Born March 7, 1970 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, percussionist Paoli Mejias' rise to Latin jazz fame is a story of sweat and dedication. Completely self taught, Mejias purchased his first set of congas at age twelve, inspired by records of conga great Carlos "Potato" Valdes and Latin jazz innovators Batacumbele and Irakere. Learning by imitating the sounds he heard on the records, Mejias taught himself the language of the congas without the benefit of an instructor. By his mid- to late-teens, he could be found at jam sessions in the streets and on the beaches of San Juan. He earned invitations from bandleaders like Rafu Warner, José Nogueras and Charlie Sepulveda. As he worked his way up the live music food chain in San Juan, Mejias found himself performing alongside the idols who had inspired him in his early years. Artists like Dave Samuels, Dave Valentin, Paquito d'Rivera, Chick Corea, David Sanchez and Danilo Perez all called on Mejias for his unique blend of melodic sensitivity and blinding technique. As Puerto Rico's first-call conguero, Mejias has performed and recorded with pop artists like Luis Enrique, Marc Anthony and La India. Mejias made his debut as a bandleader in 2004 with his self-produced record Mi Tambor which received a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2005. Showered with positive press and accolades from the worldwide jazz community, Mejias' transition from sideman to focal point was explosive. His 2006 follow-up release Transcend was also released independently, featuring some of the New York Latin jazz scene's finest.
by Evan C. Gutierrez