Ezequiel Torres is a master of the making and playing of Afro-Cuban batá drums, a set of three double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums used for Orisha (the traditional religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa) ceremonies. Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1955, Torres became interested in Orisha music at the age of 16 and learned the complex tradition of batá drumming and Orisha chanting from the legendary Griots of Afro-Cuban cultural traditions. He apprenticed himself to batá drummers around Havana, who taught him how to make different kinds of Afro-Cuban traditional percussion instruments including batás, congas, shekeres, and cajones drums, as well as the beautiful beaded tapestries that cover the batá. By the late 1970s, Torres was teaching percussion at Havana's Escuela Nacional de Arte and was the musical director for dance classes at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte. Torres arrived in Miami in 1980 as part of the Mariel boatlift and soon established himself as a well-regarded batá drummer and craftsman.
Torres is currently recognized as one of the top batá drummers, drum-builders and beaders in the United States. In addition to making the drums, Torres is also an expert at making bantes (beaded garments worn by the drums at ceremonies) and at constructing shekeres (gourd rattles strung with beads or seeds). His batá drums and shekeres have been on exhibit at HistoryMiami, and one of his bantes (the beaded tapestry that covers the drum) was on exhibit in the National Bead Museum in Washington, DC. From 1995 to 2001, he was the Music Director of IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance & Music, founded and directed by his sister Neri Torres, and continues to teach and perform at the annual IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival in Miami and Colorado.
In 2008, Torres received a Florida Folk Heritage Award from the Florida State Department of Cultural Affairs and has also been the recipient of Individual Artist Fellowships. Torres also has trained young musicians as a master artist in Florida's Folklife Apprenticeship programs.
He regularly performs and demonstrates his drum-making skills at festivals around the country -- including the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival -- and remains a much sought-after music leader and performer at traditional and religious celebrations and events throughout the world in places such as Spain, Mexico, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.
Audio samples courtesy of the HistoryMiami South Florida Folklife Center
Photo courtesy of HistoryMiami
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Ezequiel Torres talks about Afro-Cuban drumming. Video courtesy of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage.