Afro-Latin percussion refers to percussive instruments, traditions, rhythms, dances, and musical forms that have given voice, identity, and much inspiration to urban communities across the Americas. In specific countries and regions, local percussive/musical traditions are learned in tandem with the Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean traditions that have come to represent a new generation of culturally mixed Latinos. The San Francisco Bay Area is among the vanguard of this fascinating balance of roots and innovation that is preserving and furthering Afro-Latin tradition. A wide array of instruments and rhythms are part of this evolving canon, simultaneously maintaining traditional musical forms that are at the spiritual and cultural heart of Afro-Latin artist expression.
John Santos was born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco. As a young drummer, he spent countless hours studying and playing with master drummers who made San Francisco their home; such as Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, Alfredo Videaux, Orestes Vilató, and Chichito Cepeda. His studies of Afro-Latin music are influenced by on-going visits to New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil and Colombia to perform and/or record with several master musicians including Tito Puente, Cachao, Alejandro Publes, Jose Luis Quintana, Giovanni Hidalgo, Cachete Maldonado, Anthony Carrilo, Raul de la Caridád, Gonzalez Brito, Johnny Rodriguez, Pedrito Martinez, Angá, and Milton Cardona.
Santos was the director of the Orquesta Tipica Cienfuegos (1976-1980) and the award-winning Orquesta Batachanga (1981-1985). He was the founder and director of the internationally renowned, Grammy-nominated Machete Ensemble (1985-2006). He currently directs the John Santos Sextet, Latin jazz ensemble, and the Afro-Caribbean folklóric ensemble, El Coro Folklórico Kindembo, which has produced two Grammy-nominated CDs, the most recent, La Guerra No, in 2009.
As a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2014, John extended his musical lineage to Javier Navarrette, sharing with him the cultural and technical aspects of Latino percussion.