Amarilys Rios is a percussionist and dancer from Puerto Rico who specializes in Bomba, a dynamic Afro-Puerto Rican tradition in which dancers challenge the drummer to sound out their improvised movements. A graduate of the Conservatorio de Puerto Rico, Rios is musical director for reggaetón singer Tego Calderon and has performed and recorded with innovative Puerto Rican percussionists, including Paoli Mejias and Hector “Coco” Barez.
What is your city, country, and age?
I’m from Puerto Rico and I’m 35 years young!
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
My percussion set depends on the artist I’m working with. The biggest set I use is with Latin urban artist Tego Calderón.
- LP Trio Set conga
- LP Bongo
- LP Batá Set (3)
- Roland SPD SX Pad with kick
- Zildjian or Sabian cymbals
- Toys (chimes, shaker, jam blocks, cowbells, one hand triangle, etc.)
Do you have endorsements? If so, what?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to be endorsed by a great percussion company but they only offered me a discount on their instruments, so I decided not to sign because I got these same instruments for less cost buying them second-hand.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I perform as a percussionist and director of Tego Calderón’s Band, along with ten other great musicians. I also perform as a vocalist of urban duo Plan B, traveling around the world. In Puerto Rico, I work in the folkloric area playing the lead drum (Tambor Subidor/Primo) in the Bomba genre, being one of the first females artist performing this specialty. I also play, with three other gorgeous and talented women, in Émina, which performs Afro-Caribbean electronic music.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
The first percussion instrument that I fell in love with was the Bomba drum, which belongs to the beautiful family of Afro-Caribbean drums. After many years as a performer of this instrument, I decided to study music at the Conservatory of Music of PR to expand my percussive knowledge and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Jazz and Afro-Caribbean Music with a specialty in Latin Percussion with the great professor and percussionist Andrew Lázaro. After studying, I continued to expand my knowledge in the area of electronic percussion (pads, loops, etc.).
Who is your favorite drummer/percussionist and why?
I have two favorite percussion artists. Giovanni Hidalgo and Paoli Mejías. Hidalgo is the most important and complete percussionist on the face of the earth. His percussive vocabulary never ends and is always surprising in every show he does. Mejías, who is currently a percussionist of the famous guitarist Carlos Santana, is also a great percussionist and a tremendous human being who is dedicated to advise and help the talents of this new generation.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
A few years ago I practiced one to two hours a day. After a diagnosis of early arthritis, I modified my practice and combined it with exercises, a healthy diet, and reduced the amount of impact on my hands. Now I practice a lot with my students. I currently teach percussion classes when I do not travel (on weekdays) in an academy called Taller Tambuyé, and I give many rudiments and sound techniques. Technically I can say that I practice two times a week three hours each on these days and on weekends I work more with warm-up exercises before each show.
Failure keeps you out of your comfort zone.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
Maintaining a healthy diet, doing cardio exercises, developing a good technique, and maintaining good posture while playing will relieve you of many bad times after your show. For hand percussionists (meaning no sticks), practicing with a towel on your drum will help the hand not absorb so much trauma as you develop technique and speed.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Something that nobody has ever believed about me is that every time I perform my nose itches. I think it is the vibration of the drum or conga that gives me a tickle. It’s horrible and funny at the same time.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
Success is always being hungry to learn more. To stand on a stage and feel the pressure that you have to do a good show. The moment you get bored, there you begin to lose success.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
The future is not forward, but 360 degrees.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
I never plan to sit down to create music, but I do sit down to organize it. I am aware that at any moment of the day something good will come. I record a lot of ideas on the phone; short ideas, long ideas, good ideas, and not so good ones. When I already have a reasonable amount of ideas accumulated, then I sit down to organize them on the computer. I use Reason Propellhead to complete my work
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Failure keeps you out of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is a danger for artists and life in general.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Play as the woman you are within your personality. Educate yourself well and practice a lot so that you can live in this competitive musical world. Never underestimate the power you have as a woman and please, do not work just to get attention or be famous. This is a beautifully serious job.
If you had to put together a school or resources for would-be drummers, what would the training include?
Each music school that I see is preparing its students well both in technique and improvisation. Something we forget is the scenic projection; smile, dance, jump, be attractive and entertaining visually speaking since the music is already set.