scene or salsa scene . I went to a Latin restaurant and they had Latin bands , so when I saw that , I was like , “ What ’ s going on here ?!” So , I tried to see where I fit . It was a lot of country music and jazz , and maybe a little R & B . And also , I start playing wedding stuff .
One of the things I liked is that I was always welcome . People were like , “ Oh , congas !” I started getting my name out as a new percussionist in town and started playing Latin jazz . Really , I don ’ t know how I ended up playing jazz [ laughs ]. I think it was the only thing available at that time .
With time , I made a friend and he said , “ Man , I know you like salsa , but you have to listen to other stuff .” He gave me a bunch of music . He was living in Toronto and he said , “ Here , you have to play everything !” So , I started opening my mind more and listening to different types of percussionists . Boom ! The more information I got from other genres and being exposed to other stuff , I started getting addicted to that …
Eventually , I said , “ I need to start playing drums so that I can get more gigs .” So , I borrowed some drums and started banging on those . I remember those days . I was so loud because I was coming from salsa where it ’ s a 12-piece band and you ’ re used to playing next to six horns . I ’ m so grateful because it ’ s a process . I was learning from other friends who are drummers . Honestly , even now that people see me as a drummer , I always have this little doubt in my head that I am not a drummer . I have friend who helped erase that from my head because he said to me , “ you don ’ t have to be ‘ a drummer ;’ you ’ re a percussionist playing drums ” and that helped me realize I play my own style . That ’ s when I started getting more confidence on the drums , because I have so much respect for that instrument .
CM : What ’ s your best advice for other drummers on how to effectively and efficiently improve their skills on drums or percussion ?
Tovar : When I was growing up , I went to school to play percussion – congas and then timbales , bongos – and everything that had to do with salsa and Latin American music . The way they teach in Venezuela at that time , you had to read music and that ’ s the main goal . It ’ s because your ear is exposed to music everywhere and you get kind of lazy and don ’ t want to read music because it ’ s easy to communicate with other drummers just by watching and listening and playing .
So , when I was young , learning to read music was my priority . But when I came here , it was the other way around . Everybody reads amazingly but the sense of intuition is low . This is my opinion , but that can be a challenge when you focus just on the paper and your intuition is low . In a perfect world , you have a high level of both . I lead with intuition but I keep up with the charts . It ’ s like 80 % of my focus is on listening to what ’ s going on and then if they have charts , I pay attention to that .
But don ’ t get me wrong , I am not saying don ’ t learn to read music , but the intuition needs to be right up there too . You develop that but listening and playing along with records and learning songs that maybe you don ’ t want to play , but you learn because it ’ s a challenge . But the first thing doesn ’ t have to be , “ Okay , where ’ s the chart ?” You learn by ear first to get the feel for what these drummers are doing on the record . Don ’ t worry about screwing up , you ’ re just jamming with those guys . I still do that ; sit and play my congas and drums over top of the other drummers to get a sense of the song .
CM : In the last couple years , have there been any significant changes to your gear preferences ?
Tovar : Well , I ’ m getting old and don ’ t want to carry too much stuff [ laughs ]. I have a friend who ’ s a Cuban percussionist and I always joke that every time I see him , he brings less stuff . The last time he had just a bongo [ laughs ].
Anyway , I had a 22-in . kick drum but I started listening to a guy who was playing this small kit from Ludwig and Questlove . Dude , I was in love with that . The reason why is because I sometimes have jazz gigs , sometimes it ’ s funk stuff or Latin gigs , and I find that drum is small but I just tune it and it can be a jazz kit . For funk , just put the mic in the bass drum and you get a decent low-end . It ’ s a small kick drum but I have been playing funk with those drums and you can hear very good sound . Just tune it and it works for different styles .
CM : And what do you use for cymbals and also congas ?
Tovar : I ’ ve been endorsed by Tycoon for the last seven years or so . Dude , they ’ re very good . I love my congas . They have a very deep sound . You just put your palm in the centre and you can hear the whole bass . For recording stuff , I love to hear everything ; highs and low sound . So , Tycoon has been doing that well . But I love different brands . It just has to sound good to me . Sometimes Meinl from Germany , they have good stuff . I also use a flamenco cajón from Leiva Percussion in Spain that comes apart for travel .
I ’ m bad at remembering gear names and stuff . I recently bought an Istanbul ride cymbal that I love . On the other side I have a Zildjian with the holes . It was so cheap , so I bought it and I like it . I use this little thing that makes it sound almost like a broken cymbal . I don ’ t know if this description is helpful at all [ laughs ]. I also use Soultone Cymbals .
For sticks , I ’ ve begun using these Canadian-made sticks by Los Cabos . They ’ re really good sticks . I wish they had more variations of sticks for timbales and other stuff , but man , they ’ re very good .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 55