Legendary West African ensemble Las Maravillas de Mali is set to perform on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at Barbican Hall in London. The acclaimed Malian Afro-Cuban orchestra’s present line-up will take to the Barbican stage for the first time in May 2019, accompanied by Guinean singer Mory Kanté.
Las Maravillas de Mali’s Barbican line-up will include West African and Cuban musicians: Boncana Maïga (composer, conductor), Mory Kanté (vocals), Pepe Rivero (piano), Florent José Alapini aka. Jospinto (vocals), Juancito Hurtado (vocals), David Reicer (flute), Eduardo Coma (violin), Armando García Fernandez (violin), Reicel Pedroso Diaz (violin), Nahomi Stephany (viola), Inor Sotolongo (timpani), Abraham Mansfarroll (congas), Sergio Fernández Pedroza (piano) and Felipe Cabrera Cárdenas (bass).
Formed in the early 1960s, Las Maravillas de Mali became an iconic ensemble of the Afro-Cuban musical tradition, singing in Spanish, Bambara and French.
In the middle of the Cold War, the early 1960s was a period of Communist camaraderie between the Africa of independence and the revolutionary Cuba of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. In 1964, the Cuban government invited ten young musicians from Mali to study in Havana. These young artists spent seven years studying music in Cuba, marking the establishment of Las Maravillas de Mali.
The group recorded one self-titled album in 1968 that included the song that became one of the greatest hits in this revolutionary era: “Rendez-Vous Chez Fatimata,” combining Cuban influences with traditional Malian music.
Las Maravillas de Mali’s story came to the attention of French producer Richard Minier in 1999 and he worked to recreate the ensemble. Together with the band’s remaining survivor and original member, Boncana Maïga, Minier retraced the group’s steps and went to Havana on several occasions, re-recording new versions of the album’s songs in the same surroundings as before, in the now famed Egrem studios.
In 2018, the orchestra was revived again in an effort led by Malian musician and founder Boncana Maïga, Cuban pianist Manolito, Beninese vocalist Jospinto and Guinean vocalist Mory Kanté.
Eme Alfonso, one of Cuba’s most captivating young artists, has a new music video titled “Oroko”.
Oroko is a song dedicated to Oshún, the goddess of the Yoruba pantheon. Eme moves forward the family tradition. Her parents were the founders of one of cuba’s greatest bands, Síntesis. Eme combines Afro-Cuban music with other genres.
The track includes an arrangement performed by Harold López-Nussa and vocals by Sintesis.
Eme Alfonso (also known as M) is a Cuban singer-songwriter that fuses Afro-Cuban roots music with electronic sounds, world percussion and rock and Afro-Cuban legends. M was born in 1986 in Havana Playa, Cuba.
Eme grew up in an environment surrounded by musicians. Her parents founded Sintesis, a seminal band that started as a progressive rock group and evolved into the finest Afro-cuban fusion band in Cuba. Eme’s mother, Ele Valdés is a vocalist and plays keyboards; her father Carlos Alfonso is also a vocalist, guitarist and bass player; and her brother X Alfonso is a multi-instrumentalist.
At 7, Eme started her piano and voice studies at Alejandro García-Caturla Conservatory. She made her professional debut at 14, playing with Síntesis.
Eme won the Cubadisco Award (Cuban Music Awards) with her two albums “Señales” and “Eme”. Her third album was produced by the Brazilian producer Alê Siqueira, recorded in Cuba and Brazil. This album will be released in fall 2018.
Eme has been part of important projects to promote the cultural diversity of Cuba like “Para Mestizar” sponsored by UNESCO. She is the Artistic Director of Havana World Music international festival, supported by the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
Pianist, composer, arranger, producer and band leader Dayramir González Vicet was born on October 18, 1983 in Havana, Cuba.
He grew up in a family of musicians. His father, Fabian Gonzalez, is a successful Afro-Cuban jazz trumpet player. At the age of 7, Dayramir began his classical piano studies under the tutelage of Amado Touza and Miriam Valdés. This was followed by intermediate level studies under the guidance of the prestigious Cuban pianist and composer Huberal Herrera.
With a solid classical training, Dayramir started his professional career at 16 in the band of former Irakere vocalist and percussionist Oscar Valdés, who invited him to join Diakara as a founding member, pianist, and composer. They played at all the jazz clubs in Havana and participated in the Jazz Plaza International Festival in 2000 and 2001.
In 2002 he formed a jazz quintet made up of young people from the National Art School (ENA), with which they performed at the Jazz Festival that year, sharing the stage with saxophonist Janne Brunnet, Timbalaye and Ramón Valle, among others. In the following editions (2003 and 2004) he was presented as a guest with different formats.
In 2005 he joined Giraldo Piloto’s famed timba band, Klímax, with which he toured Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain), sharing the stage with Jerry Rivera.
While working with Klímax, Dayramir formed his own band, Dayramir & Habana enTrance. Towards the end of 2005 he won the Concurso de Jóvenes Jazzistas (Young Jazz Players Competition), Jojazz.
He recorded his first album with enTrance on Cuba’s Colibrí label. This album would later win three Cubadisco awards in the categories of Best Debut Album, Best Jazz Album, and Best Engineered Recording.
Dayramir González has explored the roots of danzón and contradanza (genres that were fashionable in the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Cuba).
He received a scholarship from one of the most prestigious jazz schools, the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 2013, Dayramir graduated Berklee Summa Cum Laude after receiving the Wayne Shorter Award for Most Outstanding Composer of the Year.
In recent years there’s been a wave of highly-talented Cuban pianists. Composer, arranger, producer and keyboardist Dayramir González Vicet is part of this group of skilled artists that has burst into the international music scene.
Dayramir González’s style incorporates jazz improvisation and Cuban musical forms. His compositions are modern, sometimes venturing into cutting edge fusion, featuring electric piano and synths, along with fabulous electric bass and electric guitar.
The Grand Concourse is full of pleasant surprises. He’ll follow a forward-looking Afro Cuban electric piece with an all-acoustic retro-style exquisite danzón. He also uses vibrant Afro Cuban chants and beautiful orchestrated classical strings on some of the pieces.
The album features an impressive cast of Cuban, Latin American and American musicians. Ther lineup includes: Dayramir González on Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers; Antoine Katz on electric bass; Alberto Miranda on electric bass; Carlos Mena on acoustic bass; Zwelakhe Duma-Bell Le Pere on acoustic bass; Zack Mullings on drums; Keisel Jiménez Leyva on drums; Jay Sawyer on drums ; Willy Rodriguez on drums; Raul Pineda on drums; David Rivera on drums; Paulo Stagnaro on congas, batá drums, surdo, cajón, güiro, pandero and miscellaneous percussion; Marcos López on congas and timbal; Mauricio Herrera on congas, batá drums; Pedrito Martínez on batá drums and lead vocals; Gregorio Vento on miscellaneous percussion and lead vocals; Yosvany Terry on alto saxophone and chékere; Harvis Cuni on trumpet; Oriente López on flute; Kalani Trinidad on flute; Rio Konishi on alto saxophone; Dean Tsur on alto and tenor saxophone; Edmar Colón on tenor saxophone; Ameya Kalamdani on electric and acoustic guitars; Tatiana Ferrer on backing vocals and viola; Jaclyn Sánchez on backing vocals; Nadia Washington on lead vocals and backing vocals; Ilmar López Gavilán on violin; Audrey Defreytas Hayes on violin; Jennifer Vincent on cello; Caris Visentin Liebman on oboe; and Amparo Edo Biol on French horn.
The Grand Concourse is a masterfully-crafted piano recording where contemporary American jazz and various seductive Cuban musical forms are combined with ease.
There are drummers, then there are drummers. Some go out of their way for exceptional things to happen to them. Tony Rosa, master conguero and master batá drummer, resided in the City of Los Angeles, California. He played batá for the Orisha community for 7 years with conga batá master, legend of legends, Francisco Aguabella, from Matanzas, Cuba.
Francisco was a very stern group leader; whether it was his Latin Jazz Orchestra or Folkloric group and his religious batá ceremonies. Francisco either liked you or he didn’t like you. It was always beneficial to be on his good side. Francisco had three Afro-Cuban folkloric groups in California: one in San Francisco, another one in Los Angeles, and a third in Sacramento. Sometimes I say ‘Masters’ are so good, that they actually are not teachers.
Francisco Aguabella’s apprentices have reached legend status and Tony Rosa is one of them. Tony Rosa performed with Francisco Aguabella’s Afro Cuban folkloric group in Los Angeles, along with batá master Virgilio Figueroa and Francisco Aguabella.
Virgilio Figueroa, also from Matanzas, Cuba, made a remark in one article I wrote for World Music Central, where Virgilio contributed on a tribute to Francisco Aguabella. He said that Francisco showed his apprentices Afro Cuban rhythms that are no longer played in Matanzas today!
Tony Rosa took the big step and moved to New York City. Being an accomplished conga drummer, he linked with great all time master timbalero Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre, with co-leader bass legend Andy Gonzalez, brother of legendary conguero and trumpet player Jerry Gonzalez. Tony also performed and recorded with the legendary group Conjunto Folklórico Nuevoriqueño Experimental and recently won a Grammy performing and recording with Arturo O’Farrill.
Let see what Tony has to say about his life and career.
Tony, tell me your background, or family background in Latin music and drumming.
I am Puerto Rican, born in New York City, raised in Los Angeles, California. My father is from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and my mother from Loiza, Puerto Rico. My influence comes from my mother, being a priestess of Elegua and taking me to all the African dance classes and “tambores” (religious drum ceremonies) as a kid.
How did you meet conga bata master Francisco Aguabella? Tell us some of your history with Francisco Aguabella.
I met Francisco Aguabella in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Francisco was very serious when it came to Cuban drumming (batá, yesa, etc…) He was very selective with who he would share and teach Matanzas-style drumming with.
So how was it that it occurred for you to go to New York City from Los Angeles?
I went to perform in New York with El Chicano. While there, I hung out, checking out other Latin bands. The music vibe in New York was intense at that time. Salsa was booming. I felt like I wasn’t growing musically in Los Angeles so I decided to move to New York in 1996.
You performed with Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre. What was your experience with that orchestra?
I started with Manny Oquendo y Conjunto Libre in 2000. Never ever did I think I would be with Libre steady. Manny was very picky when it came to conga players. That’s how I got respect from others; plenty wanted “that chair”. Laughs out loud.
What other bands have you played with in New York?
In New York I have performed and shared the stage with artist like Nelson Gonzales (legendary tres player), Miles Peña, Chocolate’s group Grupo Foklórico Nuevayorkino Experimental, DLG, Orlando “Puntilla” Rios, Bebo Valdés, MalPaso Dance Co. from Havana Cuba, Lou Soloff, among other artists.
What do you think is the difference in musicianship Los Angeles, vs. New York City?
There are great musicians and drummers everywhere, I think it’s all about attitude. New York musicians are aggressive, where Los Angeles musicians are more laid back. My opinion!
You won a Grammy. Tell us a little about that situation?
Winning a Grammy was very exciting and awesome. My first Grammy was with Cachao Master Sessions in Los Angeles 1994. I didn’t find out till later on. Conguero Richie Flores informed me. I am so proud to say I am a 4 times Grammy Award Winner, feeling blessed. The other 3 Grammys were with Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
What are you doing now musically in New York?
I currently have a 9-5 and traveling and still playing drums.
What does the future bring for Tony Rosa, master conguero and batalero, the musician?
I am currently working on my own project CD, recording. Latin Jazz with Afro Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms. Lots of drums…
Thank you, Tony Rosa for your interview. Now that I have up and coming musicians that have been in the circuit for a while, the next few interviews that I will be doing is with the middle generation of musicians, to expose their contributions to the Latin music community. Those musicians are Latin percussionist, orchestra leader and Puerto Rican Folkloric Director, California-based Jeri Quiñones from Vieques, Puerto Rico and legendary Latin bassist Lalo Vazquez from northern California, residing in Mexico City. There will also be other specialty interviews to surprise the readers as well.
Havana-based folklore group Vocal Baobab, taking their name from the Baobab, sacred tree of Africa, are known for their own highly individual take on Afro-Cuban chants and rumba.
Specializing in choral style arrangements, spiced up with the odd dash of more contemporary flavors such as reggae, their high energy performances are characterized by explosions of virtuoso dance, drumming and vocal improvisation.
Singing in Spanish and Yoruban, the seven performers of Vocal Baobab present a varied repertoire that connects their African roots with contemporary arrangements and rhythms, bringing out the afro in Afro-Cuban. Their work aims to preserve the spirit of the Yoruba and Afro-Cuban oral traditions.
With regular appearances at some of Havana’s most prestigious venues and at festivals all over the island, they were featured on Cuban television as one of the top folklore acts.
As well as attracting the commendation of esteemed authorities on Cuban culture throughout their career (Ros, Natalia Bolivar, Zenaida Armenteros, Corina Campos and Miguel Barnet) they have received accolades and played alongside luminaries in Cuban music such as Changuito, Compay Segundo and Mario Rivera (Mayito) of Los Van Van.
Los Mayores means “the elders” in Spanish. Mabagwe celebrates the Cuban rumba legacy in San Francisco. With a mix of Cuban asylum seekers who settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and their students, San Francisco has a thriving Cuban rumba scene. This project showcases the work of Cuban vocalist José Luis Gómez, Cuban percussionist Jesús Diaz, American percussionist Michael Spiro and their numerous friends and collaborators.
Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores” features a mix of Afro-Cuban chanting with call and response vocals and lyrics and spoken word in Spanish that illustrate the syncretic nature of Afro-Cuban sacred songs that mix African deities and Catholic saints. The first track specifically names many of the musicians that played a role in the development of Afro-Cuban music and have now passed.
The large majority of the album features vocals and a wide range of spellbinding Cuban drums. Mabagwe also includes a medley of three classic boleros that have been transformed into exquisite rumba songs featuring guitar. Again, here we find the Cuban melting pot, where African traditions meet Spanish musical influences.
Mabagwe was recorded by rumberos from three different areas: Cuba, the United States, and rumberos who recently emigrated to the United States from Cuba. These musicians provide diverse sounds, arrangements and inspirations.
The personnel on Mabagwe includes Michael Spiro on percussion; José Luis Gomez on lead and background vocals; Jesús Diaz on lead vocals, background vocals and percussion; Rogelio Ernesto Gatell Coto on lead and background vocals; Ivan Camblor on tres guitar; Colin Douglas on percussion; Jesús González on quinto; Jason McGuire on acoustic guitar; Beatriz Godinez Muñiz on lead and background vocals; Fito Reinoso on lead and background vocals; Genesie Reinoso on background vocals and Randel Villalongo on quinto.
Mabagwe – A Tribute To “Los Mayores” is a masterfully recorded album that provides celebrates Cuban tradition and continues to move it forward.
Ilú Keké is an album dedicated to the batá drums, a set of three barrel drums (itótele, iyá and okónkolo) used in sacred Afro-Cuban rituals as well as secular Cuban music. The album presents traditional batá drumming performed by elders and younger instrumentalists, spoken word and sacred Afro-Cuban chants as well.
The album tells the story of a set of religious drums known as ilú keké that were discovered in a small Cuban village and brought back. Ilú Keké. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta is collaborative work between British ethnomusicologist Amanda Villepastour and Cuban producer Luis J. Bran Acevedo.
The musicians featured in the album include the elders Justiliano Pelladito Urrutia on itótele; Pedro Pablo Tápanes González “Pello” on iyá; Pedro Aballi Torriente “Regalado” on okónkolo; the Ilú Keké drummers: Idalberto Berriel Pérez on itótele and acheré; Orlando Alvarez González on iyá; Eusebio Hernández Rodríguez “Nandito” on okónkolo; and José Luis García Fernández “Pepito” on okónkolo.
The vocalists are: Yaima de los Milagros Pelladito Portillo (female lead and chorus); René Sergrañe Menocal (male lead and chorus); Regla Pérez Herrera (chorus), Odalis Fuentes Pérez (chorus); and Yaimel García Poertillo (chorus).
The nicely-packaged album includes details about the history of the Ilú Keké, color photographs, track descriptions and credits.
Ilú Keké. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta is a great introduction to the fascinating world of the batá drum, recorded live in Cuba.