Sunday, November 20, 2011

El Griego Rumbero

When I first contacted Demetrios Kastaris, beginning of November, I did it to ask if he was going to release any of the material produced by his new project, Conjunto Katharí. Until then I had only read on the web about the new group and their mix of salsa and gospel, but I didn’t have an idea of their sound. Nothing existed on the web. Demetrios not only responded but also sent me the 3 songs they had recorded at the time! The timing was great as he informed me they were about to release the songs. So this is probably the first article written where you can also listen to a sample of Conjunto Katharí music. The 3 songs were made available online last week.

Conjunto Katharí was founded in June of 2010 by trombonist Demetrios Kastaris and his wife, Arts Administrator Hilda Kastaris. Conjunto (pronounced cone-hoón-toe) means musical ensemble in Spanish, and Katharí means pure and clean in Greek.
Demetrios Kastaris explains that the purpose of the group is to perform Afro-Caribbean music with Gospel lyrics.
The instrumentation consists of 4 trombones in 4 parts harmony (big influence was the 4 trombones arrangements of Willie Colon), 3 percussionists, 3 singers in harmony, piano, bass, plus invited guest soloists.

Demetrios with Salsa Legend Willie Colon

The orchestra’s debut concert took place December, 2010 at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, New York with master Jazz virtuoso trombone and conch shell player Steve Turre as a guest.

Conjunto Katharí have just released their first recordings.

Here's a preview of the 3 songs
1. Si Tuvieras Fé Como Un Grano De Mostaza (If You Had the Faith of a Mustard Seed)
2. Vamos Escalando Peldaños (Let’s Go Climbing Up Stairs)
3. Wade in the Water

You can listen/buy the songs here or go to and type Conjunto Katharí


Q: Demetrios you've been called “El Griego Rumbero”. The Latin-Jazz Coalition has gained a good reputation and released an acclaimed album and you introduced Conjunto Kathari, your salsa-gospel project. What is your musical vision?

With the Latin Jazz Coalition I wish to continue doing concerts with well-known artists as well as continue growing as a trombone player, composer, arranger, band leader, and Jazz improviser. Just because I founded a new group called Conjunto Kathari does not mean that I am going to stop doing concerts with the Latin Jazz Coalition.

Oh by the way, I am called El Griego Rumbero because I was born in Greece and I maintain my Greek identity while performing Afro Cuban and Puerto Rican music with a great band and with well-known musicians. Historians and scholars of Latin music have brought it to my attention that I am the first Greek-American in recorded history to lead an authentic sounding Latin band of Afro Caribbean music and Jazz.

In terms of Conjunto Kathari which is only a year and a half old I have a very different vision. There is a message of God`s love in Conjunto Kathari. I want to give hope and love to people that feel hopeless and helpless, regardless of what culture they come from or what their religion is. God has put that love in my heart for all people. I desire to play in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and on the streets in tough neighborhoods where there is gang violence, drugs, and prostitution. All these people need to feel love. I get this desire to do humanistic things from my relationship to Jesus Christ. I have been given so many blessings it`s time for me to give back.

For those who don`t know Greek and Spanish Conjunto Kathari means pure and clean musical ensemble. That`s quite a reputation to live up to. I feel that Conjunto Kathari has to play in an exceptionally excellent way because many people don`t accept our message as far as Jesus is concerned. If our music is great many people will eventually accept our message.

Also in Conjunto Kathari I get to play in a trombone section with a total of 4 great trombone players in 4 part harmony. I also get to play Salsa with Gospel lyrics as well as Contemporary and traditional Gospel music. I have wanted to do all of this for years.

Q: What is your Greek heritage?

I was born in Theassaloniki in 1959. In 1961 we moved to the United States. My dad was a Greek Orthodox priest for his entire life. My mom was a home maker from Athens. My dad was also 100% Greek and grew up in Athens but he was born in Alexandria Egypt. I consider myself 100% Greek (Greek American). I also can claim a small tie to African rhythm from my father`s side. I grew up in an extremely Greek environment and culture. We spoke Greek only at home and English only at school. I went to Greek school at 3:30 after American school for many years so that I would learn Greek. I have visited Greece in the summer ten times and I love my Greek culture.

We love to eat spanakopita and baklava. We also really love to listen to Kalamatiano and Zembekiko. Even though I am immersed in Afro Cuban music today I really love to listen to recordings of Haris Alexiou. I go crazy when I listen to that music.

By the way, my wife is from Colombia, South America so I am fully fluent in three languages, English, Greek, and Spanish.

Q: Your favorite music?

I love Latin music, Latin Jazz, Greek music, Jazz, Classical, almost everything except for music that talks about violence

Q: Any plans of live performances in Greece/Europe in the future?

It has been my desire for years to travel to Greece and do concerts. We have to stay at it and see what doors open up.

Q: What's next?

Well, I have been working very hard with my wife building the infrastructure and administrative strength of both bands. This part of being an artist is tedious and time consuming but as in the past it has opened many marvelous doors for performing and recording. We want to record more with both orchestras.

Latin Jazz Coalition older GREEKAZOID post here
Latin Jazz Coalition web site:
Demetrios Kastaris e-mail:
youtube: type: latinjazzcoalition

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