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Sergio Martínez, percussion and ensemble instructor in the Master of Music in contemporary performance (production concentration) program, has been in the limelight lately. Back in November, he played with Paul Simon’s band at a gig in Madrid where Simon presented Stranger to Stranger, his latest album. “It was awesome. Paul gave [the dancer] Nino de los Reyes and me a place in the front of a huge stage full of incredible musicians. What an honor!” he says.
In Stranger to Stranger, released last June, Simon was seeking “flamenco grooves to help him establish some forms and flavors to write some new tunes with,” Martínez, who collaborated with the star, explains. During three recording sessions that took place over a period of 18 months, Martínez produced a traditional flamenco band with some of the best musicians in the genre, and enlisted Nino de los Reyes. “They used our grooves in a very creative, surprising, and fresh way. The result was absolutely original to me when I finally got to listen to it in 2016, around three years after,” he says.
Martínez, who comes from Torrejón de Ardoz in Madrid, discovered his passion for percussion through a high school teacher, but flamenco came to his life thanks to his uncle, a Paco de Lucía fan. “The sound of the cajón just called me so loudly that I couldn’t ignore it, although I love percussion of all types and places, and musical instruments and traditions in general,” he says.
Twenty years later, Martínez has played alongside the very best Spanish maestros, such as Enrique Morente, José Mercé, Diego el Cigala, and Niña Pastori. “My actual development as an artist started the day I began shaping myself as a percussionist through imitation of, and by following the advice of, the older singers, guitar players, and dancers I collaborated with,” says Martínez.
Back to Berklee
Martínez knows Berklee College of Music inside out. Before becoming a teacher, he joined the Global Jazz Institute program in Boston after auditioning in Panama in 2009. In 2014, he completed his education by earning a master’s degree in contemporary performance in Valencia. “Those experiences changed my life and my understanding of music thanks to some of the most incredible jazz artists and educators, and the best peer students I could have dreamed of,” he says.
In 2014, he complemented his studies by teaching cajón and flamenco rhythms at a weekly workshop at Berklee’s campus in Valencia. Becoming a teacher was a result of his wish to settle down after travelling around the world as a musician for 14 years, but it also sprang from a deeper feeling: “I simply love sharing what I have, and I feel a mission to pass the message to other musicians who, like me, are interested in learning,” he says.
His line of thought resembles the nature of the genre he has chosen to share and explore with others. “I think flamenco is the form of art that represents a very unique example of a peaceful coexistence of different races and cultures in the same place and time, which was the Andalucía of the gypsies, Andalusians, Arabs, Sephardics, Africans, Christians, and Muslims,” Martínez says.
This spring, Martínez has started to teach a Flamenco Rhythm Styles class within the Mediterranean minor curriculum for undergraduate study abroad students to explore the flamenco style through its rhythms, as well as the study of cajón and claps. The main focus will be working on creative projects based on composition, arrangement, and performance related to flamenco culture. “Students feel strongly attracted to the melodies and rhythms but it’s also a style which challenges them in multiple ways and helps them grow in their musicianship and creativity,” he says.
His role at Berklee’s campus in Valencia also goes beyond teaching. Since 2014, he has been the coordinator of a social activity within the contemporary performance (production concentration) graduate class that focuses on community work through music therapy and educational activities in the city. Last year, he supported the creation of a campus-wide pilot outreach program in which students taught music to kids at risk of social exclusion as a reward for their academic performance and increased school attendance. “Some of the students experienced, for the first time, the power of their music and understood their mission in society. Being a musician is not just entertaining and fun; we can actually reach unlimited goals using music as a tool for change,” he says.