Ryan ‘Manito’ Wendel grew up surrounded by the mesmerizing sounds of Samba drumming and Capoeira in Brasil. Many years later, while attending the University of Georgia, Manito was inspired to take up folkloric drumming by his first mentor, Dr. Arvin Scott.
Soon after, he was introduced to Afro-Haitian folkloric drum and dance and the percussive fires of his youth were fully rekindled. In 1998 he traveled to Port au Prince, Haiti to study drumming and singing in a traditional setting with the family of master drummer Frisner Agustin.
His passion then spread to Afro-Cuban percussion and while taking classes at Berklee College of Music, he was inspired by master percussionist John Santos to travel to Cuba.
Over the course of three years, Manito spent time in Cuba studying with several master drummers including Justo Pelladito, Jose Eladio Amat, Carlos Leal Castellanos, Alejandro Carbajal, Agustín Díaz Cano, Israel Berriel, Daniel Alfonso, and Esteban ‘Cha Cha’ Vega Bacallao.
During his time living and learning in Havana, he was given the nickname ‘Manito,’ which came originally from the Spanish word for peanut: ‘Maní.’ Manito would frequently walk the Malecón (bayside highway with a large sidewalk in Havana) where many children would sell home-roasted peanuts soaked in sea water. When the maniceritos (little peanut vendors) would see him coming they knew that he would buy all of their peanuts and they could go home and play. As Manito approached, they began shouting “Maní, Maní, ven pa’ comprarme todo!” (Peanut, Peanut, come buy them all!) So the nickname began as “Maní.” “Maní “later evolved into Manito, which comes from the Spanish word ‘hermanito’ – little brother.
In 1999, Manito formed the folkloric drum ensemble “¡Moyuba!” as a way of introducing the southeastern United States to the beautiful musical cultures of the Caribbean. He has played and performed with many bands over the years including: Orquesta Grogus, Otis Redding III, Cachaça, Rand Lines Trio, Alma de Candela, Dub Conscious, Los Pleneros del Caribe, Larry Keel, Velvet Jones and the Sex Appeal, TFC, Squat, The Fuzzy Sprouts, One L, Athens Latin Jazz Quintet (ALJ5), Cubata, Danse Danballah, Tambou Fou, the UGA World Percussion Ensemble, and many others. He is an avid performer and an instructor who teaches private and group lessons in Afro-Caribbean folkloric percussion as well as Salsa and Latin Jazz. He also has one instructional video out “ Journey through the Congo Cycle,” and is currently working on the production of a beginner level video.
For 4 years Manito was the director of the Grove Elementary School World Drum Ensemble in Greenville, South Carolina. The group, funded by the Metropolitan Arts Council of Greenville, was composed of young musicians from third through fifth grades. The ensemble was dedicated to learning and performing West African and Afro-Caribbean drum music and was a featured performer in the Greenville area at many public events such as the spring Artisphere art festival as well as playing the opening ceremonies at Greenville Drive baseball games.
Manito gigs regularly with several bands, though his focus has shifted from making music with congas to making the drums themselves.
“I’ve been studying, playing, and loving tumbadoras and Afro-Caribbean percussion for about 20 years. Early on I realized that there was something missing in the sound of mass-produced drums. I began to experiment with rawhide and tried many variations of skin types, thicknesses, and processing methods until I arrived at what I consider a truly resonant and tonal drum head.
I began custom mounting rawhide heads as well as repairing cracks, warps, bearing edges, turning claves and sticks on my first lathe, I made and repaired hardware, you name it. I have known for years that I wanted to make drums and after hand carving quite a few, I knew there had to be a better way. I began buying equipment to make solid shell drums and was able to acquire some of the machinery to make them from Sky Whaley at Del Cielo Percussion.
I remain dedicated to my goal and overwhelmed with the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. Every day spent making solid shell drums is a gift and every drum is an opportunity to contribute some of the finest possible instruments to our world.”