to detail with his performance and personal wardrobe as he does with his music.

Teaching keeps the music alive. In his teachings he shares the history and traditions of the music, instruments and culture of Afro-Caribbean percussion. It is his self-proclaimed responsibility to teach these traditions to others so that they will continue the Afro-rhythmic experience and strengthen the link between traditional and contemporary music.

Gene Perry was introduced professionally by Johnny Osund and “the Royal Breed” as “Cangrejo” nicknamed after his home town. An accomplished percussionist he has joined the stage with such legends as Tito Puente “El Rey del Timbal”, Poncho Sanchez, pianist Eddie Cano, as well as an extensive list of renowned performers from southern California and internationally known artists. In 1983 Gene formed the popular Latin jazz and salsa band “Afro Rumba.” They performed at Croce’s, a San Diego jazz venue, from 1989 until 1994.

Performing and recording a range of rhythms from calypso, reggae, salsa, samba, Afro-Cuban, and African Diaspora music speaks to Perry’s extraordinary abilities and wealth of experience. His diverse musical and social experience have lead to his participation in tours and recording sessions with the traditional Klezmer and Yiddish performer, Yale Strom and his group, Klazzj.

In April of 2002 Gene traveled in the Andalucia area of Spain. This afforded him a glimpse of the Spanish culture that so influenced his beloved Puerto Rico. He also visited Morocco and performed with local musicians by playing the Dumbek, a traditional Arabic drum.

Gene has made musical contributions to the theatrical performances, Moon on the Rainbow Shawl, and The Colored Museum both directed by Floyd Gaffney of the University of California San Diego Department of Theatre.  Also, Gene performed in García Lorca’s classic tragic poem, Yerma, translated and directed by University of San Diego Theatre Arts faculty member, Evelyn Díaz Cruz, and reset in the Caribbean. In 2007, Gene performed in the Glasscord, the award winning play by Professor Diaz Cruz and directed by Claudio Raygoza.

In his support of the UCSD academic community, Gene participates in the African and African-American Studies Research Project (AAASRP) Regents Lecture Series, directed by UCSD Sociologist, Professor Bennetta Jules-Rosette. Professor Jules-Rosette promotes an ongoing research agenda of “Borders, Boundaries, and New Frontiers” through AAASRP's three-fold focus on research, instruction, and community outreach. Professor Jules-Rosette spearheads the spirit of cultural border crossing through the production of her Regents Lecture Series.

Gene’s participation includes various performances in which his music provides the correct ambiance to AAASRP events. As part of his collaboration with guest artists/Regents Lecturers, Gene has performed with the following international African Diaspora Artists, in concert forum as well as in various academic workshops.

Gene Perry and Afro Rumba” which ranges from a four-piece percussion band to a full ten-piece salsa, Latin Jazz and Afro-Caribbean band currently performs at private and public venues and community events. His itinerary includes performances as well as recording sessions with

  • Jaime Valle and Equinox in the albums Third Voyage and Vital Signs
  • Kamau Kenyatta
  • Fred Benedetti and George Svoboda, guitar duo, in their albums, Zephyr and Spanish Gardens
  • Joe Morello in his album Lady Caroline
  • Hollis Gentry, III and Neon
  • Yale Strom and his group, Klazzj, in the album, Wandering Jew
  • Turiya Mareya in her album The Art of Peace Latin Jazz Ensemble

As a Messenger of the heart of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and culture in the Southern California community, Gene Perry’s abilities grace any performance. Gene’s purpose is to share his music and culture with his audiences through his passionate “sentimiento”.

Biography derived from the article:

Worldclass Percussionist Befriends AAASRP
Story by Joana Straubinger
AAASRP Community Liaison
AASRP Elimu Newsletter
October 1998

Updated by Gene Perry
June 2007



Gene's Chilhood

Gene - Jaming in the park

Gene in Bomba & Plena

Mongo Santamaria

Gene passing along his craft

Gene with Royal Breed in 1974

Tito Puente

Afro Rumba first concert in 1983

Lecture: Mapfumo

Gene Perry at the San Diego Latino Film Festival

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