Puerto Rican drummer, and grammy winner Henry Cole has launched a new craft music movement with La Música Artesanal.
drummer henry cole
Drummer Henry Cole Photo credit: Melvin Audaz

An NPR Alt.Latino post last November recommended four new songs, only three of which made the headline: “Cántalo” by the holy trinity of Puerto Rican musicians Ricky Martin, Residente & Bad Bunny; “A Palé” by powerhouse Rosalía; and “Respiro” by Miami producer MillionYoung. Keep scrolling down to find the fourth recommendation: “Caminando,” by drummer Henry Cole & Villa Locura featuring Tego Calderón. The infectious, eight-minute jam is both jazzy and contemporary, leaving you tapping your feet.

While it’s an honor to be included in the list with these mainstream artists, the fact that his group was almost an afterthought led Henry Cole to reflect about how music is made, and how it’s marketed.

Henry’s band, Villa Locura, is made up primarily of fellow Puerto Ricans, and he produces all of his own tracks. 

“I’m there with no record label, playing for eight minutes — drums solos, quintuplets, jams, and even free jazz…everything that will never work according to industry experts! Bad Bunny, Rosalía, Ricky Martin, and one crazy dude playing free and drum solos,” says Henry.

Related Post: 6 Puerto Rican Women Musicians You Should Listen to Now

While it’s an honor to be included in the list with these mainstream artists, the fact that his group was almost an afterthought led Henry Cole to reflect about how music is made, and how it’s marketed. The Grammy-award winning master drummer from Puerto Rico has a different approach, both to making music and to sharing it, and he has put his philosophy to use in the creation of a new distribution platform, La Música Artesanal. 

But first, back to Henry Cole and the story of how he got where he is today. 

Mayagüez native Henry Cole, 40, began drumming at age nine, and studied at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico. In 2003, he moved to New York City, like so many aspiring artists and musicians. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and quickly became one of the most in-demand sidemen. Over the course of 16 years in New York, Henry also taught drumming and rhythm lessons. A fire at his New York City apartment in 2019 was the catalyst for Henry to relocate to Puerto Rico. 

It’s music that Henry defines as ‘raw, spiritual, interstellar Puerto Rican funk!’

drummer henry cole
Photo credit: EXE

The list of bands, jazz groups, and singers that Henry has performed or recorded with is long, including the Grammy-nominated Miguel Zenón Quartet, Grammy winner David Sánchez, the Gary Burton Quartet, Quincy Jones, Fabian Almazan Rhizome, the Ben Wendel Quartet, the all-star quartet 90 Miles, jazz master Eric Reed and pianist Chano Domínguez, Chambao, Calle 13, Residente, Siete Nueve, Balún, Danny Rivera, Ricky Villanueva, and Draco Rosa.

In 2017, Henry Cole & Villa Locura visited Cuba for the first time and gave three performances at the Havana World Music Festival, the renowned cultural hotspot Fábrica del Arte Cubano, and an informal street performance at the Callejón de Hamel.

In 2008, he formed the band Henry Cole & The Afrobeat Collective, now Villa Locura, deeply grounded in Afro Puerto Rican rhythms. Villa Locura combines musical influences from Puerto Rican folklore, funk, R&B, jazz, plena, bomba, and other Afro-Caribbean rhythms and creates a unique genre that bridges the traditional with the contemporary. It’s music that Henry defines as “raw, spiritual, interstellar Puerto Rican funk!” For his work as a composer with Villa Locura, Henry became the first Puerto Rican residing on the island to receive the prestigious “New Jazz Works” grant from the Chamber Music of America.

Related Post: Quarantine Playlist: New Music For Dreaming About Cuba and Puerto Rico

Henry is passionate about sharing his knowledge with others. He has participated in residencies or given masterclasses at nearly two dozen arts institutes and festivals all over the world. He created Escuelas en ritmo to teach drumming, rhythm and his philosophy of life to kids in Puerto Rico.

Villa Locura
Drummer Henry Cole Photo credit: EXE

Henry’s great-grandfather, Enrique Simon Danguillecourt, was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1865, and Henry wrote the song called “If We Are Related We Shall Meet” with Cuba in mind. In 2017, Henry Cole & Villa Locura visited Cuba for the first time and gave three performances at the Havana World Music Festival, the renowned cultural hotspot Fábrica del Arte Cubano, and an informal street performance at the Callejón de Hamel. Villa Locura also presented a master class at the famed Instituto Superior de Arte. Later, Henry released a film documenting the visit and exploring spiritual family ties, If We Are Related We Shall Meet.

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Recently, Henry collaborated on a new song with a childhood friend, Alex López. Despite growing up near each other, the two hadn’t seen each other for decades when, serendipitously, they were both playing at a Bombaplenazo in New York in 2016. An opportunity to collaborate presented itself a few years later, in 2019, when they recorded the single “Si Va’Llover.” Not only did the friends pour their hearts into the music itself, they also went about the recording in an experimental way, dusting off the equipment at the acclaimed AQ30 Studios that had put out hits like Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” during merengue’s heyday in the 1990s. Using trial and error, they recorded “Si Va’Llover” on the older analog equipment — no plug-ins allowed. 

Musicians often earn less than a penny per listen, making the endeavor of producing hand-crafted, unplugged music with a big band financially prohibitive. Henry asked himself: “What would it take for people to consume music in a different way?”

The authenticity in the way the song was recorded can be felt in every beat. It was important to Henry that the accompanying art was equally handcrafted. Inspired by the Portafolio de plenas, a series of twelve prints made by artists Rafael Tufino and Lorenzo Homar in the 1950s to celebrate the Afro-Puerto Rican plena music, Henry commissioned printmaker and painter Martín García Rivera to create the album art, based on the refrain Si va a llover que llueva. García Rivera crafted the cover using the  drypoint technique and the Intaglio printing process.

Villa Locura
Art created by Martín García Rivera — prints are available for purchase online at La Música Artesanal

With this new way of marketing the music he creates with Villa Locura, and the music and art of other talented craftspeople, Henry Cole has launched La Música Artesanal.

But all this painstaking attention to detail and authenticity came at a price. Henry began reflecting on the experience of making what he calls craft music —working with the best musicians, adapting the recording process, creating hand-crafted album art— and on the value that listeners place on quality. These days, many musicians distribute their music on Spotify, iTunes, and other streaming platforms. But musicians often earn less than a penny per listen, making the endeavor of producing hand-crafted, unplugged music with a big band financially prohibitive. Henry asked himself: What would it take for people to consume music in a different way, like they consume hand-crafted goods at a mercado de artesanía? The master drummer took a page from the master craftsman, and thus La Música Artesanal was born.

Through this new website, created in collaboration with visual designer and entrepreneur Abdiel Flores, Henry offers his craft music at an affordable price, about $5 per download. Visitors can learn about the musicians, and the process of recording songs. Artwork, including small prints, is available for purchase at accessible prices. Henry says, “More than a platform, it’s a movement.”

drummer henry cole
Drummer Henry Cole Photo credit: César Berrios

With this new way of marketing the music he creates with Villa Locura, and the music and art of other talented craftspeople, Henry Cole has launched La Música Artesanal. iA disfrutar!

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1 comment

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  • I love any drummer that uses the folklore or native music of his country, and mixes with the drumming styles of today. Henry Cole has done that with the beautiful Puerto Rican folklore. I know there’s much more with it and I admire and praise him. Viva Puerto Rico Henry su música y su gente. Walfredosr

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