A California Puerto Rican on the World Wide Web
One of his quotes from jibaros.com reads: ?A Puerto Rican shall not be boring.? To describe Don Jibaro as anything less than riveting would be an understatement of his own philosophy.
Published on LatinoLA: April 8, 2003
The Calirican Don Jibaro is the owner/operator of two of the world?s busiest private websites, http://www.jibaros.com and http://www.jibaros.net. Over the years, Orlando (his real name) has also left a legacy of volunteer work in the Los Angeles community. Among those, he has co-founded a non-profit computer learning facility in Whittier (FNCLC). The instructors there completed his certificate courses, and they in turn, are now volunteering their skills to other people.
As a computer technician, teacher, consultant, and web designer, Orlando stresses the importance of education. He also helps people with creating a professional resume to help them land a job.
His additional community services include Spanish-English translation services and that of an urban missionary, helping and donating clothing, food and money to the homeless and poor of Los Angeles area. During 1979 to 1986 he was a full-time pastor.
Here?s a candid conversation we had at Starbucks Coffee, one of his favorite places:
Les Rivera: Orlando, on the World Wide Web you are simply known as Don Jibaro. What is a ?J?baro? and how did the name Don J?baro evolve?
Don Jibaro: The noun ?Don? is actually a title, sort of ?Mr.? or ?Se?or?, that implies importance. Its etymology is Spanish, from the Latin ?dominus?, master, dating back to the 1500?s when Spanish noblemen and gentlemen used it as a title prefixed to their Christian names, like Don Juan, Don Pedro, etc?tera.
?J?baro? is a misspelling that stuck of the word ?j?varo?. Please don?t be surprised as to the origin, because it?s a kind of dark one. Although there were many headhunting cultures throughout the world, only one group was known for the ancient practices, called tsantsa, of shrinking human heads. They were called the j?varos, who lived deep in the Ecuadorian and neighboring Peruvian Amazon.
The J?varos migrated to the Caribbean and Puerto Rico in the pre-Columbian times. When the Indians in Puerto Rico where annihilated in the early 1600?s, the name ?j?baro? remained as a moniker for those who chose the countryside and the mountains as their dwelling place. Today, the name identifies the peasant farmer, who lives in the Puerto Rican fields.
LR: What are your websites about and why are they so popular among visitors from all over the world?
DJ: The websites are popular because they give people something for free. I have a lot of information, with good stories, and some of my writing is funny. I designed it simple, so that it catches the eye. That is one of my techniques for retention, and yet it?s a professional design in the sense of the format. It?s easy to navigate...you link, you go, and you come back.
It also touches into things that Puerto Ricans want to know, especially the Puerto Ricans in the United States, whose language is primarily English...who are away from their homeland. It brings them a service to remind them of their roots, the barrio, and the old days?the days of their parents and grandparents. It?s a memory that anybody will cherish and appreciate...and thus they keep coming back.
I also try to bring in new stuff every week or so, and that keep the people coming. I have a newsletter that I send out at least once a month to let them know what?s happening and to invite them back.
My fans, my readership, are the soul of my work, so I have them in mind, rather than me saying?I am great, dig me, and love me. I also answer e-mails. I get about five hundred e-mails a day. Most of it is junk, but I try to answer lots of them?especially those that are asking me for something that I can give, because they are the fans. You cannot ignore that.
Basically, the website is about Puerto Rican culture, the soul of the Puerto Rican? it?s not about Puerto Rico, because I don?t have much stuff about Puerto Rico. But it?s more about Puerto Ricans? the soul of the man, the J?baro.
LR: You have been a musician for more than 39 years. What instruments do you play?
DJ: I started in 1963 with the drums and congas. I played the drums for a couple of years? then I switched to guitar, then bass for 20 years, and of course Latin percussion: bongo, sticks and cowbells, etc. Most Puerto Ricans play those instruments (laughter). I also took piano in college, just to get a good understanding of music. It?s good to have a piano foundation. In that way you?ll know the rules of music.
LR: In the 1960?s to the 1970?s you were a full-time musician, performing with bands in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, and from Florida to Canada. After years on the road as an artist, you ended up in Southern California in 1976. Why did you settle in Los Angeles?
DJ: From 1969 to 1971, right up around when Jimmy Hendrix died, Puerto Rico went through a dry spell of tourism. I was playing with a band in the Condado area, right across the street from La Concha Hotel?this place called the Playmate. We finished playing every night about two a.m.
We left, and a couple of hours later, the place blew up?. somebody blew up the joint! It turned out to be some terrorist who blew up the place because he had an anti-American sentiment. So, we?re out of work! After that bombing things went from bad to worse. So I said, let?s leave for the United States. I went with another band, and I stayed in Boston for four and a half years.
Before that I had gone, to the Virgin Islands and to lots of other nearby places. But in Boston it was snowing four feet, and I was tired of the snow. It was a real bad winter in ?76? real bad. I said, man, that?s it! I decided to come to California.
I?d heard about Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Hills, and all the exotic stuff? so I threw a coin in the air, for L.A. or San Francisco. L.A. won. So then I threw another coin in the air, for L.A. or San Diego. L.A. won again! I packed up all my stuff. I had three hundred dollars in my pocket, a trunk full of books, a guitar, and a suitcase full of clothing. Then I took a Greyhound bus for seventy five bucks, and I landed in downtown L.A?April 26, 1976!
LR: Nowadays you perform as a one-man band in different places. What types of music do you present for your audience?
DJ: My one man band is myself and a little computer, called the DR-5. I program the bass, drums, conga, piano and percussion in it. Then I play it back through an amplifier while I sing, playing the lead guitar... or cuatro. I sing Latin jazz, old boleros, fifties romantic music, Puerto Rican country music, Puerto Rican salsa, in Spanish? a little bit in English.
If I play a Beatles song, I?d play it with a salsa beat?. You know (Don Jibaro is now singing, while creating a beat with his mouth, while swaying his head in a typical ?ritmo Boricua? fashion) ?I call your name, but you?re not the-ee-re? muchacha.?
I can charge two to three hundred dollars for an hour or two and I don?t have to pay a band. Everybody will show up for the gig. It sounds like a full band, and it sounds professional. I cannot fire anybody, and nobody can fire me. (laughter). It?s a great gig. I do Puerto Rican coffee houses and restaurants, backyard parties, mini festivals and stuff like that.
LR: Your musical preferences are quite varied, with a personal taste for Beethoven to Tribal Tech to the Maranatha Band. You mention Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri as two favorites. Did you ever get into the salsa craze when it first began in the early 1970?s?
DJ: In the sixties Puerto Rico had two kinds of people. The salseros? they were called ?conservas?, and the ?roqueros?, that were us. We had long hair wanted to speak English, play rock ?n roll. There were only a few of us. Everybody else was a ?conserva?, you know, lots of starch in their shirts. Their pants were ironed with a crease that could cut mud! (laughter). You know, grease in your hair like you would not believe! Whereas we hippies had jeans, you know? a little scruffy looking.
I was into rock ?n roll. I knew about salsa, but that would be something I?d play in the background. But then, when this ?American illusion? I had wore out, I said, ?no matter where I am, I am Puerto Rican. I am never going to be a Gringo; I am never going to be an Americano.? I mean, I am an American citizen, but knew I never was going to be what I thought I was becoming. So, I said, let me embrace my roots, let me embrace for who I am, and I started getting into salsa.
It?s strange to think that Ray Barretto saw me play in Puerto Rico, and he produced one of my first records, which never got out. After the record was done the band broke up. It was a great loss for the Ray Barretto people. I still have the record? it was a Latin rock ?n roll/Latin jazz record, before Santana was big! The band broke up and that was the end of the project.
Years later I met Eddie Palmieri. He gave me a copy of his record and I gave him a copy of my record. He autographed his record for me, but I did not autograph mine for him, because I am a musical ?nobody? compared to him. That?s what brought me into salsa. If the salsa is not exotic and highly syncopated, I don?t like it.
Then you have Tito Puente with his six harmony horn section. That?s not easy salsa? that?s major college degree salsa inflection! Did you check out Puente and Palmieri?s ?Obra Maestra? ? It?s their only album together just before Puente died! I hear it in my head...and it?s Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington? with the heavy congas and bongos! Brother, ayyy, it?s like a negrita!!! (laughter).
(Don J?baro?s sites can be found at http://www.jibaros.com (in English) and http://www.jibaros.net (in Spanish).)
Les Rivera is a freelance writer, covering New York-Puerto Rico-Cuba style salsa/mambo music, and the sport of boxing. He is also a Los Angeles salsa events promoter. (626) 795-9763, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website: http://www.SalsaSexy.com.