Cyro Baptista says his success is the result of being in the right place at the right time. A modest man, indeed. Baptista, who came to the United States from Brazil in 1980, is a world-renowned, "world music" percussionist who worked with an insanely impressive list of musicians.
He toured extensively with Yo-Yo Ma's Brazil Project, Trey Anastasio's Band (of Phish), John Zorn's Electric Masada, Herbie Hancock's Grammy award winning "Gershwin's World," Sting and Paul Simon's "Rhythm of the Saints."
Also, he performed and recorded with David Byrne, Kathleen Battle, Gato Barbieri, Dr. John, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Robert Palmer, Melissa Etheridge, Laurie Anderson, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Michael Tilson Thomas, Daniel Barenboin, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, Medeski Martin & Wood, Spyro Gyra, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Santana.
Baptista and his band, Beat the Donkey, play at Alverno's Pitman Theatre, 3431 S. 39th St., as part of the "Alverno Presents" series on Friday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.
"Even if you don't like the music, you will laugh a lot," says Baptista.
The first Beat the Donkey album, TZADIK, was picked by The New York Times as one of the 10 best alternative albums of 2002. The group - known for their high energy, celebratory performances with percussion instruments galore -- arrived in Milwaukee a few days early to fulfill one of Baptista's dreams. For the first time, he corresponded with a group of students from MPS' Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, 800 W. Walnut St., and met with them earlier this week to teach them one of his songs. Some of the kids will gig with him on Friday night.
OnMilwaukee.com: Is world music as popular today in America as it was 10 or 15 years ago?
Cyro Baptista: Definitely. I never imagined it would be like this. When I came with this country, I came on a scholarship to start a music school (Creative Music Studio) in Woodstock (N.Y.). The school came and went with Reaganomics, but I was still lucky to be in the right place at the right time. There were so many incredible musicians from all over the world and none of us ever imagined this would turn into (a genre of music.) There's even rap world music now, and it's incredible.
OMC: You have collaborated with such an extensive list of musicians, but is there anyone who you would like to play with someday?
CB: Maybe Prince. I like him very much.
OMC: What's it like to collaborate with so many different artists?
CB: It's a challenge for me. Sometimes they call me and I say, "Whoa, why'd they call me?" But, really, I like that. It's a challenge and a struggle. I like the struggle because after the struggle you are victorious. It's all been an amazing experience for me. They are all so completely different to me. They execute so well, have amazing technique and dynamic -- each one is so different.
OMC: What should people expect at the Friday show?
CB: I have this opportunity to come to America and play with such a diverse group of musicians and types of music, and in all of these experiences, I learned with them. They are all amazing musicians and composers. (Beat the Donkey) puts everything inside a blender -- all that I've learned from the others, with my roots from Brazil and the roots from the other musicians in the band who are from Japan and Europe -- and that's what it's going to be. A mixture of all these elements and lots of percussion. There will be elements of dancing and some theater, too. Even if you don't like the music, you will laugh a lot.
OMC: Tell me about your wife, Eleanora Baptista.
CB: Eleanora and I have been married for 20 years. She is my manager and she works the lights at my shows. She's the brain behind everything, like every wife.
OMC: Do you have children and, if so, are they musicians?
CB: I have three children. They are 29, 19, and 16. They all play, but are not "musicians." I try not to force on them.
OMC: Where in the United States do you live these days? Do you spend very much time in Brazil?
CB: (Laughing) I live in the country called "New Jersey." I go back to Brazil a lot to recharge the battery. But we are very happy here. America has been so good for me. I have a lot of instrumental music that would be hard to do in any other part of the world. Home Depot is our big source for instruments -- pieces of refrigerator, PVC pipes -- and it's great.
OMC: What do you try to achieve through your music?
CB: Anything that you do, whether you are a dentist or lawyer, there are stressful situations. But if you can come back home and play some music that will make conditions of life better, good ... So much that we do today is alone, but music brings people together. Not that long ago, music was part of the routine of the day and we are forgetting that. That is what "Beat the Donkey" is. We try to pass the message that music is a celebration and a ritual that everybody has. Sometimes we inspire people to say stuff like, "I can play parts of a refrigerator" and that's great if they feel like that. That's great.
OMC: Your show is Friday. What brings you to Milwaukee days earlier?
CB: It's an amazing situation. For the first time we are doing a tour that has an educational aspect. We sent videos to Roosevelt school -- showing the kids what we do -- and then they sent a video back showing what they do with the instruments, and now we are meeting them and teaching them a song. They are going to play the song on Friday night. They are amazing. They really have the swing. They really got to the root of the song. It's been a very incredible experience for us, and I have been trying to do this for so long, and finally, an arts school in Milwaukee let us.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.