Latin percussionist Rubén Alvarez had students at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School shaking and shimmying in the aisles.

Alvarez was at Brooks, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave., last Tuesday to give students a workshop and mini-concert on the history and styles of Latin music. His appearance was part of a collaborative project with the school’s jazz band, introducing them to various forms of Latin music. On April 11, Alvarez will join the students in for an all-Latin concert.

Students from Percy Julian Middle School’s band also attended the workshop and concert, including Nate Shinners, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, who was among the students joining Alvarez on stage for a few numbers. Shinners and a group of boys played on bongo drums while Alvarez grooved on the mini-timbales drum set. Other students during the set played the maracas and other hand-held instruments.

Shinners plays trumpet in the Julian band and never played the drums before going on stage, his first time playing Latin music.

“It was rhythmic,” he said, “and it was fun playing the rhythm section instead of the melody.”

That kind of broadening experience was the aim for Alvarez, who’s been performing music since age 18 and has taught grade-schoolers, high school students and higher education for 22 years. He also performs nationally and abroad. The 56-year-old entertains while he educates in his workshops. Accompanied by a bass player and keyboardists, he started off his Brooks set with Latin tunes, taking time to explain some of the music’s origins, including African influences.

He also talked about different musical instruments and their countries of origin.

Alvarez spent an equal amount of time talking about the various sounds and rhythms in the music. Latin music’s cultural influences come from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and Africa, he told students, who packed Brooks’ auditorium for the afternoon session.

Many of the young students he instructs are drawn to the drums, but don’t always know the history. They’re also drawn to the sounds of various instruments.

“The young people, they love to beat and shake things,” Alvarez said. “All of these sounds are interesting to a percussionist. That’s what we hear and what we’re attracted to. So there’s this whole vocabulary that they learn. All these sounds have different colors.”

After his hour-long concert at Brooks, Alvarez gave a small workshop to members of Brook’s jazz band, working with students on the mini-timbales, which are a stand-alone drum set with two snare drums, cymbals, cowbell and large base drum.

Alvarez added that his students, especially the teenagers, are sometimes surprised to learn that some of their favorite music has Latin influences.

“One of the things I’m able to do is break down the history of how something they think is specific to their generation goes back to [for instance] the middle passage and Africa,” he said. “Art is always a variation of something that has its own flavor. It has to start somewhere.”

Join the discussion on social media!