From Congo Square to Winston-Salem: Sammy Alvarez transports the past to the present
By Ron Eldridge
In 1817 the mayor of New Orleans issued a city ordinance that restricted any kind of gathering of enslaved Africans to the one location of Congo Square. They were allowed to gather in the “Place des Nègres,” later “Circus Square” or informally, “Congo Square.” Congo Square was where the enslaved would set up a market, sing, dance, and play music for each other.
Sammy Alverex is originally from Fort Green, Brooklyn, New York, where on any nice day you can experience the strong Latin heritage blasting away in the parks or on the stoops of buildings – the sounds of Mongo Santamaria, Chano Pozo, Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Giovanni Hidalgo, and many others. We can add Sammy Alverez to that great list of percussion masters.
A Musical Journey Comes into Focus
From the fourth to the twelfth grade, Sammy concentrated on becoming a world class trumpeter. After winning several awards as a high schooler, this was it! That is … until the wisdom of his father stepped in. He instructed his son to become a carpenter, an occupation where Sammy could earn a consistent living for himself. For Sammy, his train was on that new track, until the day he walked past a music store in Flat Bush, NY. There in the window stood two beautiful congas calling his name. With $200 in his pocket, Sammy walked in and inquired about the price. The owner quoted a firm $275 with no wiggle room. Sammy replied, “I am not leaving this store till I get those congas!” As the store owner was closing for the day, he finally told Sammy to give him the $200 and go. The rest is history.
Sammy’s signature sound is a unique musical creation. He creates a language on the skins, speaking to the other performers and audience. While possessing a musical photographic memory, Sammy’s harmonious spirit knows the perfect time and place for that right hit to make one react like …WOW!. The flavor he adds to any tune is equivalent to that perfect spice on a prime cut of meat!
In venues today, Sammy Alverez will walk in, wearing his moniker cap, a grand smile, and carrying his congas, bring with him the rhythmic spirits of Conga Square past. He is poised and ready to render his highly energetic congas’ interpretation to any song that he hears, transferring it into his powerful but yet soft drum licks.
In summarizing Sammy’s skills: trumpeter, carpenter, a master-in-training percussionist, and did I mention an accomplished fine artist? (That will be a future article!)
When asked what’s next, Sammy stated that he and some of his local musical colleagues are working on a new musical project that will leave an impression on the Winston-Salem community. Be on the lookout – the spirit of “Conga Square” will be heard soon!
Ron Big “E” Eldridge is a Winston-Salem resident and aspiring freelance writer. Listen to Big “E” radio program, “Sunset Jazz,” on WNAA 90.1 FM every Saturday from
6 to 9 p.m.