Cyro Baptista

Beat the Donkey

Cyro Baptista defies musical definition – playing like a native on instruments from all over the world, this super-energetic percussionist and his ten-piece percussion ensemble “Beat the Donkey” perform their own electrifying “Brazilian carnaval” performance art. With instruments from Africa, Asia, and Brazil (plus some of their own devising), Baptista and his elaborately costumed band drum up a thunder of cross-rhythms, and break into impromptu dance. The result is one awesome spectacle.

A native of Brazil, Cyro is strongly influenced by the bossa nova sounds of Joao Gilberto. He has also released a solo album, "Vira Loucos," an adventurous interpretation of the music of another “brasileiro” – the classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. (More about "Vira Loucos" at http://www.cyrobaptista.com.) Baptista began playing percussion at the age of 6 – on a coconut. Twenty-odd years ago he bought his first piece of LP gear, a bongo – and he still has it.

Baptista joined Paul Simon for the "Rhythm of the Saints" tour; he has played with Brian Eno, Robert Palmer, Melissa Etheridge, James Taylor, Milton Nascimento, and Sting – to name a few – and his discography is just as stellar: with jazz legend Herbie Hancock on the 1998 Grammy-winning CD "Gershwin's World"; on "Rain Dance" by Nana Vasconcelos and the Bushmen; and on CDs by Cassandra Wilson, David Byrne, Kathleen Battle, Carly Simon, Laurie Anderson, and The Chieftains – and others.

Baptista has toured Europe extensively with Hancock and with the “Electric Masada” of avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn. He’s conducted percussion clinics in Europe as well. Between trips he recorded an album of Duke Ellington's music with guitarist Kevin Breit and prepared for the debut CD release by his brainchild Beat the Donkey. Recently, he’s been playing with the “Trey Anastasio Band” (from “Phish”), at Bonnaroo and the Austin City Limits. He’s also played with Phish and Jay-Z at the Phish concert at Coney Island in New York City; and with Snoop Dog and the David Letterman show band.

Cyro toured the U.S. and Asia with Yo-Yo-Ma’s “Obrigado Brasil” and received the 2004 Latin GrammyAward for his participation in Yo-Yo-Ma’s Live “Obrigado Brazil” at Zankell Hall. The studio album recorded by the touring ensemble received three Grammy Awards in 2003. On his return from Japan, where he played solo and with Medesky, Martin and Wood, he began composing music for a new Nickelodeon animation. Cyro and Beat the Donkey have played in and out of the U.S., including at the Agadir Festival in Morocco. They plan to open the Jazz@Lincoln Center (October 29 and 30, 2004), sharing the stage with Brazil’s legendary composer, the multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. 

With and without his band, Cyro has won a great number of awards, including Downbeat’s “Rising Star Percussionist” (2003); Jambase.com’s “Top 10 Instrumentalists”; Drum Magazine’s “Best Jazz Percussionist/2002 and Best World Percussionist/2003.” He and Beat the Donkey have won the New York Times’ “Top 10 Alternative CD of 2002”; Wire Magazine’s “Top Global Music CD of 2002”; and an Emmy Award-Winning Special on PBS-WGBH Boston. 

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