Link to Previous Artist
7 of 7

Ezequiel Torres

Culture
State
Year
United States Map Highlighting Florida
Loading...
Ezequiel Torres is a master of the making and playing of *batá* drums, a set of three double-headed hourglass-shaped drums used in the traditional religious ceremonies of West Africa’s Yoruba people. Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Ezequiel Torres, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Ezequiel Torres and a *batá* drum, courtesy History Miami
*Batá* drummer Ezequiel Torres and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
*Batá* drummer Ezequiel Torres and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Ezequiel Torres and a *batá* drum, courtesy History Miami
Ezequiel Torres dance workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres dance workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres dance workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres dance workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres *batá* workshop, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making a drum, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making a drum, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making a drum, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making a drum, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making a drum, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
*Bantes* (drum covers) made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
*Bantes* (drum covers) made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Drums made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Drums made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Drums made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Drums made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beaded *bante* (*batá* drum cover) made by Ezequiel Torres, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ezequiel Torres making *shekeres* (gourd rattles), courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

When he was 16, growing up in his native Havana, Cuba, Ezequiel Torres became fascinated by the music of Santeria, the traditional religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa who had been brought to Cuba as slaves. Worship involves the playing of batá drums, a set of three double-headed hourglass-shaped drums. “The first time I heard a batá drum, I was electrified,” Torres told an interviewer. “It was a music that touched me so far inside that I decided right then that I was going to learn.” He apprenticed himself to the tradition bearers known as griots and immersed himself in the religion. He learned to make and play batá drums and other instruments such as shekeres, gourd rattles decorated with beads or seeds, and to weave bantes, the beautiful beaded tapestries that cover the batá drums.

The drums are used in the worship of deities known as Orishas, and the emphasis is on a particularly powerful Orisha called Shango. Referring to the drums’ African origins, Torres said, “The batá drums were offerings for the Orisha Shango, the deity Shango, who represents the virility of man and the power of lightning, and these drums have the ability to mimic any sound of nature.” The wooden talking drums are covered with skin membranes whose tension is adjusted with leather strips. The musicians shape their music to the deity for which they are playing, so that a performance for Shango is more exuberant and playful than one for Obatála, who is regarded as closest to the Supreme Being.

In Cuba, Torres taught percussion and served as musical director for dance classes at the national school for the arts. In 1980, he came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift. He settled in Miami and soon gained recognition as one of the top batá drummers and craftsmen in the country. Instruments and tapestries he created have been displayed in museums, and he served as a consultant to the 2009 exhibit “Black Crossroads: The African Diaspora in Miami” at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. From 1995 to 2001, he was music director of IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance & Music, founded and directed by his sister Neri Torres. He has trained young musicians as a master artist in the state’s folklife apprenticeships programs and, in 2008, received a Florida Folk Heritage Award. He continues to perform and demonstrate his craft skills at festivals and other events at home and abroad, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival in Miami and in Boulder, Colorado.

Torres attributes the batá drums’ popularity to “the musical richness they contribute to the liturgy and to Cuban traditions, to the Cuban music.” He has also worked with jazz and popular musicians and has said, “I have taught many people who have come with respect and understanding that my music is my world. This world is sometimes part of the liturgy and sometimes musical work we have done with many, many people.” He appeared in the 1995 feature film The Perez Family and has been featured on several movie soundtracks and on the 1995 CD Mestizo by guitarist and composer Rene Toledo.

In his teaching, Torres also stresses respect for the environment. He strongly opposes cutting down trees to create musical instruments, instead gathering branches for that purpose. “I could tell you that what I enjoy most about my practice is bringing the human message through my music,” he said.

Bibliography
Cantor, Judy. “The Beat Generator. Ezequiel Torres’s handcrafted bata drums reflect both an art and a calling.” Miami New Times (August 7, 1997).

Discography
Toledo, Rene. Mestizo. Sony International (1995).

Watch

Batá drummer Ezequiel Torres and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Batá drummer Ezequiel Torres and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Ezequiel Torres talks about his childhood and how he got started drumming. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the question 'In what ways is your mouth like a drum?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'How did you learn to be a drummer? Did you have a teacher?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the question 'Could you talk about the importance of improvisation in your music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'How old were you when you started drumming? Which members of your family were also musicians?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the question 'What are the holidays during which drums are used as part of the celebration?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'What brought you to the USA? And where do you live now?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres discusses the community of people who practice Santeria. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'What do you see in the future of your music? Does contemporary music like hip-hop borrow from it?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'Do you think your talking drums also rap? What is the poetry of the talking drums?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010

Ezequiel Torres answers the questions 'How many different sizes of drums do you make? And do the drums work together?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 21, 2010