An Interview with Monette Marino-Keita
By Casey Pukl
The local San Diego music scene has some pretty incredible talent. Among this amazing community of musicians, one of our longstanding community favorites is percussionist extraordinaire Monette Marino-Keita. Her extensive studies in percussion styles around the world have allowed her to share her talents with audiences and students across the globe. Fortunately for us, she continues to return to Anthology to share her music with our audiences. I had the chance to catch up with Monette last week, and she opened up about her introduction to drumming, her love of teaching, and just why she continues to call San Diego home.
CP: I’d love to get right into what you’ve been into since we saw you last in the fall!
MM: Yeah, it’s been a while. Traveling to West Africa, and working on new songs, and being a mom, and doing that sort of thing.
CP: That’s a busy schedule right there.
MM: (Laughs) Definitely.
CP: Where in Africa did you go and what was this trip? Was it writing? Touring?
MM: My husband and I bring students to our house in Guinea, West Africa. We bring groups to go and study traditional African percussions, specifically the djembe and the dunum. So we had a group of about 15 international students into our house, to study drumming. It is usually a three-week drum camp.
CP: That has to be so much fun! What’s the average age of your students?
MM: Oh, they are mostly adults. It’s a little bit risky for us to travel with young children because West Africa is a challenging place to travel to, so our youngest student was 22 and the oldest, I would guess, was mid-50s.
CP: That’s such a cool experience I’m sure.
MM: It’s a lot of fun, and it’s truly a great experience to share the culture and the music with people that don’t experience it in the Western world.
CP: Sure. And do you teach often?
MM: Yeah, I teach a class every Monday night downtown basically, on Kettner. Right now we are renting a space at Kava Lounge. Monday night is the beginner class. There is a dunum class, which are the big drums that you play with sticks, and then a beginner djembe class afterwards. Tuesday night has been a rehearsal night for our performance group, which for now is kind of a closed group, but eventually, I’ll open that up to be more of an advanced or intermediate class to push the students to the next level.
CP: So you really seem to embrace sharing everything that you’ve learned over the years with other people. From everything I know about you, that seems to be at the core of what you do.
MM: Absolutely. There’s no point in doing all this stuff, and keeping it for myself.
CP: Absolutely. Have you had some really incredible teachers that have inspired you to do that over the years?
MM: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve been studying this stuff for a long, long time, and various teachers, from local percussionists to the master drummers from various countries, and I would first immersed into the Afro-Cuban style, and I had some great teachers, and one of them, in fact, I said, “I’m getting told that women can’t learn this, that it is not fate. I’ve heard that it is forbidden for women to be taught this style of drumming.” And I looked at the teacher that I had, who said, “ That’s a bunch of bologna. It’s not forbidden. It is not prohibited. I am here, and I can teach you.” And this is the teacher from Cuba, who is teaching me Bata rhythms, which are religious drums. Which is why if you take them in a non-religious environment, absolutely it’s about sharing the rhythm. It’s about getting and sharing the history of that music, which is so connected to the rhythm. But the rhythms don’t exist without the reason why they are played. So here’s the first guy, and then of course my husband now, Mamady Keita, he was completely supportive of people of all backgrounds, all ages, of both genders, learning music from his tradition.
So, I have very open teachers. And that kind of played into my experience as a teacher; I am being open to my students and wanting to share everything with them.
CP: Absolutely. I think that’s so awesome. I love it. How did you get into this style of drumming? Was that how you actually got your start, or were you into more popular styles? Tell me a little bit about that.
MM: Well, drumming started when I was about eight or nine years old from my dad because he was a local drummer. He grew up in San Diego and played with all the top bands starting in the early ‘50s, up until the ‘70s. He taught me how to play the drum set, and I got immediately hooked on playing rock and roll, at that point, we’re talking mid-70s and so I played a lot of heavy metal kind of stuff. At that time, it was called heavy metal. Now, it’s just called classic rock (laughs). So that’s what I grew up playing, and then I got into a little more of the funk, and eventually got exposed to the congas, and from the congas, when I started to play the congas, Santana was the big example.
So that drove me in a different direction that I had been in on the drum set. And from that exposure, I started to discover a lot of Latin music. That eventually led me to African music, because a lot of Latin music is African-based.
CP: Sure. And what has kept you in San Diego? I know you’re from here, and I think it is so cool that there are so many incredible musicians that have kept this as their home base.
MM: That’s true for a lot of reasons. Not only is my family here- that’s a big part, of course- but there is also the weather, it’s fabulous. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been to over 30 or 40 countries, and I’ve never experienced a place as temperate as San Diego. So that’s a big draw to stay here. I don’t like cold weather.
And, there’s a really nice social atmosphere that I find really refreshing. Everybody respects each other. This is in the music scene, but also in general- we all have a deep respect for each other as musicians that we are all, you know, here, making a living, and wanting to share our talent and our skill. Everybody gives each other these opportunities. I don’t find a lot of jealousy or a lot of behind-your-back attitude. Everybody seems to be really honest and upfront. I find that in general too, like when I take my daughter to school and I hang out with the parents at her school, everybody is really nice, everybody is really kind, and that’s a nice atmosphere to be in. It’s a nice place to raise a family in.
CP: Totally. Yeah, San Diego- I’m from the East Coast, so this is a 180 degrees from what I am used to. Especially as far as the music scene goes, everybody is so sweet and, “Come play with me on this show, and this show!” and—
MM: Yes, that’s true. I just went last night to celebrate my birthday, and I went to the El Camino Jam Session that Gilbert Castellanos leads, and it feels like you’re with family. It’s a musician’s family, and it’s great. It’s very supportive.
CP: Any new plans for a new record any time soon; what’s on deck?
MM: Well, I’ve got five songs that I’ve written already. Three of them are already recorded, and just trying to get the friends together to get the rest of the stuff in the studio. So that’s the big challenge. These days, funding is not an easy task.
CP: That’s true.
MM: So hopefully, let’s see, we’re in the middle of the year. I’d say probably by next year, I would be looking at getting something released, if everything goes well with my fundraising adventures.
CP: So excited to hear that! What are you most looking forward to coming back to Anthology?
MM: Oh, there’s so many things that I love that there’s not just one thing that I’m most looking forward to. I am really excited that this time, it is a Friday night, and it’s a late show. A lot of times, my audience wants the band, and I’ve always been doing the earlier show, and people are having dinner. They always wait for the last two shows to get up and storm the dance floor. I’m looking forward to giving everyone a chance to come out and really dance to the music from the first sound beat to the last note.
CP: Absolutely. I think it will be a super fun show. I know we are always really excited to have you back. You are one of our favorites.
MM: Everyone who works there is always so nice. I’m excited to come in and play for everybody.
CP: We’re always excited to have you. The servers are always dancing behind the stage. It’s always a good time, so we’re looking forward to it.
MM: (Laughs) That’s great. Excellent.
Special thanks to Monette for taking the time out to chat with us! Don’t miss out on a roaring good time this Friday night at 9:30!