Ezequiel Torres: renowned Afro-Cuban bata drummer and drum-maker

About Ezequiel Torres

Ezequiel Torres seated with drumLuis Ezequiel Torres was born in Havana, Cuba and arrived in Miami in 1980 as part of the Mariel boatlift. He learned the complex tradition of batá drumming and Orisha chanting from the legendary Griots of these Afro-Cuban cultural traditions.

As an Oba Añá / Olubatá, Ezequiel uses the batá drums to call forth 22 Orishas (deities) through a series of particular rhythms.

When his talent for drum-making was discovered, he continued his apprenticeship with the master drum-makers of Havana, who taught him how to make every kind of Afro-Cuban traditional percussion instrument including batás, congas, shekeres, cajones drums as well as the beautiful beaded tapestries that cover the batá. He also learned the importance these creations carried within the tradition and the respect and care with which they must be treated.

Ezequiel carving at his home in Miami, 2013

He is now recognized as one of the top batá drummers, drum carvers and beaders in the United States. Read about Ezequiel in the Miami New Times' 1997 article, "The Beat Generator: Ezequiel Torres's Hand-Crafted Bata Drums Reflect Both an Art and a Calling." His batá drums and checkeres have been on exhibit at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and one of his bantes (the beaded tapestry that covers the drum) was on exhibit in the National Bead Museum in Washington, DC.

Ezequiel Torres with his NEA Heritage Fellowship Award in the Library of Congress, 2010.

In 2008, Ezequiel received the prestigious Florida Folk Heritage Award from the Florida State Department. He has also been the recipient of Individual Artist Fellowships, and regularly performs and demonstrates his drum-making skills at festivals including the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, the largest cultural event in the U.S. capital.

In 2010 Ezequiel received the National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award and performed at the award ceremony in Washington D.C.

Ezequiel is sought as the music leader and performer at traditional and religious celebrations and events throughout the world, such as Spain, Mexico, NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. He regularly plays in Miami, Fl, where he lives.

From 1995 to 2001, he was the Music Director of IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance & Music, founded and directed by his sister Neri Torres. He teaches and performs at the annual IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Festival in Miami and Colorado. In Cuba, Ezequiel worked for many years as accompanying percussionist in Havana's Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte.

Ezequiel was featured in the 1995 film "The Perez Family," which starred Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molia and Anjelica Huston and also featured the late Celia Cruz. He has also been featured on a number of movie soundtracks. Ezequiel was one of the outstanding Miami percussionists featured in the album "Caribbean Percussion Traditions in Miami," which was released in 1997 by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. Other recordings featuring Ezequiel include the album "Mestizo" by guitarist/composer Rene Toleda and released in 1993.

Ezequiel also shares his traditions as a festival curator, mentor and teacher. In 2009, he was an consultant for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida's Black Crossroads: The African Diaspora in Miami exhibit. He was a curator, consultant and exhibitor for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida's exhibits, At the Crossroads, Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts (2001) and Caribbean Percussion Traditions in Miami (1998) (see the exhibit's review in the Miami New Times), where his drums and beadwork were on display.

Like other Orisha percussionists, Ezequiel occasionally plays in nightclub shows, museum programs or similar settings. When he performs in secular contexts, he hopes to give audiences a new perspective on a religion that is often misunderstood.

painting by Aruan Torres

Orisha Worship
in the U.S.

Orisha worship is the traditional religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa. Yorubas brought their religion to Cuba, and it has since spread to Miami and other cities in the U.S.

Percussion is a crucial component of the religion, in that it is the vehicle through which devotees communicate with the Orishas (deities).

For the most important religious ceremonies, an ensemble of three double-headed batá drums is employed and frequently augmented by the cheré (a small gourd rattle). Batá that are ritually consecrated are particularly pleasing to the Orisha.

In ceremonies where there is a less rigorous protocol, other instruments can be used, such as shekerés (large gourd rattles that are strung with beads or seeds), conga drums and a guataca (a hoe blade or cowbell played with a striker).

Orisha percussion generally accompanies singing in which deities are praised and invited to descend upon their devotees.