Mariana Ramirez's setup for the National Tour of Once On This Island at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
"I am currently on the first National Broadway tour, playing the percussion/drum book of the Tony Award winning Best Revival Once on this Island. It is a joy to be able to play Taino and Afro Cuban rhythms along with this amazing story while sharing the Haitian Afro-Taino culture around the US.
This unique hybrid set up that combines drum set and hand drums was developed on Broadway by Javier Diaz. He combined the basic structure of a drum set (kick drum, snare drum, hi hat, and cymbals) with hand drums such as congas, bongos, djembe, and surdo, making the congas the central sound of this set up instead of the snare drum. Likewise, the set up includes glockenspiel, and accessories such as wind chimes, bell tree, triangle, finger cymbal, shakers, caxixi, shekere, jingles, nut shells, and a variety of cowbells, even one played with the left foot.
Since the band is visible on stage, I get to wear a costume and be on the beach (the stage) every night. It is so much fun!
My favorite part of the show is the percussion solo for "Ti Moune’s Dance". When Javier Diaz created this solo, he combined Afro Cuban and Taino rhythms such as Yuba Makota and Palo, among other rhythms with some improvisation. In rehearsals, the choreographer, Ricky Tripp, explained that this solo accompanies the most important dance break of the show where Ti Moune dances in an amazing African-influenced choreography where her and the cast pays tribute to their ancestors.
The book is very challenging as it requires a skill set of drum set independence and hand drums at the same time, as well as needing to switch sticks and instruments constantly with a careful choreography that uses 180 degrees as I have instruments on the right, and left side. This challenge is so much fun to play every night and I always see the audience dancing with the Caribbean rhythms from the show!
It has been an amazing experience since we started rehearsals with Michael Arden (Director) and Justin Scribner (Assistant Director) back in September in New York City. I saw how they made magic and created a new production for the tour (different from the Broadway theater, which was in the round). Likewise, it is a treat to hear the talented cast sing and play with the band every night.
I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to share some of the Caribbean traditions around the United States."