Tag Archives: Cuban music

Artist Profiles: AfroCubism

Eliades Ochoa with Afrocubism in Raleigh, 2012 – photo by Angel Romero

AfroCubism was an ensemble of up to 14 master musicians from West Africa and Cuba brought together by the producer of Buena Vista Social Club.

The group included Eliades Ochoa (Cuba), guitarist and Buena Vista Social Club star; kora maestro Toumani Diabaté (Msali); legendary guitarist Djelimady Tounkara (Mali); balafon wizard Fode Lassana Diabaté (Guinea); ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate (Mali); José Ángel Martínez on acoustic bass (Cuba); Jorge Maturell (Cuba) on congas, bongos, cowbell; Onsel Odit (Cuba) on backing vocals and rhythm guitar; and Eglis Ochoa (Cuba) on maracas, güiro, backing vocals.

AfroCubism

The ensemble released the album AfroCubism in 2010 on World Circuit Records.

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Cuban A Cappella Mavericks Vocal Sampling Announce Summer 2020 Tour

Vocal Sampling

Vocal Sampling, the Cuban masters of vocal music have announced summer 2020 tour dates in Europe and China. The Cuban group uses its voices as musical instruments. Attending a Vocal Sampling concert is like participating in a magic show.

The group performs a wide range of sounds, emulating traditional Cuban musical instruments, that come exclusively from their voices.

Summer Tour 2020

July 10: Rheingau festival (Germany)

July 15: Masala Festival Hannover (Germany)

July 17: Effeltrich (Germany)

July 18 – 31: China tour

August 1: Bardentreffen Festival – Nurenberg (Germany) 

August 7 and 8: Kassel (Germany)

August 12 – 15: Nis Festival (Serbia)

More about Vocal Sampling

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Interview with Cuban Keyboardist and Composer Roberto Fonseca

Innovative Cuban musician and composer Roberto Fonseca has a new album titled Yesun. It is a project where he brings together a wide range of musical influences, such as Cuban traditions, jazz, classical music, funk, reggaeton and electronic music. Fonseca also used various keyboards aside from piano, including synthesizers. Roberto Fonseca talked to World Music Central about Yesun and his career.

Roberto Fonseca – Photo by Alejandro Azcuy

How and when did you start working professionally in the music world?

I started at age 15 at jazz festivals and jazz clubs in Havana.

What do you think are the fundamental elements of your musical style?

Spirituality, melody, rhythm and feeling.

How has your musical expression evolved over the years?

Thanks to the diverse influences, I have followed the philosophy of “Express more with less notes” and this has made me enter into very special sound dimensions.

Roberto Fonseca – Yesun

Tell us a little about Yesun.

Yesun is an album that reflects my influences, my way of thinking. There are many real stories inside and it has a great emotional charge. They have a great strength of hope and sensitivity and is the result of a hard work of several years that has been simmering and I have surrounded myself with great professionals, both musicians, singers, technical team and production.

It is a very broad project that not only stays in music since we have also worked in the visual parts, and I do not only refer to video clips (shortly we will release the second single / video clip of the song Cadenas (featuring Danay Suarez) but also the production of live videos. Each song has a visual that expresses the feeling of the song, this can be seen in my concerts; similarly, we have created a poster designed exclusively for each venue (something totally unique) and the Tour apparel has been designed for us by a great designer from Barcelona called Josep Abril.

Returning to the album, it is a work in which I combine different genres and incorporate more types of keyboards. I try to show that most modern Cuba through jazz.

Roberto Fonseca – Photo by Alejandro Azcuy

Yesun’s songs have been recorded in several different countries: France, Spain, Brazil, the United States. Why did you use several recording studios and is there a difference between the material according to the studio and country?

Most of the album was recorded in Paris, in Meudon’s studio (with Julien Besséres) the material they have is magnificent and there is a very familiar atmosphere that allows creativity to have incredible freedom and spontaneity.

The guests have recorded in their countries of residence. Today, thanks to technology, it is easier to make this type of collaboration without having to make a complicated trip and I also consider it very important that each person who brings their color and sound feel comfortable where they are, I think you can give a very positive sense to the contribution of your culture on the disc.

In your album Yesun you play several types of keyboards. How do you decide which instrument you will use in each theme? Which one do you like the most?

Indeed, it is just what I said earlier about the incorporation of new keyboards, it really depends on the sound of each instrument and according to the spirit of the track I choose one or the other. For example I love the sound diversity of the Moogs.

Roberto Fonseca – Photo by Alejandro Azcuy

In addition to playing keyboards, you also sing without lyrics, a style similar to what Pedro Aznar did with Pat Metheny. What are your influences on the vocal side and do you plan to record your voice more?

Actually, my biggest influence in this vocal aspect is my mother Meredes Cortes, although I also have a lot of influence from Abbey Lincon and to name other great ones that I admire would say Camarón de la Isla, Freddy Mercury, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo…

Do you give classes or workshops?

There was a time that I taught jazz and traditional Cuban music, but for a few years now I am 100% dedicated to my career.

Where do you live now?

In Havana, Cuba.

If you could bring together the musicians or groups that fascinate you most to record a record or collaborate live, who would you call?

Ibrahim Ferrer, Miles Davis, Cachaíto Lopez, Dexter Gordon, Regina Carter, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Jack DeJohnette, etc. The list can be endless.

What other projects are working on?

One with symphony orchestra, soundsystem, with Joe Claussell.

More about Roberto Fonseca

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Artist Profiles: Alexander Abreu

Alexander Abreu

Alexander Abreu Manresa was born September 6, 1976 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. He comes from a family of nonprofessional musicians, including his grandfather who taught him to play the tres guitar.

As a boy, he wanted to be an athlete, but his mother took him to a school that tested abilities and he got the highest scores in music. Alexander started studying trumpet at age 11 and credits his mother for inspiring him to practice and pursue his career.

Originally, Abreu wanted to give up the trumpet and take up the flute, but his teachers understood his talent and insisted, predictively, that he stick to the brass instrument. At 18, the young musician moved to Havana to continue his studies at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA), a breeding ground for Cuba’s best musicians. He graduated in 1994 and later would return as a professor, teaching trumpet.

In Havana, Abreu found himself at the focal point of the timba music upsurge that rocked Cuba in the early 1990s, marking an exciting evolution in the way Afro-Cuban dance music, or salsa, was performed. He played for six years with the innovative band of singer Paulito FG, one of the leading stars of the timba wave. Abreu’s skills were forged in this powerful ensemble, working together with two musicians he considers his greatest influences – Carmelo Andrés, his trumpet teacher; and producer/arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto. Several band-mates from this influential ensemble would go on to form part of Havana D’Primera, including Ceruto.

Abreu has also played and/or recorded with virtually every major act during one of the most exciting and creative eras in Cuban music. He was a member of the popular and esteemed band led by singer Isaac Delgado, who now lives in Miami.

Alexander Abreu

As a highly sought-after studio musician, Abreu has recorded with top acts in different styles, including famed dance band Los Van Van and powerful fusion group Irakere. He has also worked with poetic singer-songwriters such as Pablo Milanés and Amaury Pérez, who played trombone in Havana D’Primera. In addition, Abreu was recruited for previous all-star projects, such as the touring timba band named Team Cuba and the Grammy-winning Cuban roots recording “La Rumba Soy Yo.”

After the Cuban dance music scene started declining in 2000, Abreu traveled to Europe and spent time in Denmark, where he was invited to give master classes in trumpet and Cuban music at the jazz conservatory of Copenhagen. During an extended stay there, he joined Grupo Dansón, a band composed of Cuban and Danish musicians, serving as arranger and composer. Abreu appeared in Europe’s top music festivals and in 2002 he performed on the same stage with Sting, Lou Reed and James Brown as part of the benefit concert “Pavarotti & Friends.”

The time he spent performing abroad helped Abreu avoid the consequences of other Cuban timba bands, often considered too tailored to a home crowd and too hard for outsiders to dance to.

“I believe that to live outside of Cuba for a time has been one of the keys to the hallmark of this group,” said Abreu of his band. “Because I learned how to interact with people that don’t speak the language. I learned how to spread that same happiness and energy….You have to be precise with the rhythms and arrangements. You have to make sure that they are understandable, that they are solid, that they are clear, so that people understand.”

By 2007, Abreu was back in Havana putting together his own band. The aspiring bandleader returned home with only an developing concept, inspired by a New York salsa band he had seen in Copenhagen. There, he had watched the Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a group of veteran salsa musicians who came together with a common determination – to recapture some of the original sound and excitement of the great salsa bands of the 1970s. The group, led by pianist Oscar Hernandez who had played with salsa greats such as Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades, managed to generate enough nostalgia to initiate a one-band salsa revival, touring the world and recording various popular albums featuring star vocalists such as Blades.

That served as an inspiration to do something similar with session musicians in Havana,” said Abreu. “It gave me the strength to come to Cuba and say, ‘I can do it here.’ From that idea, basically, Habana D’Primera is born.”

Abreu brought together an ensemble of experienced musicians who had played with some of the best bands of that exhilarating era, a golden age of contemporary Cuban salsa and timba. Concerned about the decline of Afro-Cuban dance music, Abreu decided to continue the great tradition started by the very bands he had played with, such as Paulito FG y Su Elite and Isaac Delgado.

Since 2000, many of the leading timba stars had left Cuba, including Manolin, Isaac Delgado and Carlos Manuel, all of whom were Abreu’s colleagues and collaborators. In the meantime, young fans in Cuba flocked to foreign pop music styles such as rock, rap and reggaeton, leaving the legacy of Cuba’s rich native dance music to decay.

Alexander Abreu and Havana D’Primera

For Abreu and his new band, the challenge of generating a revival was overwhelming. No new Cuban dance band had managed to break into the top tiers of popular music acts since the turn of the century, when Cesar Pedroso broke away from Los Van Van and formed his own band, Pupy y Los Que Son, Son. Record companies, radio stations and nightclubs all focused on the latest fads, especially reggaeton which had removed salsa off the music charts. Amazingly, so many deejays had turned to reggaeton that there was no place to dance salsa in the capital of the country where the music was invented.

The crisis gave Abreu the opportunity to build a grass-roots fan base just like the timba pioneers had done at the start of the dance music movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was known as “the special period” in Cuban history, a time of extreme economic difficulty when bands were forced to practice in the dark due to frequent blackouts and try out their material on stage due to a lapse in record production. For a while, Cuban dance music was all about the live performance, a need that helped stimulate creativity. Following his predecessors, Havana D’Primera began working live shows, building a following the old-fashioned way, one fan at a time.

Before long, fans were packing Havana d’Primera’s regular Tuesday shows at Casa de la Musica, a club and cultural center in the residential Miramar section of Havana. Even though they had not yet released a record, loyal fans memorized song lyrics from the live shows.

The weekly concerts were essential to the band’s development. Soon, the unknown band started to develop an underground buzz.

Alexander Abreu y Havana D’Primera – Haciendo Historia

Havana D’Primera recorded its first album Haciendo Historia in 2009.

In 2012, Abreu performed as an actor in the movie 7 Days in Havana, in the section “Tuesday Jam Session” with Serbian film director and musician Emir Kusturica.

The album “Cantor del Pueblo” won the Cubadisco Award in 2018.

Discography:

Haciendo Historia (EGREM, 2009)
Pasaporte (Páfata Productions, 2013)
La Vuelta al Mundo (Páfata Productions, 2015)
Cantor del Pueblo (Páfata Productions, 2018)

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Accessible Nueva Trova from Alex Cuba

Alex Cuba – Sublime

Alex Cuba – Sublime (Caracol Records, 2019)

Canada-based Cuban singer-songwriter is known for his pop-leaning style, including catchy hooks commonly used in Spanish-language commercial productions. There are undeniable Cuban elements as well, such as Afro-Cuban percussion, Spanish-influenced guitars, intimate nueva trova poetic lyrics and song delivery. Additionally, Alex uses rich jazz harmonies.

Highlights include a bolero duo with Buena Vista Social Club star Omara Portuondo and a love song with nueva trova pioneer Pablo Milanés.

Sublime is an acoustic effort.  “Acoustic music just goes with my soul,” explains Alex. “I’m not against synths and electronics, but I’m not interested in just making a big noise and getting people to dance. I wanted the songs on this album to have some breathing space. I suggest things, leave things at a subliminal level. Every listen will tell you something else.”

Buy Sublime

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Artist Profiles: Antonio Machin

Antonio Machín

One of the early legends of Cuban music, Antonio Machín led his own acoustic band in the 1920s, and eventually emigrated from the island, first to the United States, and finally to Madrid (Spain), just before World War II. Machín lived and recorded in the Spanish capital for several decades until his death in 1977.

Antonio Lugo Machín was born in 1900 in Sagua La Grande, in the province of Santa Clara, on the northern part of the island nation of Cuba. His mother was a colored Cuban and his father was European, a Spaniard from Galicia.

Machín’s early years were very difficult and he was forced to work at the age of eight to help pay some of his father’s numerous debts. One day, he was in the street by his house singing quietly. A priest that walked by heard him and immediately encouraged him to sing at a party. He sang Ave María by Schubert. From that day on Machín was determined to become a singer.

Machín’s ambition was to sing opera, but this was very difficult for a poor colored Cuban at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, he focused on singing popular music.

At the age of twenty he had become the idol of the young women in his neighborhood. Machín would sing them serenades under the moonlight. He worked as a mason. Machín also traveled across Cuba as a singer. In 1926 he moved to Havana were he met a Spaniard named señor José, who helped him get a contract to sing at a small cafe in Havana.

Living in Havana, Machín was exposed to many kinds of music. He joined several quartets and sextets. One of the most important ones was Trío Luna, which he formed together with Enrique Peláez and Manuel Luna. In 1926 Machín formed a duo with the famous guitar player and singer Miguel Zaballa. They performed at various night clubs and live radio shows. Their fame was such that in 1927 Don Azpiazu, leader of Orquesta Habana, added the duo to the performances held at the Casino Nacional de La Habana.

At the age of 27 Machín became a vocalist at the Casino Nacional of Havana, the first singer of color ever to do so. The Casino Nacional was the place where you could find upper class Cuban and American land owners, movie stars, millionaires and diplomats, who danced and sought romance.

In 1929 Machín and his friend Daniel Sánchez founded a sextet that also included Alejandro “Mulatón” Rodríguez. They made several recordings. A year later, Machín toured the United States with the Casino Nacional orchestra. On April 26 the band played at the Palace Theater in New York. Machín sang El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor), the first Cuban song to become a national hit in the United States.

In New York, Machín proved to be a prolific artist, recording over 400 songs with the legendary Cuarteto Machín, comprised of claves, tres, guitar, and trumpet. Although the members of the band varied, Machín was frequently accompanied by his old friend, guitarist Daniel Sánchez, who sang duets with him on the majority of the recordings.

Machín is one of the finest Cuban bolero singers that ever lived. Several compilations of his work, covering various phases of Machín’s career are available from various Spanish and American labels.

Discography;

Las 50 Mejores Grabaciones de Antonio Machín en Discophon (1903-1977)
Tributo Al Bolero Cubano
Antonio Machín, Sus 20 Grandes Éxitos

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Artist Profiles: Cachao

Cachao

Bassist and composer Israel López Valdés, better known as Cachao, was born on September 14, 1918. At the age of 12, Cachao had made his debut with the Havana Philharmonic, standing on a wooden box playing the contrabass alongside his brother Orestes, a founding member of the orchestra. By the age of 19, he had joined Arcano y Sus Maravillas, one of the most popular danzon orchestras in Cuba. Little did Cachao and his brother know that they would change Latin music and create a rhythm called mambo.

Cachao and his brother, experimenting with this type of music, added a nuevo ritmo part and called the result “mambo.” This took place in the late 1930s, and it revolutionized Latin music.

By the 1950s, Cachao had formed his own group and continued playing with other bands in Cuba, lending his composing skills to other orchestras. It is said that between his brother and him, a staggering 3,000 danzons were written. Cachao also composed “El Danzon de Buena Vista,” the title track for Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album.

In 1957, Cachao again blew everybody’s mind by creating the descargas, or jam sessions, that had the top musicians in Cuba performing together. These recordings were so popular that in the 1960s, Al Santiago created the Alegre All-Stars, and in the 1970s the Fania All Stars were born.

After Castro took over Cuba, Cachao left the country for good. When he arrived to New York, he started playing with such artists as Charlie Palmieri, Tito Rodriguez and the Alegre All-Stars with Tito Puente. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, he was all over New York City. In the late 1970s, Cachao moved to Miami, where he virtually went into obscurity, relegated to playing small clubs and weddings.

It wasn’t until 1989, when a young and talented Cuban actor named Andy Garcia came into López’s life, that the world would know who this great master musician was. Garcia wanted a taste of his beloved Cuba and its music for “The Lost City,” a movie he wanted to produce. The two artists collaborated and the end result was the highly acclaimed documentary, Cachao. Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos in 1993. The film caused such a stir that Cachao was asked to perform at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

In 2003, Cachao won a Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album together with Bebo Valdés and Patato Valdés for El Arte del Sabor. Cachao won a further Grammy in 2005 for his own work, Ahora Si!.

Israel López Valdés died on March 22, 2008.

Discography:

Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature “Descargas” (Panart, 1957)
Con el ritmo de Cachao (Duarte/Kubaney, 1958), reissued as Camina Juan Pescao (Duher, 1974)
El gran Cachao (Duarte/Kubaney, 1959), reissued as Cachao y su Típica Vol. 2 (Duher, 1974)
Jam Session with Feeling (Maype, 1962)
Descarga (Maype, 1963)
Cuban Music in Jam Session (Bonita, 1966)
Descargas con el ritmo de Cachao (Modiner, 1974)
Cachao y su Descarga ’77’ (Salsoul, 1977)
Dos (Salsoul, 1977)
Maestro de Maestros Cachao y su Descarga ’86 (Tania, 1986)
Master Sessions, Volume 1 (Crescent Moon, 1994)
Master Sessions, Volume 2 (Crescent Moon, 1995)
Cuba linda (EMI, 2000)
Ahora sí (Univisión, 2004)
The Last Mambo (Sony, 2011)


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The Rhythm Foundation Announces First Set of 2019-2020 World and Roots music Concerts in Miami Beach

The Rhythm Foundation has revealed some of the 2019-2020 season world music and jazz concerts at the historic North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach, Florida.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

RAM
Legendary Haitian voodoo-rock group
North Beach Bandshell

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Italian Hit Week Music Showcase ft. Boomdabash & Fulminacci
North Beach Bandshell
presented with the Italian Trade Commission

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Issac Delgado
Cuban salsa star & his orchestra
North Beach Bandshell
Presented with FUNDarte

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Heavy Pets Holiday Ball
The Heavy Pets & Roosevelt Collier
North Beach Bandshell
Presented with Brotherly Love Productions

Thursday, January 23, 2020

3MA
with Ballaké Sissoko (Mali), Driss El Maloumi (Morocco), Rajery (Madagascar)
North Beach Bandshell

Fri-Sun, February 14-16, 2020

GroundUp Music Festival
hosted by Snarky Puppy
North Beach Bandshell
Presented with GroundUp Music

More at The Rhythm Foundation.

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Artist Profiles: Xiomara Laugart

Xiomara Laugart

Xiomara Laugart was born in Guantanamo province of Cuba in 1960. She began her career at the age of 15, performing several different expressions of traditional and contemporary Cuban music. In the 1980s, she entered the Adolfo Guzmán Contest for Cuban Music where she was granted the highest award. She went on to win other international awards at Poland’s Sopot Festival in 1985, and at Germany’s Dresden Festival in 1986.

After recording self-titled albums in Cuba, she moved to Rome and later to New York. Soon after, Laugart was invited to be the guest singer on Deep Rumba by Kip Hanrahan, Latin Lullaby by Ellipsis Art, and on Jacky Terrason’s album What It Is.

Laugart is known for her work with the group Yerba Buena, whose first album President Alien was nominated for a Grammy Award. Yerba Buena’s second album Island Life, a brilliant mix of rhythms to which Laugart added her African and Caribbean legacy, was released in 2005.

Laugart was cast in 2007 as Celia Cruz in the Off-Broadway musical, Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz, a tribute to the life of the late Cuban-American singer, which ran at New World Stages until May 2008.

On Tears and Rumba, her third album on Chesky Records, Xiomara Laugart performed some Cuban classics from the golden era of the 1920s. Tears and Rumba is an introduction to the singer-songwriter’s driven trova style from the city of Santiago and features works by two extremely influential composers of that era, María Teresa Vera and Miguel Matamoros. Axel Tosca Laugart, the singer’s son, was responsible for the new arrangements.

Discography:

President Alien, with Yerba Buena (Razor & Tie, 2003)
Island Life, with Yerba Buena (Razor & Tie, 2005)
Xiomara (Chesky, 2006)
La Voz (Chesky, 2010)
Tears and Rumba (Chesky, 2015)

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Spontaneous, Free-Flowing Cuban Guitar Sessions

Ortega, Silveira and Elizarde – Espontáneo: The Abdala Session

Ortega, Silveira and Elizarde – Espontáneo: The Abdala Sessions (Ansonica Records, 2018)

Guitarist and producer Dayron Ortega Guzmán invited his Cuban colleagues Maykel Elizarde Ruano (tres guitar) and Eduardo Silveira (percussion) to a jam session at Abdala Studios in Havana. As the title indicates, the music recorded in Espontáneo: The Abdala Sessions is a set of spontaneous jam sessions captured in the studio

Dayron started by playing melodies. Maykel and Eduardo listened and responded with embellishments. The music is a sampling of the best of Cuban music, bringing together Afro-Cuban rhythms, rural traditions and Spanish influenced guitars.

Espontáneo: The Abdala Session delivers a beautifully-crafted of Cuban guitar pieces.

Buy Espontáneo: The Abdala Session

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