Tag Archives: Afro-Cuban music

Santana and Buika Back to the Roots

Santana – Africa Speaks (Concord Records, 2019)

Two iconic artists, guitarist Carlos Santana and vocalist Santana teamed up to record a superb album titled Africa Speaks .

Carlos Santana brought to the table his wide-ranging experience in mixing Afro-Cuban music with rock, jazz and other global music influences. Afro-Spanish singer Buika is deeply influenced by the African music of her parents, flamenco, jazz, soul and Afropop.

Santana – Africa Speaks

Together, Santana and Buika deliver a remarkable album, where two unique sounds meet and intertwine:  Santana’s highly recognizable electric guitar and Buika’s distinctive voice and singing style.

Santana was a pioneer in world fusion, combining Cuban music and rock in his early albums. Now, rock, African, flamenco and Afro-Latin sounds come together in an explosive mix on Africa Speaks.

This is music that I hold so dearly, and it’s not a stranger to me,” says Carlos Santana. “The rhythms, grooves and melodies from Africa have always inspired me. It’s in my DNA. If you take your inspiration from many, it’s called research. I researched this beautiful music from the African continent. They have a frequency that’s all their own. It’s funny, because when I play in Africa, people say, ‘How do you know our music?’ And I say, ‘How can I not know what I love?’”

Personnel: Carlos Santana on lead electric and rhythm guitars, backing vocals and percussion; Buika on lead vocals; Laura Mvula on backing vocals; Cindy Blackman Santana, on drums; Salvador Santana on keyboards; Tommy Anthony on rhythm guitar; Benny Rietveld on bass; Karl Perazzo on timbales, congas and percussion; David K. Mathews on Hammond B3 organ and keyboards; Andy Vargas on backing vocals; and Ray Greene on backing vocals.

Africa Speaks brings out of the best of Santana and Buika: memorable guitars and exceptionally expressive vocals rooted in African traditions. One of Santana’s finest albums in many years.

Buy Africa Speaks in the Americas

Buy Africa Speaks in Europe

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Les Moncada Chats with Cuban batá Master and Conguero Román Diaz

Román Diaz

Batá drumming is getting more and more popular these days. With a lot of the masters who transmitted the tradition of batá drumming having passed away, the one living master today is Román Diaz, born in Cuba, now residing in New York City.

In Cuba, Román performed professionally with the Cuban legend of Afro Cuban folklore, female vocalist Mercerditas Valdés. She was known for her grand knowledge and recordings of Afro-Cuban folklore and Orisha songs. She recorded with the late master batalero Jesús Pérez. (batá master Francisco Aguabella’s dear friends from Cuba.)

Mercerditas Valdés

Merceditas Valdés is also renowned for having been a part of Pablo “Okilakpa” Roches Batá Ensemble in Havana, Cuba that included masters of masters, Pablo Roche, Trinidad Terregoza, Raúl Diaz and a young okónkolo player Francisco Aguabella. This ensemble was unsurpassable and not many bataleros or musicians can say that they performed with them.

In Havana, Cuba, Pablo “Okilakpa” Roche’s batá Ensemble with vocalist Merceditas Valdés, behind the bataleros, front left on bata, Trinidad Terregoza, middle Raul Diaz, and on the right on okonolo is Francisco Aguabella. Legendary ensemble of batá. Those who have performed with any of these musicians have become legends.

To perform with one of their members, as in Merceditas Valdés is in itself “without words.” Merceditas Valdés spread Afro-Cuban Folkloric history and knowledge, along with her vocals, lyrics, dance steps and drummers that performed and recorded with her.

Román Diaz was one of those drummers, relocating from Cuba to New York, to furthermore blossom his career and to spread the word, music, history and Afro-Cuban folklore to New York City and the world in its entirety.

Román has performed and directed many ensembles, too many to mention in this interview and has continued to perform and direct ensembles here in the United States, previously in Europe and now in New York City.

Román Diaz – L’ó dá fún Bàtá, Diaz’s latest album released in 2015

Let’s see what Román Diaz has to say about his life and times in Cuba, and times with Merceditas Valdés and his present movement in New York City.

Román, can you tell me a little about your past, where you were born.

I was born in the City of Havana, Municipality of Central Havana in the Barrio “La Victoria”.

Ekpe/Abakua encounter, Brooklyn, NY 2001. Left to right: David Oquendo, Román Díaz, José “Pepe” Hernández (Ísue of Efori Nandibá Mosongo), Vicente Sanchez.

Can you tell me if any of your family members had a musical history or were musicians?

I had an uncle that was a percussionist/drummer and my grandfather a trovador (troubadour).

Right to left: Chekere: Luis Medina; next: “Kikirito”; José Fernando Almendares “Pito el Gago”, Román Díaz – Havana, Cuba, 1984
Díaz on quinto, participating in a Havana comparsa during carnival 1983 with the group los Marqueses de Atares, who are the subject of a film by Gloria Rolando.

Román, can you tell me how you started to drum or become a drummer in Cuba?

I used to go to the comparsas (groups of musicians and costumed dancers that participate in parades and celebrations) and play bell. It was a friend from school, that motivated me to play in the comparsas. He lived in Solar de Africa, his name was Conrado Lam.

With Yoruba Andabo in Colombia, early ’90s. Román is in the middle on Iya. At right is Mario Garcia Arango.
Román Diaz with Melvis Santa & Ashedi

I would like to ask you about the vocalist whom you used to perform with in Cuba, legendary female Afro-Cuban Folkloric Vocalist, Merceditas Valdés.

Well, it was always a dream for me to play with Merceditas. As a young kid I would dream, just to play with her (Merceditas).

Yoruba Andabo (an Afro-Cuban Folkloric Group) that I was performing with, she came to our group to sing. Yoruba Andabo was already formed, it was formed in the 1960’s. I was given this opportunity to perform with her. (since she was in our group).

Cuban master rumba players performing in New York City, playing Abakua. Left to right: ‘Goyo’ Hernandez, Román Díaz on bonko, ‘Maximino’, Pedrito Martinez, Miguel Chappotin, Juan de Dios (Director of Raices Profundas)

Who first started you on batá?

I learned with Humberto La Pelicula. He lives in Italy. When we lived in Cuba I used to go to Mariano #110, 10 de Octubre (October), that is where I learned.

What does the future bring for Román Diaz?

At the moment, I try to play in the best position that I can perform in, to keep studying music (drumming), because there may be something that I could learn.

The above video is Juan De Dios, filmed by the late Jerry Shiligi, courtesy of Michael Pluznick who also went to Cuba. This was from the year 1985. I, Les Moncada, along with other San Francisco Bay Area musicians sponsored the Cuba trip. This was at the cabaret inside Hotel Cabri, Salon Rojo (in the Red Salon). Román Diaz is playing tumbadora (conga) , he is the drummer in the middle.

Musical Credits for Román Diaz

Percussionist, Cuba:

La comparsa Los Marqueses de Atarés. La Habana. 1983-86.

La comparsa Componedores de Batea. La Habana. 1983-86.

Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte. La Habana. 1983-86.

Grupo Raíces Profundas. La Habana. 1984-86. Juan de Díos, director.

Grupo “T con E”. La Habana. 1986-88. Lázaro Valdés, director.
Concerts in Panamá; Madrid and Barajas (Spain); Peru.

Orquesta Sublime. La Habana. 1988-89.

Grupo Yoruba Andabo. La Habana. 1989-1995.
Performances in Bogota, Colombia; Toronto, Canadá.

Grupo Añakí. La Habana. 1995. “Pancho Quinto,” director.

Percussionist, Europe:

Zurich, Switzerland.
Escuela de percusión de Zurich de Billy ‘Cotún’. 1995.

Paris, France.
Private percussion school. 1995.

Ekpe-Abakuá encuentro en Paris, 2007. Musée Quai Branly.

Percussionist, United States of America:

“Domingos de Rumba,” Esquina Habanera, Union City, New Jersey. 1999-2003
David Oquendo, director.

Collaboration with the Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernández album, New York City, 2000.

Grupo “Omi Odara.” ‘Román Díaz, director. Lecture demonstration with Dr. Ivor Miller. Amherst College, Amherst, MA. April 2002. Funded by the Georges Lurcy Lecture Series Fund and the Willis D. Wood Fund, Amherst College.

Grupo “Omi Odara.” ‘Román Díaz, director. Lecture demonstration with Dr. Ivor Miller. The Bildner Center for Cuban Studies, CUNY Graduate Center, New York City. March 2002.

Grupo “Omi Odara.” ‘Román Díaz, director. Lecture demonstration with Dr. Ivor Miller. African Studies, Columbia University, New York City. February 2002.

Collaboration with Juan-Carlos Formell. New York City, 2003. “Misión Cubana.” Club Jazz Standard, Manhattan.

Grupo “Omi Odara.” ‘Román Díaz, director. Lecture demonstration with Dr. Ivor Miller. A multi-disciplinary conference. April 2003. DePaul University, Chicago. Sponsored by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Lecture demonstration conwith Dr. Ivor Miller. Román Díaz, singer. Black Studies: Methodology, Pedagogy, and Research. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library, February 2003.

International Festival of Yoruba Culture. San Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. 2004.

International Ekpe Festival. Calabar, Nigeria. December 2004. Collaboration with Dr. Ivor Miller. Sponsored by the Department of Tourism of Cross River State. Donald Duke, Governor.

Collaboration with Oriente López, pianista. Garden City, New Jersey. 2004.

Collaboration with percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo, singer Marlon Simón, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera. Philadelphia, 2004.

Collaboration with Paquito D’Rivera, director. “Obra Panamericana.” 2004. New York City; Newark, NJ.

Grupo “Omi Odara.” Lincoln Center, New York City. Román Díaz, director. August 2003. August 2005.

Latin Percussion representative. 2001. 2005.

“Noches Cubanas.” World Music Institute, New York University. April 2005. With Candido Camero, ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros; Orlando ‘Punilla’ Ríos.

Recordings:

Espíritu de la Habana, with Jane Burnett. Toronto, Canada. Won Juno award in 1992.

El callejón de los rumberos with Yoruba Andabo, Havana: (PM Records, 1993).

Aché IV with Mercedita Valdés, Havana (Egrem, 1995).

Aché V with Mercedita Valdés, Havana (Egrem 1996).

Del Yoruba al son with Yoruba Andabo, Havana (Magic Music/ Universal, 1997)

Montvale Rumba, New Jersey. (LP Productions, 2001)

Wemilere. Román Díaz, director. Recorded in 1996, Habana. Produced in 2002, Paris.

“Calle 54,” a 2000 documentary film and CD about Latin jazz by Spanish director Fernando Trueba.

Ay! que rico” with José Conde (2005)

Habana with Gema y Pavel (2006)

(R)evolucion” with José Conde (2007)
In Case Your Missed It, with Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits (2007)

Ye-dé-gbé – The Afro Caribbean Legacy with Yosvany Terry (2008)

Yo Se Que Te Gusta with Grupo Irék (2008)

Time Travel. With Raphael Cruz (2008)

Hot House: Cuban Tribute To Charlie Parker with Steve Gluzband (2008)

Herencia Judia with Benjamín Lapidus (2008)

Fiesta Percusiva with Victor Rendón (2008)

Across the Divide with Omar Sosa (2009)

Rumbos de la rumba with Pedrito Martínez, New York (2009)

Okobio Enyenisón with Proyecto Enyenisón Enkama (2009)

I would like to thank the Maestro Román Diaz for his patience & time he spent for this interview, Román is from Cuba and speaks Spanish. Therefore, I translated the interview as in many cases. Gracias Román for his preservation of the batá and Afro-Cuban folklore.

Me gustaría agradecer al Maestro Román Díaz por el tiempo que dedicó a esta entrevista y gracias por la preservación del batá y el folklore afrocubano.

Les Moncada

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Angelique Kidjo’s Spirited Celebration of Afro-Latin Music

Angelique Kidjo – Celia (Verve/Universal Music France, 2019)

As a young girl, Angelique Kidjo was inspired by Cuban singer and salsa star Celia Cruz. Angelique’s new album, Celia , recreates some of Celia’s most popular songs. It is also a celebration of Afro-Latin music as it includes salsa, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian material.

Angelique Kidjo – Celia

For this recording, Angelique sings in Spanish and chose some of the most Yoruban-influenced songs by Celia Cruz. Angelique’s band features well known musicians from Benin, the United States, the UK and Nigeria, including Nigerian Afrobeat trailblazer Tony Allen on drums, American musician Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, British jazz outfit Sons of Kemet, and acclaimed Beninese act Gangbé Brass Band.

Celia is a colorful and beautifully-delivered tribute to one of the essential vocalists from the 20th century.

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The Timelessly Crafted Cuban Musical Poetry of Eme Alfonso

Eme Alfonso – Voy (independent release, 2018)

Voy is the third album by the multifaceted Eme Alfonso. She is one of the most extraordinary young artists in Cuba. She’s a singer-songwriter and composer that grew up in one of the most influential music families in Cuba. Her parents founded Síntesis, a highly innovative band that started as progressive rock band that brought together classic English progressive rock and Cuban music. Síntesis evolved into a formidable group that mixed Afro-Cuban music and jazz-rock and Eme grew up listening to this band and later joined it as a very young singer and keyboardist.

Eme Alfonso – Voy

Eme has been involved in the celebration of the Cuban melting pot, a cultural diversity project called “Para Mestizar, where she celebrates Cuba’s African and Spanish roots and other influences.

Voy was recorded in Havana (Cuba) and Sao Paulo (Brazil). The recording includes some of the finest musicians in the Cuban music scene and a superb Brazilian percussionist.

Masterfully-crafted and elegant, Voy showcases the talent of a groundbreaking artist that incorporates roots music which is not nostalgic, and looks forward, creating an edgy sound that injects captivating Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian percussion, rock, soul, jazz and European music elements.

Eme Alfonso writes beautiful, charming poetic songs that hook you in. Her exceptionally expressive vocals are primarily in Spanish although she also adds Yoruba chants with choruses provided by her parents, who are regarded are the best chorus singers in Cuba.

Personnel: Eme Alfonso on vocals; Jorge Aragón on piano and keyboard; Harold López-Nussa on piano;  Roberto Luis Gómez on electric and acoustic guitar and banjo;  Alain Ladrón de Guevara on drums; Julio César González on electric bass; Yaroldi Abreu on Cuban percussion; Luizhino Do Jeje on Brazilian percussion; Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums; Yandi Martinez on acoustic bass; Carlos Alfonso, Ele Valdés and Carlos Angel Valdés on choruses; Arístides Porto on clarinet; Aylin Pino on violin; Benda Chávez Aguiar on violin; Maria Angélica Pérez on viola; and Claudia Carrillo on cello.

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Las Maravillas de Mali to Perform in London in 2019

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).

More information about the band.

The Barbican Centre is located on Silk Street, London, Greater London.
Barbican Box Office: 0845 120 7550 and www.barbican.org.uk

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Artist Profiles: Las Maravillas de Mali

Las Maravillas de Mali

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.

Discography:

Maravillas De Mali (Disco Stock, 1968)
Maravillas De Mali (Maestro Sound, 1999)

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Eme Alfonso Releases “Oroko” Single and Music Video

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.

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Artist Profiles: Eme Alfonso

Eme Alfonso

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 Alfonso

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 was released in fall 2018. Voy incorporated Afro-Cuban, jazz-rock, Brazilian and European music influences.

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.

Discography:

Señales (2008)
Eme (2012)
Voy (Eme Alfonso, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Dayramir González

Dayramir González

 

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.

 

Dayramir González

 

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.

Discography:

Dayramir & Habana enTrance (Producciones Colibrí, 2007)
Solo tú y yo, with Giraldo Piloto & Klimax (EGREM, 2008)
Todo Está Bien, with Giraldo Piloto & Klimax (Bis Music, 2009)
Octave (Jazz Revelation Records, 2011)
The Grand Concourse (Machat Records, 2018)

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Dayramir González as a Formidable Orchestrator and Bandleader

Dayramir González – The Grand Concourse (Machat Records, 2018)

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.

Buy The Grand Concourse

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