On April 4, The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Music hosted the Southern Miss Percussion Ensemble’s Spring Concert in the Mannoni Performing Arts Center auditorium.
The concert featured Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, an internationally renowned performer who has been “a driving force behind some of the most popular and influential Latin and Latin-fused music of the past two decades,” according to the concert’s program.
El Negro has performed with Grammy Award winners Michel Camilo, Roy Hargrove, Chucho Valades, Gary Burton, Alejandro Sanz and Carlos Santana, as well as Paquito D’Rivera and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. He holds an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music and serves as a faculty member at Berklee and the New School and Drummer’s Collective in New York. El Negro records and tours with Italuba and headlined in 2011 with The New World Order, his project band of World Music all-stars.
Alex Ocón, a Tegucigalpa, Honduras native who came to USM on a marching band scholarship, called the concert one of the best experiences of his life.
“The rehearsals were extraordinary,” he said. “Each piece that [El Negro] played in each rehearsal taught me so much. With each new rhythm that he played, I felt like he was sending inspiration to me out in waves. It was an absolute honor to play [with him.]”
“Performing with El Negro was awesome and eye-opening,” said Matthew Fera, sophomore music education major who was a featured soloist at the concert. “It made me appreciate the situation that we have, because you get these artists from all over the place who have a level of talent that is a lot further above where we are. They go through a different process to learn music because they’re not studying
in a class. They’re just learning it.”
Bill Summers, “a musician of the highest order” according to the program, also performed. A New Orleans-based percussionist, Summers played a traditional African instrument at the concert. His extensive musical credits include behind-the-scenes work on the film score for “The Color Purple” and a collaboration with Grammy Legend Award winner Quincy Jones on the musical score for “Roots.” However, Summers’ work with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters is his most recognizable credit, according to the program.
“Bill is just freaking cool,” Fera said. “I’ve played with Bill maybe three times now. I always enjoy performing with him because he’s fun and just teaches us everything in little ways.”
The Percussion Studio at Southern Miss regularly performs in concerts with guest musicians, but Josh Menard, sophomore music education major, said this time was particularly special.
“When [the director] Dr. Wooton has the guest artist come in for the studio, it’s always an enjoyable experience,” Menard said. “With El Negro and Bill Summers, it was something greater than that. These two people are easily some of the most talented people I’ve ever seen in my life. The way their brains process the technical aspects of percussion is so aggressive but also so calm. They play with precision and finesse while so quickly processing what’s next. Seeing how quickly they adapt to any musical atmosphere is inspiring, and I’m grateful we were able to have them in our concert.”