Born and raised in New York’s Spanish Harlem in the 1950s, Fantuzzi grew up with Puerto Rican parents who loved to dance. He recalls that his family always seemed to be dancing at home. As a result, he was exposed to the salsa, merengue and boleros of Latin American music. Motown came around, and Fantuzzi also soaked that in. Fantuzzi is internationally famous for his Latin, reggae and Afro-funk music – and his focus on music as a spiritual force.
Fantuzzi will bring his infectious personality to the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership Sunday (April 16), starting at 7 p.m. Singer-songwriter Tara Somerville and the students of Taos Youth Music School will open the show with a 15-minute performance at 6:45 p.m.
At age 14, Fantuzzi’s mother gave him a conga drum. At 16, his father gave him a guitar. It was also at age 16 that Fantuzzi left home to make his own way in the world. He has traveled extensively all over the globe and started out his musical path by learning to play music from street musicians.
“I would study them very, very closely,” Fantuzzi said.
Fantuzzi has a background in music, dance and Shakespearean acting. For the past 45 years, he has traveled to more than 50 countries. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, Los Angeles and Oakland coliseums and at all three Woodstock Festival editions, four Kumbh Melas, more than 30 Rainbow Gathering and most Burning Man events, multiple Cannabis Cups, Glastonbury Fayre and other European and Australian festivals, Bali Spirit Fest, Earthdance, Harmony Festival, Bhakti Fest, Mystic Garden parties and Raw Spirit festivals.
“Love at First Bite – Adventures of a 21st Century Troubadour” is a new autobiographical book that follows Fantuzzi’s many interesting experiences, including playing with Bob Dylan, spending time with Timothy Leary and meeting the Dalai Lama. The book’s title comes from the unique perspective of the narrative. The story begins when Fantuzzi was bitten by a rattlesnake and had a near-death experience. It unfolds as he has flashbacks on his life.
Fantuzzi explained that his partner, Kat, plays a role in bringing the book to life. She co-wrote “Love at First Bite” with Fantuzzi. For his performances, she often reads from part of the book.
“Kat is a really good reader,” Fantuzzi said. “She gets up there and shakes some maracas and plays little toy instruments with me and does some singing with me and then breaks out into one of the poems from the book or a short story, something appropriate for the next song. All of those experiences I’ve written songs about, so there’s sometimes a little piece of a story to lead up to the song.”
Through his music and writing, Fantuzzi tries to convey to his audiences a message of hope. He says that this is especially important in today’s political and social climate.
“I like to inspire people. … I have been blessed with that spirit of never giving up, and being able to somehow inspire people to not give up on life is beautiful. Life can be meaningful. Life can be really, really worth living.”
Opening for Fantuzzi’s Taos show is the Sing Free choir of the Taos Youth Music School. The group, led by Tara Somerville, is made up primarily of third- through fifth-graders.
“Every choir member is so excited for this opportunity to perform,” said Somerville.
Taos Youth Music School is a nonprofit, tuition-free after-school music program serving Taos-area youth ages 5-18. Somerville has taught hundreds of students through her work with Taos Youth Music School and Taos Charter School. She has been featured on the “Creativity Corner” of the nationally syndicated “Art of the Song” radio show. This May, Somerville will be performing her original songs at the Tucson Folk Festival in Arizona.
“My approach to teaching is very playful and oriented toward deriving joy from music as well as developing technique,” Somerville said. “Games and spontaneous choreography play a big part in my teaching. During the last 10 minutes of each class, we work with colored pencils or watercolors and just relax as we sing songs together. It’s such a treat to have them call out favorites from the week or semester and then everyone chimes in with the tune.”
Over the past three years, the Sing Free choir has sung songs from all over the world, including West Africa, Afghanistan, Nepal, North America, Ireland, Slovenia, Italy and Mexico. “On Sunday, we’ll be sharing a selection of songs that this set of students feels particularly passionate about,” Somerville said.
Tickets are $7 at the door. Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership is located at 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-1900.
For more on the artists, visit fantuzzimusic.com, tarasomerville.com and taosyouthmusicschool.org.