Philadelphia percussionist Pablo Batista is an important part of regional R&B history, considering his role on recordings and live shows with fellow locals such as Patti LaBelle, Jean Carne and the late Grover Washington Jr. With his new, multimedia, Pew Center-funded “El Viaje” and its two dozen musicians, dancers and spoken-word artists, Batista is acting and writing as somewhat of a historian himself.
As part of several Pew Center for Arts & Heritage grants and fellowships issued throughout the last five years, Batista traveled to Santiago de Cuba, where he studied with Ballet Folklorico Cutumba, Cuba’s highly regarded folkloric dance company. He ate, slept and breathed the history of Afro-Cuban drumming and its worldly social relevance, and connected the literal and figurative journey of enslaved African culture with his own family's journey from Puerto Rico to the industrial town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the 1960s. When “El Viaje” debuts June 25 at Temple Performing Arts Center, Batista's winding musical will additionally reflect his studio and touring life as a master of salsa, jazz, soul and gospel.
When asked about the currency of immigrant culture in America being under a microscope, the percussionist says that his Puerto Rican-born father went through the same headaches and heartaches when he moved to Bethlehem.