Orquesta el Macabeo: Old school salsa for the 21st Century

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By Don Macica.

When I first heard Orquesta el Macabeo live in 2013, I was transported to a place that lived more in my imagination than anywhere else. I had seen documentaries about the birth of salsa in New York City and enjoyed every gritty, grainy frame. These films hinted at what it must have been like when these brash young upstarts first rose from the streets of the Bronx and Spanish Harlem. Listening to Orquesta el Macabeo, however, made me feel like I was there. I was blown away. This was a far cry from your average ‘salsa night’ in a club.

They’ve only been back to Chicago once, playing Agúzate’s Afro-Caribbean Improvised Music Festival later that same year. On September 4, however, I’ll return once again to el barrio when Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center presents Orquesta el Macabeo in a benefit concert.

Before the 11 musicians who make up the band got together, they each had a musical history in anything but salsa: hardcore, metal, ska, reggae, hip-hop. And yet, as they put it on their SoundCloud page, “They do not mix salsa with those music genres. This is straight up Salsa.”

“I was touring the world with different hardcore punk bands, and I come from a DIY background. I had an idea that when I got home I would gather some friends from other bands and see if we could jam some of our favorite Puerto Rican songs, like you would hear in any bar.” This is Macabeo’s founder and director, bassist José lbañez, speaking to me by phone from his home in Trujillo Alto, PR. “Originally, the idea was just for us, with no expectations, and if somebody would let us play in a bar or something, great. But all of us being DIY people, we soon wanted to write our own songs. We got really excited, doing things our way, learning but not feeling constrained by rules of what we could or couldn’t do.

“We got our first show in a little bar that only fit 40 people. We only had three songs, so we repeated them 2 or 3 times! People seemed to like it right away. I have a home studio, so we started working on writing more and making our first record.” That record eventually came out in 2010 as Salsa Macabra, followed by El Entierro in 2011 and Lluvia con sol in 2013.

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Bending or breaking rules is not a minor issue, and even now there are serious salseros who don’t believe Orquesta el Macabeo is doing it right, just as there are purist rockers who think Macabeo is only joking around. But, as lbañez notes, “Normal people who have normal lives listen to the music and like it. They don’t care if it’s this way or the other way.” Most rockers in Puerto Rico, he says, like salsa just fine. I can’t help but compare this attitude to early salsa’s creators, who took whatever they needed from tropical music—son, bomba y plena, merengue, boleros—and adapted it to their particular situation as urban dwellers also familiar with rock and R&B. In other words, the ‘rules’ of salsa weren’t written yet.

In addition to their dynamic live sound and unconventional stage presence, there is another quality that makes Orquesta el Macabeo stand out, and it is one that owes as much to punk as it does to the early days of salsa. Their lyrics have a reality to them, describing everyday life in circumstances that are sometimes harsh. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real. At the same time, they wield a sharp sense of humor as one of their weapons.

Willie Colón once said, in defining salsa as a thing culturally separate from the Cuban son that it sprang from, called it “… a manifestation of cultural resistance… its melodies are essentially urban. Salsa is like a newspaper, a chronicle of our lives in the big city, and that’s why it talks about such topics as crime, drugs, pain, uprootedness and even about our history of exploitation and underdevelopment.” In a different context, it’s why Chuck D of Public Enemy called rap the “Black CNN”, and the same spirit is at the heart of hardcore punk as well, a way of articulating anger at an unjust system. It’s protest music.

Decades later, lbañez says much the same thing. “I like to listen to music that says something to me, and I want to write music like that, stories from the neighborhood, stories of the city, the social situation… things that mean something to me. Our songs are not empty. They have something to say.” In addition to lbañez, another six members contribute lyrics and music, all of it original and all of it reflective of a continuing DIY ethos.

Macabeo isn’t doing protest songs per se, but they are not turning a blind eye to society either. Se Pone Difícil describes someone who lives off the system but doesn’t give back, and predicts their demise. Cogiendo pon is a Puerto Rican expression for claiming achievement through others efforts. Alacrán compares gangsters to scorpions and warns of their sting. Perhaps the most poignant of all is Lluvia con sol, which deftly sketches out the difficulties of simply living your life in a system that leaves you powerless. The video for Lluvia starkly contrasts these lyrics against cheerful images of vintage tourism, introduced as “… the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a land of song and laughter, a tiny bit of the United States in the warm seas of the Caribbean,” and later extols the island’s progress “under the guidance of the Stars and Stripes.” Ouch.

Yet, in the midst of this, there is time to dance, time to boast and time to party with songs like Macabiónico, La Conga, Swing and La Dieta, which extols the glories of delicious and fatty food. As someone who believes chuletas can-can is both the most delectable and dangerous recipe ever invented, I can relate.

Our conversation turns to Orquesta el Macabeo’s recently released 7” single for Spain’s Vampisoul label, which salsifies a pair of punk rock songs from mid-90s Spain, Eutanasia and En la luna. “I was into heavy metal first, then hardcore around the age of 15” says lbañez. “These bands [La Polla Records and Eskorbuto] were very popular at the time, and because they sung in Spanish I could understand them. They were among my favorites.” He continues “I think it’s important to pay these bands a tribute and make these songs we love so much part of our own history. Music has no limits or barriers, and we show it this way: turning these two 100% punk songs into Latin tropical rhythms, while respecting the atmosphere of the original tracks.”

 

The other new Orquesta el Macabeo song couldn’t be more different from Eutanasia. La puerta está abierta is a flat out gorgeous tune performed as a duet with Mimi Maura, a Puerto Rico born singer who splits her time between San Juan and Buenos Aires. It’s structured a bit like the Miguel Matamoros classic Lagrimas Negras, with Maura’s languid bolero giving way to a cha-cha-cha chorus about halfway in. Even here, though, a DIY approach is in play. Maura comes from a rock & ska background and is the partner of Sergio Rotman, a member of Argentina’s legendary Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. “Sergio loves our project and asked us to make a song together with Mimi, which we totally accepted, as we love them and it is a good way to be known in Argentina.” says Ibañez. “He then put out Siete años macabros to expose us in his country, a compilation of our three albums plus the bonus track with Mimi.” In a final homegrown twist, the song itself was written by Maura’s father, Puerto Rican singer Mike Acevedo, back in the 1960s.

 

The band’s DIY principles have remained firm since its founding in 2008. lbañez explains, “We write our own songs, make our own music, record in our home studio and distribute our own albums. Our decisions are still made as friends getting together to play music, not dictated by a business scheme dreamed up in an office. We don’t want a record company telling us what to do.”

Lest all of this sound too serious, don’t worry. Salsa is, at heart, designed for dancing, and a Macabeo show is first and foremost a dance party. Given that the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center can hold several hundred people, this should be a very big party indeed.

Orquesta el Macabeo, Friday, September 4, 8pm at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, 4046 W. Armitage, Chicago. Tickets at srbcc.org.

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About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Concert preview: “You can’t imagine Cuban music without Los Van Van.”

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By Don Macica.

Cuba lives large in the American imagination. Likewise, Cuba has been fascinated by its neighbor to the north. After the revolution, the U.S. government kept Cuban culture out of our view. On the island, though, antennas were up and pointed north. Juan Formell, founder of Los Van Van, was among those listening.

Los Van Van was born out of something of a mutiny when Formell, then the arranger of the popular charanga group Orquesta Revé, had a classic case of “artistic differences” with the orquesta’s namesake, Elio Revé. Formell had joined the already existing group in 1967 and immediately set about tinkering with the charanga formula, which at the time was dominated by the great Orquesta Aragon. Formell was as familiar with jazz and the Beatles as he was with Cuban son and began introducing rock into the mix. Even as Revé increased in popularity, the orquesta’s leader seemingly chafed at these changes, prompting Formell to leave just two years into his tenure. Several kindred spirits in Orquesta Revé followed suit, and in December 1969 Los Van Van was formed around this core.

The rest, as they say, is history. And what a history it is!

“The violinists, pianist and flutist all came with me,” recounts Juan Formell in a terrific interview with Cuban writer Leonardo Padura for his book Faces of Salsa. “At the outset I introduced the electric bass and the electric guitar… and instead of the timbal I used a complete drum kit, and later we enhanced things with synthesizer and trombones. In sum, I carried out a series of transformations that complemented the music mélange we were creating: rock, Afro-Cuban music, beat…” The style that they created was dubbed songo, and later it formed the roots of timba.

Formell goes on to say that in order to excite young audiences and get them to dance, he recognized that the Beatles and rock had forever changed the course of music. Being the first to incorporate those modern sounds into the charanga format likewise changed everything that followed in Cuba, and is what led historian and ethnomusicologist Ned Sublette, author of Cuba and its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo to say, “You can’t imagine Cuban music without Los Van Van, any more than you can imagine the world’s music without Cuba.”

In a contemporary context, think of bands like Novalima or Bomba Estéreo, both of whom recently visited Chicago. In each, they began with a base that is purely local to their home countries, but then amped things up with the latest in tools, technology and global trends. That is precisely what Los Van Van began doing over 45 years ago, and continues to do today.

And yet, for those first few decades they did this largely out of sight of the U.S. because of the embargo imposed on Cuba. Things began to thaw a bit in the 1980s as more U.S. musicians began to re-discover Cuba, but this opening was largely confined to jazz. I first heard of Los Van Van in the early 90s through a pair of compilation CDs, Sabroso: Havana Hits and another assembled by the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Dancing with the Enemy. Shortly after that, the same Ned Sublette quoted above, then a producer for Afropop Worldwide, founded Qbadisc Records and began releasing CDs of Cuban music here, including one by Los Van Van. The flowering that followed Buena Vista Social Club helped make Cuban music fashionable in the late 90s, even if the throwback nostalgia of BVSC harkens back to an older style. Meanwhile, Los Van Van kept evolving and updating, winning a Grammy Award in 1999 for Llegó… Van Van (Van Van is Here). The group was earning the nickname the Rolling Stones of Cuban music, an odd reference when you consider Formell’s reverence for the Beatles, but perhaps appropriate because Los Van Van, like the Stones (but unlike the Beatles), are going strong after nearly 50 years, even if they disappeared from view after George Bush slammed the U.S.-Cuban door shut again in the wake of 9/11. In recent years, the door has swung open again and, lo and behold, Los Van Van is still here.

Los Van Van is a rare cultural phenomenon that broke through boundaries of nation, generation, politics, and genre. Juan Formell passed away last year at the age of 71, but he has left his orquesta in good hands. For the last 20 years, Los Van Van’s drummer has been the founder’s son, Samuel Formell, and he has taken over leadership of the group.

All of the above should be enough to convince you that missing Los Van Van this Sunday at Thalia Hall would be a serious mistake. If not, I’ll leave you with one more quote, this one from the Los Angeles Times:

“The controlled frenzy that is a Los Van Van concert hasn’t calmed down in more than 40 years.”

Prepare yourself.

Los Van Van, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport Street, Chicago. Sunday August 9, 8PM. Tickets at TicketWeb.
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About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Interview / Review: Bomba Estéreo, Amanecer

By Don Macica.

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I’ll get the hyperbole out of the way right here: Bomba Estéreo are the Beatles of electro-cumbia. Too much? How about: Bomba Estéreo are the Clash of electro-cumbia. Hmm, OK, let me try one more: Bomba Estéreo are the Police of electro-cumbia.

Stay with me. Disparate as those three bands might be, they do share something in common. All three started out as something easy to peg: Carefree mop-tops. Punk rockers. Reggae-flavored new wavers. And all three quickly transcended their initial characterizations, showing tremendous growth in both songwriting and execution, so much so that by their third or fourth albums you could still recognize them, but it was on their terms as they leapt forward, trusting that you would follow them.

With their new album Amanecer (Sony Latin), Bomba Estéreo take that leap as well. What began as an engaging  electro-cumbia solo project (BombaEstereo Vol. 1) by Bogotá DJ and musician Simón Mejía quickly blossomed when he teamed up full time with one of the singers employed on it, Li Saumet. The pair, along with guitarist Julián Salazar and drummer Kike Egurrola, formed a band and recorded Estalla, released as Blow Up in the U.S. It’s exuberant and in your face. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video for Fuego. Li Saumet runs it, bringing hip-hop swagger and tons of charm to the streets of Barranquilla, letting you know that Bomba Estéreo is bringing it as well: “… here comes Bomba Estéreo, We come with everything, Champeta, Reggae music, Cumbia and Folk, Come on! ‘Cuase it’s power, ’cause it’s an atomic bomb. A bit of folk music with electronic music. Come on, come on! Get this party started! Come on, come on!”

It’s been like that ever since, although their second album, Elegancia Tropical, mixed in a considerable amount of introspection and seriousness, indicated by selecting the somber El Alma y el Cuerpo for the first video, in which Li seems to be searching for an answer to some existential quandary. The band also broadened their musical palate on that album by collaborating with Brazilian rapper BNegão and the Angolan / Portuguese group Buraka Som Sistema.

Amanecer means ‘dawn’ in English, and the optimism of that title plays out with the group achieving a new level of creativity, while at the same time nurturing their core strengths. Like its predecessors, the vibe of the album is signaled by the first video, the dizzying psychedelic carnival of Fiesta. For the first time, they are working with an outside producer, American musician Ricky Reed. Reed’s own records come out under the band name Wallpaper, and his thing is to parody the pop version of hip-hop culture, especially the get-wasted-and-party-all-night excesses celebrated in today’s radio hits. Underneath that, though, Reed appears to be a serious craftsman (in order to parody something, you need to understand it well) who clearly knows his way around a recording studio. Reed applies a sonic sheen to the proceedings, and it’s terrific to hear him utilize his talents in the service of serious artists.

Throughout Amanecer, Caribbean rhythms are skillfully interwoven with driving beats and studio gloss until it all becomes one thing, and the musicologist game of pointing out this or that source becomes somewhat meaningless.  What could have been a case of bowing to record company pressure for a hit record instead results in a bright and sparkly collection of songs in which the tropical spirit, strength of the writing and the force of Li Saumet’s personality shine through. After toning down her swagger a bit for Elegancia Tropical, she emerges here fully confident and sounding playful. Amanecer is fun to listen to. And it is clearly no one else but Bomba Estéreo.

I had the opportunity to ask Simón and Li a few questions in anticipation of their upcoming Chicago concert. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

DM: Soon after the Vol. 1 project, the two of you decided to work together full time. What was it that moved you in that direction?

Simón: When I started the band 10 years ago I was trying to achieve a sound that oscillated between electronic music and tropical music. Musically I got to certain points which were very interesting, but in terms of vocal and lyrics there was always something missing. When I met Li, we did a song together and I thought that finally someone was filling that gap, not only musically but with lyrics. She was the perfect match for the music I wanted to make.

Li: Simón was doing a very interesting mix between the music which I grew up to, cumbia, and electronics. I liked his style above many others at the time, and I thought it was a very interesting project.

DM: When Blow Up, um, blew up in Chicago, you made several visits here in a short period of time. What was it like to be suddenly touring the world, trying out all those songs on the road?

Simón: A big and amazing surprise! I like very much the idea of Bomba Estéreo being a band that has made its career on the road, playing and playing and getting surprised by life and by music in the middle of those travels.

DM: I’ve been lucky enough to hear you perform some of your songs acoustically, and they sounded terrific. As writers, do you work out your songs in advance, and then enter the studio?

Simón: The process always starts with music, instrumental. I start making tracks, electronic tracks, playing synths, bass and guitar along with beats, which later become songs with Li’s vocal. We then either finish them live or in the studio.

DM: Your aural canvas has expanded to feature more colors than Colombian music, and not only other Caribbean and Latin sounds. What do you listen to when you’re not “Bomba Estéreo”?

Simón: Lots of things… I like a lot the music from the 70’s, funky soulful groovy music. Motown stuff. African music, vintage and modern is always an inspiration as well as electronic avant garde projects. From Latin América I like exploring vintage tropical sounds from Colombia, Cuba and Brazil. Jamaican dub and reggae is also very inspirational.

DM: Amanecer is produced by Ricky Reed and was partially record in the U.S.  How did you hook up with him? What were you looking for from his production and collaboration?

Simón: Yeah! Well, he was proposed by Sony, our label. We listened to his music, his productions, and we thought it was a great idea to work with him, especially because he was from another musical world, which could add a whole new vibe to the band. Then we met him during Lollapalooza ‘14 in Chicago, where we were both playing. The chemistry went really well! Now, looking at everything in perspective, I think we achieved what we were looking for: Making a new experiment with our music and transcending borders.

DM: I feel that Amanecer, like Elegancia Tropical before it, is leap forward for you. There is once again depth to the songs, but also an embrace of a more global aesthetic. I also hear an overall optimism. Are you simply growing more confident, or do you challenge yourself not to be complacent?

Simón: We’re always experiencing new stuff. Music is a changing living thing, as is life itself. We always listen to different things and that influences us also. Regarding the albums, yes, we like to challenge ourselves always to make a different album from the previous one.
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Bomba Estéreo, Concord Music Hall, Sunday, July 26. Tickets at concordmusichall.com.

About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Preview: Novalima at Celebrate Clark Street Festival

By Don Macica.

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I caught a break earlier this summer. Saturday, June 20th arrived rainy and cold, and that put the hurt on my plans to see Novalima at Taste of Randolph. Imagine, then, my delight when I learned the very next night that not only would the group be returning to Chicago in less than a month, but they were doing so at one of my favorite street fests in the city, Rogers Park’s Celebrate Clark Street. Let the rejoicing begin!

With their new album Planetario (Wonderwheel Recordings), Novalima continues a further refinement of a process that they execute better than just about anyone else working in the Afro-Latin Electronica genre; simultaneously updating the sound with the latest in technology and burrowing ever deeper into the folkloric sources that inspire them. It’s worth backing up a few steps here to understand how Novalima got their start, four globe-trotting friends from Lima, each making a name for themselves as DJs in dance clubs around the world, staying in touch and sharing ideas and files with each other over the internet. Their long-distance experiment in combining folkloric music from their home with electronic club beats resulted in their first, self-titled album. The positive reception it received brought them home to Lima where they invited several Afro-Peruvian musicians to join with them to record its follow-up, Afro. A live band soon followed, and suddenly Novalima was more than a DJ project, becoming one of the most powerful touring bands in the world. The release of Coba Coba in 2009 and then Karimba in 2012 sealed the deal, each deeper and yet more expansive than the last.

Planetario finds the group better in almost every way. The album’s name points to Novalima’s continued growth and global reach. Much of the album was recorded as the group toured the world, including a session organized by members of salsa orquesta La-33 in Bogotá (is there anybody that doesn’t go to Colombia these days for inspiration?) that produced several songs. While remaining firmly grounded in centuries old Peruvian music, they have long included other, more recent sounds like cumbia, salsa and reggae in the mix, in a sense tracing the African Diaspora back across the South American continent to the Caribbean and, on Planetario, all the way back to Spain. Colombia is felt most through guests like Sidestepper vocalist Eka Muñoz (most notably on Beto Kele and Madretierra, which also benefits greatly from marimba a la Colombia’s Pacific coast), Humberto Pernett on gaita and members of La Mambanegra. However, Novalima never wander far from the steady Peruvian rhythm of the cajón, that most basic of percussion instruments, played as it has been for centuries.

Ultimately, what sets Novalima apart from many of their contemporaries is not so much their integration of technology and global influences into Afro-Peruvian folkloric sources, skillful as that may be. What has always struck me the most about them is that absolutely nothing sounds gratuitous or grafted on. Their total sincerity and honesty about Peru’s African heritage comes through on every song. Listening, you find yourself thinking if electronic instruments existed in the 19th century, Afro-Peruvian music would have sounded exactly like this.

 

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s opening and closing tracks. Como Yo, written in memory of Peruvian percussionist (and band member) Mangue Vasquez, kicks off the album with a lively celebration of his life and some words of advice: “Gozen la vida como yo Enjoy life, like I do.  The album closes with the haunting Quebranto, where 1950’s-era, now 71 year old, traditional singer Rosita Guzman’s filtered voice (it sounds like the other end of a long distance phone call) is accompanied by only cajón, guitar and the various blips, beeps and bubbles of a synthesizer. It’s timeless.

As noted, Novalima’s core of Rafael Morales, Grimaldo del Solar and Ramón Pérez-Prieto has been aided and abetted by additional band members on every recording since Afro. The force-of-nature charisma of singer Milagros Guerrero and the deeply rooted cajón and chanted vocals of Juan Medrano “Cotito” firmly anchor performances in Afro-Peru, even as additional percussion along with turned-up-to-eleven electronics drive the dance floor to ecstasy.

Or, as will be the case of Celebrate Clark Street, the dancing in the streets.

Novalima, Sunday, July 19, Celebrate Clark Street Festival, 9pm (Morse Stage). $5 suggested donation. Info at celebrateclarkstreet.com.

About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Preview: Choro das 3 at Jazz Showcase

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By Don Macica.

When my son was in the third grade, he came home from school one day and declared that he wanted to play the flute. Dutiful parents that we were, we not only enrolled him in the school band but decided that private lessons would be beneficial. We found an instructor through our local park district. That’s how I got to know a woman who was on her way to becoming an authority on a form of Brazilian music I had never heard of: choro. Upon hearing it, I fell in love. It’s lively and full of charm. If a well-played choro doesn’t coax a smile out of you, your life is much grimmer than mine.

My son’s maestra went on to study choro in Brazil under a Fulbright scholarship and published a book of interviews with choro masters based in part on her Fulbright research. Me? I just started adding choro CDs to my overstuffed shelves. So, when a friend told me that Choro das 3, a choro group from her hometown of Rio de Janeiro, was touring the U.S. with a stop in Chicago, my ears immediately perked up.

On casual listen, choro may not sound like Afro-Latin music, but its origins are very much the same. Choro is one of the earliest forms of urban music in Brazil. It’s beginnings in the late 19th century roughly parallel those of jazz in New Orleans, and for a while it was wildly popular. Just like ragtime in the United States, tango in Argentina and habanera in Cuba, choro was a result of influences of musical styles and rhythms coming from Europe and Africa. Brazil’s most revered composer (prior to Jobim, of course), Heitor Villa-Lobos, called choro “the true incarnation of Brazilian soul.” If it’s accurate to say that without ragtime there is no jazz, than it’s equally accurate to say the same of choro and, say, bossa nova. The driving ecstasy of samba, a more obvious descendent of African music, overtook choro in popularity in the mid-twentieth century, and you could say that bossa nova, with its sophisticated harmonies, refined and internationalized samba, with a little help from jazz. Choro, however, never faded away, even if it didn’t conquer the world. Like New Orleans-style jazz, it remains an important cultural touchstone.

Choro das 3 is a family band, three sisters and their dad. If that sounds corny, it’s not, and in fact it’s almost essential to understanding the soul of the music. Choro is traditionally played in informal settings called roda de choros, where people gather to share songs and play with each other, often in people’s homes. It was these rodas that kept the music alive when it was superseded in popularity by samba and bossa nova.

Choro’s main tools are similar to other music of the Americas. Its rhythmic foundation is the pandeiro, which Puerto Ricans will of course recognize as the pandero and residents of New Orleans the tambourine. It’s played much the same way in all three cultures. In Choro das 3, the father, Eduardo, plays the pandeiro and sisters Corina, Lia and Elisa play various flutes and stringed instruments. One listen to the Brazilian bandolin will instantly bring to mind similar instruments as the Puerto Rican cuatro and Cuban laud. In the hands of talented musicians, the music can reach dizzying heights of complexity. The family band that is Choro das 3 are exactly that.

Choro das 3 hit the road on May 20 to promote their newest CD, a trip that will bring them to one of the Chicago’s best rooms, the Jazz Showcase, on July 21. Part of what makes this visit special is that, despite the fact that you can go out almost any night of the week in Chicago and hear excellent Brazilian musicians, few of them perform choro, even if, as I suspect, they know it inside and out. That’s not entirely surprising, given the wider popularity of samba and bossa nova. I have little doubt that, even in Chicago, choro is still played privately among friends in rodas.

Fortunately, Choro das 3 is coming here soon to enlighten the rest of us.

Choro das 3, Jazz Showcase, Tuesday July 21. Tickets at jazzshowcase.com

About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Review: Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Intercambio

By Don Macica

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The landscape of Latin jazz is, of course, an ever evolving one. The current crop of jazz artists that are the acknowledged as among the best, such as Miguel Zenón, David Sánchez and Danilo Pérez, shy away from labeling their music, preferring instead to cite their Latin American heritage as a means of informing a highly individual approach to the art of jazz, capturing the soul of what it means to be Panamanian or Puerto Rican rather than building their compositions around standard, recognizable forms. Even in Chicago, the Dominican violinist James Sanders, who has led a very good Latin jazz ensemble for nearly 15 years, prefers these days to integrate Afro-Caribbean essence into a totally improvisational approach, forsaking charts for an open ended conversation.

It’s refreshing, therefore, that the San Francisco based trombonist Wayne Wallace so warmly embraces the term, putting it right there in the name of his ensemble. And maybe that’s because he’s African-American, not Latino, and thus free to explore a sound and style without the added significance of it being his heritage. However, saying that Wallace plays Latin jazz is not to say he is being conservative. Quite the contrary.

Wallace is no newcomer. He was a founding member and co-musical director of John Santos’ Machete Ensemble, and before that he worked with Conjunto Cespedes, a Bay Area folkloric ensemble, and before that he played with Pete Escovedo. In addition to being a player in the Bay Area Latin scene, he’s also a bit of a proponent and documentarian. His created the record label that he records for, and it recently released two terrific Salsa de la Bahia compilations featuring the cream of the local scene, with a companion film in the works.

For Wallace, Latin jazz is still a music of discovery, one in which he can be both a teacher and disciple. His approach is anchored in that jazz process in which one listens, learns and creates anew. His new recording, Intercambio (Patois Records), is founded on the idea of cultural exchange. In this context, jazz has as much to give to Caribbean folkloric music as the other way around. While firmly committed to the idea and forms of Latin jazz, Wallace still remains an explorer. There are several moments on the album that coax a smile out of the listener by doing the unexpected.

Four of Intercambio’s ten tracks are Wallace originals, and the balance is drawn from jazz masters like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and fellow trombonist J.J. Johnson. By and large the album smolders, the Latin rhythms underpinning arrangements that feature Wallace’s beautiful and buttery tone. Three tracks are reminiscent of Kind of Blue-era Miles, with Wallace’s trombone gliding over the shifting rhythms.

Rhythmically, the albums ports of call go beyond San Juan and Havana to also include Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Trinidad. There are a couple of burners, led off by the first track, the Wallace original Casa del Sol, which is dedicated to Eddie Palmieri. On this song, the quintet is expanded to 7 pieces to include violin and flute, referencing Palmieri’s legendary La Perfecta ensemble. Another Wallace original, Guarachando, kicks into high gear with a comparsa carnival rhythm, throws in steel drums for good measure, then brings back the flute and violin to trade fours in its mid-section before they all come together, only to be followed by a hot solo from Wallace himself.

 

The two remaining Wallace originals are quite nice as well. Como Vai alternates cha-cha-cha and samba rhythms in a way that brings to mind a pair of Stevie Wonder classics, You’ve Got It Bad Girl and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing. Finally, Timbázo is built for grooving, funky trombones in conversation with the rhythm section, colored once again by Trinidadian steel drums, which return yet a third time on Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody n’ You along with a pronounced bomba feel.

John Coltrane’s Equinox is the standout among the covers, building off of Trane’s exploration of African roots with batá drums and güiro. The Hoagy Carmichael standard Heart and Soul is given a smooth salsa treatment that would satisfy any dancer while leaving room for some nice soloing and ensemble playing, especially when Wallace overdubs his trombone into a 4-piece section a la Manny Oquendo y Conjunto Libre.

Mile Davis provides the thematic centerpiece of the album with Solar, reimagined into En el Solar de Miles by Wallace, tying together Miles’ interest in African culture to the Cuban solares, Cuban fraternal organizations formed during slavery to maintain African cultural practices. Another Davis composition, Circle, closes the album, a moody number enhanced by a string quartet and featuring some of Wallace’s lovliest playing.

As noted earlier, Wayne Wallace is no conservative, despite working in a genre that’s been around for nearly 75 years. Intercambio gently but firmly moves Latin jazz forward. That’s no easy thing, but it is an essential one to a good jazz musician. In doing so, Wallace demonstrates that there is much still to be found inside of Latin jazz.

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, Intercambio.
Patois Records, available July 7

About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Meridian Brothers lead off Colombian musical invasion.

By Don Macica.

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This is turning out to be a remarkable summer for Colombian music in Chicago. Ondatrópica headlines Millennium Park, Systema Solar graces the Celebrate Clark Street Festival, Bomba Estéreo celebrates their brand new CD with a show at Concord Music Hall, and El Gran Festival Colombiano brings both traditionalists Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and champeta group Tribu Baharú to town.

But before we knew all that, though, we knew this. The Meridian Brothers make their Chicago debut at Mayne Stage on June 21 during their first ever U.S. tour. And that, friends, is news.

To clear a couple of things up right off the bat, there are no brothers nor is there anyone named Meridian in the group. It more or less started as a home-made recording project when Colombian guitarist and composer Eblis Alvarez started layering his guitar over drums, percussion and other folkloric instruments that he taught himself to play. After years of this, he went to Denmark to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and at the Danish Institute of Electronic Music. Returning to Bogotá in 1998, he began releasing these recordings of distorted tropical sounds, and a group was needed in order to perform them live. The Meridian Brothers (band) was born, even as recordings continue to be entirely created by Alvarez. Over the years, the group has evolved into a five-piece band focused on re-interpreting all manners of Latin Tropical rhythms (cumbia, vallenato, salsa, merengue, guaguanco etc..) with a pronounced psychedelic and experimental sensibility. In 2014, Meridian Brothers released their third album, the engagingly loopy Salvadora Robot.

Something that becomes apparent on close listen to the Meridian Brothers is that, despite the weirdness, psychedelia and surrealist lyrics, the tunes themselves are pretty faithful to their sources. A cumbia is a cumbia, vallenato is vallenato. But what comes out is something like Frank Zappa playing doo-wop or Captain Beefheart playing blues. Just as you can hear those artists’ deep respect for their sources, you can likewise hear the same from Alvarez once you accustom yourself to the overall sound.

When asked about the name Meridian Brothers in an interview last year, Eblis Alvarez replied, “I love pseudonyms, people not knowing who is making things.” Reading this, I was prompted to reach out to a Colombian friend who maintains a series of online aliases. He has one identity on his Facebook page, another on his enigmatic website, and still a third when he sends e-mails. And those are the ones I know about. None of these, of course, are his real name.

When I asked him what he heard in the Meridian Brothers, he was similarly enigmatic, comparing them to, of all things, the Violent Femmes. “Meridian Brothers play music within the leisure sense, not in the cerebral sense, without falling into the pop formula” he wrote, continuing, “Their lyrics speak of local things in a very local language, so local that [it] doesn’t sound like Spanish, without falling into the ghetto language formula.” He also advised me that “I should know what Chucu-Chucu music means and have [an] appreciation for the analog psychedelic sounds.” Well, I got that last one down (shoot, I grew up on that stuff), but the rest required some work.

Chucu-Chucu is, as best as I can tell, a rough Colombian counterpart to salsa in New York City in the 60’s and 70’s, a musical style with roots in the Caribbean but urban in character, with just a touch of silliness, like something a wedding band might play in Bogotá. (I could be wrong about this, though… a YouTube search of Chucu-Chucu also turns up children’s songs and booty-shaking dembow.) And the Violent Femmes… well, you can take them simply as wacky guys playing punk rock on acoustic guitars, or you can appreciate them as artists with a very particular sensibility, creating totally honest and plain-spoken art.

As for the Meridian Brothers, you can take them either way, too. Live, you are quite likely to experience a serious desire to dance to the tropical rhythms even as you grin at the skewed sonics and visuals. There will, if you want, be plenty to think about, but who ever spent time thinking at a Violent Femmes show?

Better to simply surrender to the fun.


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Sound Culture presents the Meridian Brothers at Mayne Stage, Sunday June 21, 7:30pm (doors 6:30). DJs Agúzate and ((SONORAMA)) get the party started. Tickets and info at soundculturechicago.com.
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About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Victor Garcia’s World of Jazz

By Don Macica.

photo by Lauren Deutsch
photo by Lauren Deutsch

In any given year recently, it’s hard to be an active witness to Chicago’s music scene without running into trumpeter Victor Garcia. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen him in places I didn’t expect: on stage with Sones de México Ensemble, with Colombian folkloric group Grupo Rebolú, joining rumba-flamenco ensemble El Payo, accompanying percussionist Jean-Christophe Leroy in his Jazz con Amala project, with Latin ska band Los Vicios de Papá… Most of the time, he wasn’t even billed. He was just… there, elevating the music with his explosive playing.

In the midst of all this versatility, it’s worth remembering that Garcia is, at heart, a jazz musician. The group he co-leads with pianist Darwin Noguera is, after all, the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, and when he led a big band at Millennium Park’s Made in Chicago World Class Jazz series a couple of summers ago, he put an unmistakable jazz stamp on a series of traditional and popular Mexican songs.

In all this time, though, I’ve never heard Garcia on his own, so when I learned he’d be holding down a weekend at the Jazz Showcase beginning June 18, I reached out to him to find out what might be on tap. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

photo by Don Macica
photo by Don Macica

DM: One year I’m pretty sure I saw you in a dozen different bands and projects, not including CALJE. To what do you attribute this wide range?

VG: The versatility is due to extensive and intensive jazz studies. Although jazz is considered a genre, I consider it more of a process. Jazz training is all about listening, assimilating (stylistic nuance, harmony, rhythm, et al), and emulating. If done at a high level, one could literally play with anyone in the world! Definitely a goal of mine.  (Ed. note: He said with a wink).

DM: Is there anything you haven’t played?

VG: Because of the infinite combinations of musical genres that give birth to new ones, there will always be more music than I will ever be able to play. I have, however, been fortunate enough to play music with origins from all over the world. 

DM: So, what can we expect at the Jazz Showcase?

VG: We’ll be playing originals and arrangements of mine. Blues/church is the foundation of our sound, but I have a plethora of influences, which we will undoubtedly explore, such as bebop, modern jazz, Latin…

DM: Blues / church?

VG: One of the most expressive and dynamically diverse instruments, The Hammond B3 organ, was originally sold to churches to replace the infinitely more expensive pipe organ. Because it can embody the entire palate of human emotions, from the agony of the slave trade to the joy of salvation, it fared extremely well in the church. For those same reasons, jazz musicians of the day adopted the instrument as well. I, too, am a believer!

DM: You were born in Chicago and your parents are from Mexico, yes?

VG: My father was born in Mexico City and raised in a suburb called Chalco, then moved to Chicago after he graduated from UNAM. My mom was born in Arandas, Jalisco until the age of 15 and then moved to Chicago. They met in a church choir… meaning I didn’t have a choice regarding whether or not music was going to be in my blood! 

DM: Is your family musical?

VG: My parents are amateur guitarists and singers. Our extended family gatherings wouldn’t be complete without singalong time after dinner. My brother is a professional bassist, my sister is an amateur clarinetist, and my younger brother played tuba through high school.

DM: What sort of music made an impression on you as a child?

VG: All of it! My father listened to a wide variety of artists, from Julio Jaramillo to the Beatles to Dave Brubeck to The Boston Pops. I remember sitting down in my father’s office while he was working and being hypnotized by Paul Desmond’s sound; I remember transcribing chords from an album by Los Tecolines on guitar; I can recall how impactful the sound of Gerard Schwarz’s trumpet was on a the Haydn concerto.

DM: Is it a big deal to headline a weekend at the Jazz Showcase?

VG: Heck yeah! The world’s finest have graced and continue to grace that stage, and with all the history that venue has, there is a creative spirit in that place that’s alive and well.
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The Victor Garcia Quintet (Victor Garcia, trumpet/vocals; Rocky Yera, tenor sax; Dan Trudell, organ; Scott Hesse, guitar; Charles Heath, drums) appears at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, June 18-21. Two shows a night plus Sunday matinee. Info at jazzshowcase.com
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About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Summer Music Preview, con sabor.

by Don Macica.

Summer in Chicago always brings plenty of opportunity to enjoy live music outdoors. It’s as though, after months of hibernation, we just can’t stand the thought of being inside. But even by our high standards, this is shaping up to be an exceptional summer for Latin music under the skies.

Here then, is Agúzate’s selective guide to verano en la ciudad.

Mole de Mayo, May 23-24. We’re off to an early start with this modest little Pilsen festival devoted to that most magical of Mexican sauces. They have really stepped up their game on the music stages this year. Besides local faves Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orchestra, ¡Esso! Afrojam Funkbeat and DJs Sound Culture, ((SONORAMA)) and Afroqbano, they are bringing in some out of town talent to help us dance off those calories, including the B-Side Players, Viento Callejero and Chicano Batman from California on Saturday and DJ Ali Guaguis from Mexico City on Sunday. Lots more, too.

Downtown Sound, June 1-July 23. This newly expanded series in Millennium Park has lots of worthy music (Antibalas, King Sunny Ade, Los Cojolites), but they are on this list primarily for one reason: The Chicago debut of the Colombian/British collective Ondatrópica on July 16. Led by British DJ/producer/crate digger Will Holland (AKA Quantic) and Frente Cumbiero leader Mario Galeano, we’ve been waiting for this one for three years. This could be your only chance to see them without moving to Colombia.

Ondatropica

Opening Day of the 606, June 6. The 606 is the name of the new urban trail park (formerly known as the Bloomingdale trail) that runs through four Chicago neighborhoods: Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park, so you know there’s got to be a Latino vibe. There’s a big party on Humboldt Boulevard between Wabansia and Cortland that has two music stages where you can catch, among other things, Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orchestra and Angel Melendez. You can also join a comparsa de carnaval (parade procession) along the trail organized by Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center that will feature bomba y plena and masks made under the guidance of Puerto Rican artisan Pedro Adorno Irizarry, bomba & plena Elder & Master Jorge Emmanuelli Náter, Buya, Africaribe and SRBCC instructors Charly Barbera and David Rivera.

cabezudos

Taste of Randolph Street, June 19-21. The summer is always crammed with “Taste of” neighborhood festivals, but few of them have a better selection of outstanding restaurants (we hope Cemitas Puebla is there) than Randolph Street. “So?” you might ask. This one also has the incredible Afro-Peruvian global dance unit Novalima among its music offerings on Saturday June 20. Come for the music, stay for the food.

Novalima

Museum of Contemporary Art, June 23. The MCA’s free Tuesdays on the Terrace series has long featured some of Chicago’s finest jazz, but we are particularly excited to see Proyecto Libre, an Afro-Latin/free jazz collective that Agúzate presented for the very first time in 2013. Led by Dominican violinist James Sanders, their sound is like nothing else you’ve ever heard.

Square Roots Festival, July 10-12. Squeezing people into the street will never be quite the same as laying out that blanket in the park, but the Old Town School still brings an eclectic lineup to keep you dancing and thirsty. This year’s Latino offerings include Plena Libre, Tiempo Libre and (I’m cheating a little here) from New Orleans, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. It’s that Latin tinge, you know.

Ruido Fest, July 10-12. Where the hell did this come from? In one grand gesture, Chicago is suddenly playing host to the biggest Latin Alternative festival in the entire country, and they had the class to put it in Pilsen. Café Tacuba, Ozomotli, Nortec Collective, Kali Uchis, Cumbia Machin, Los Crema Paraiso, Los Rakas… I’ll run out of pixels before I complete this list, but pound for pound, this is the equal of Pitchfork in scope and ambition.

Chicago Latin Jazz Fest

Chicago Latin Jazz Festival, July 17-18. If you need one more reason to spend a summer evening in Humboldt Park, this is it. No lineup has been announced yet, but Carlos Flores and the Jazz Institute of Chicago consistently spotlight the best in local and national Latin jazz at the beautiful Boat House. Write it down. (UPDATE: Lineup includes Victor Garcia’s Organ Septet with special guest Billy Branch, Papo Vázquez and Orquesta Charangueo.)

Celebrate Clark Street, July 18-19. A Rogers Park tradition, in recent years it has emerged as sort of a second, unofficial World Music Festival thanks to the efforts of Sound Culture’s David Chavez. The full line up hasn’t been announced, but we’ve learned that Colombia’s highly danceable electro-folklorico DJ outfit Systema Solar will be there, complete with live percussion. That plus the $4 Pacifico on tap should make for one perfect, if very sweaty, summer night. (UPDATE: Novalima has been added to the weekend as well.)

Systema Solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Gran Festival Colombiano, July 18-19. Make sure that Ventra card is fully loaded, because commuting is in order this weekend. In addition to the aforementioned Latin Jazz and Clark Street fests, the northwest side of Chicago plays host to this family friendly event that features legends Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and the up and coming coastal by way of Bogotá champeta group Tribu Baharú plus salsa, cumbia, vallento and more from DJs all day long.

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Festival Cubano, August 14-16. It’ll be hard to top last year’s one-two punch of Miami’s Afro-Cuban funk band PALO! followed by the legendary El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, but this fest has steadily improved over the years. No lineup has been announced yet, but if I were you, I’d keep this weekend open. (UPDATE: This years lineup will include, for the first time ever, two artists direct from Cuba: Pedrito Calvo and Miguelito Cuni, Jr.)
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Postscript: You can’t stay outdoors all the time, and this summer also brings a handful of very good reasons to head inside and enjoy some air conditioning.

Los Amigos Invisibles, Portage Theater June 5. The Venezuelan combo brings their hedonistic Latin disco funk to Chicago for the first time since their recent Repeat After Me album. Always a good time, and you don’t have to think too much.

Meridian Brothers, Mayne Stage June 21. Space age science fiction cumbia, vallenato and salsa from Colombia in their Chicago debut, the very definition of future roots music. Bonus: DJs Agúzate and ((SONORAMA)) will get the party started with vintage vinyl grooves.

Miguel Zenón, Jazz Showcase June 25-28. The Puerto Rican saxophonist brings his quartet to Chicago’s best jazz club, showcasing music from Identities are Changeable, his album about the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S.

Bajofondo, Concord Music Hall July 16. The high energy tango-candombe-milonga band from the Rio de la Plata are always first rate, and if you conserve energy and stay hydrated at Ondatrópica, you should just be able to make the trek up Milwaukee Ave in time to catch them. (UPDATE: The Bajofondo show has been cancelled.)

Bomba Estéreo, Concord Music Hall July 26. With the release of their brand new Amanecer album, Li Saumet and Simón Mejía are poised to conquer the world with their Colombian brand of tropical electronica.

Omar Sosa: Cuban soul, world citizen

By Don Macica

Over the course of two dozen albums in a 20+ year career, Omar Sosa has carved out a unique place in the pantheon of Afro-Cuban music. He’s lived in the U.S. (with occasional stays in Europe) since 1995, but your immediate impression upon hearing his music or seeing him in concert is that of a deeply rooted Babalawo connected directly to the island and all the way back to Africa. At the same time, he fuses an array of jazz, world music, hip-hop, and electronic elements with his Afro-Cuban roots.

The range is immense. There are solo piano recordings, duet recordings with percussionists, a big band project, a symphonic commission, a tribute to the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue, spoken word, Yoruba chants and funk workouts. Folkloric is blended with contemporary until the distinctions between them melt away.

Omar Sosa
Omar Sosa

Sosa is currently touring the United States behind his recent release Ilé (meaning “homeland” in the Lucumí tradition of Cuba) which will bring him to Chicago and the Jazz Showcase beginning April 23. Though billed as a “homecoming” for the 7-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist, the album is anything but a mere recreation of the Cuban music that inspired Sosa in his youth on the island. Instead, it uses classic Cuban styles as a jumping off point for contemporary interpretation interspersed with meditative atmospherics and sampling of ambient sounds.

Joining him on the project (and at the Jazz Showcase) is his Quarteto Afrocubano, Cubans Ernesto Simpson on drums and Leandro Saint-Hill on sax & flute, plus Mozambican bassist Childo Tomas. They are long-time friends and collaborators (Simpson and Saint-Hill as well as Sosa all hail from the Cuban city of Camagüey) and their interplay feels instinctive throughout the recording, especially on more contemplative tracks. The remarkable percussionist Pedrito Martinez guests on several songs, as does Cuban chekere master Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry and saxophonist Ysvany Terry. More surprising (although, given Sosa’s diversity and eclecticism, not that surprising) is English spoken word poetry by Kokayi that, combined with the groove, reminds me of early Gil Scott-Heron. American guitarist Marvin Sewell (perhaps best known for his distinctive work with Cassandra Wilson), jazz vocalist ZogaroS and flamenco vocalist José “El Salao” Martín add flavor and connect the dots between three continents sharing a similar African root.

OMAR SOSA

I took the opportunity of his Chicago visit to ask Sosa a few questions, which he answered in Spanish. Fortunately, Agúzate founder Omar Torres-Kortright was able to provide me with spirited translations.

DM– I get the sense that you enter a space when performing live, almost as though participating in a sacred ritual. Is this the case? If so, can you tell me more about that?

OS– I try to always follow the energy that I feel at the moment of stepping into the stage. I’ve always felt that every concert is a ceremony where we translate voices to turn them into sounds, resulting in the music that we present to the public. It’s a mystical and sublime experience. It’s something unique that can never be repeated, something that can only happen once. This is why I always say that each concert is the first and the last!!!

DM– Your output over the past two decades, while rooted in Cuba, reflects both music that preceded it (African, Spanish, even classical) and modern sounds like funk, hip-hop and the use of electronics. Even your current album Ilé with Quarteto Afrocubano, billed as a “homecoming” and inspired by music from your younger days in Cuba, goes well beyond that with flamenco, spoken word poetry in English and lush atmospherics. What are you exploring here?

OS– Ilé is a re-exploration of our Cuban traditions, a trip back to the rhythms and music styles that were always present in our childhood days. I say “our childhood days” because three of the members of the Quarteto Afrocubano are Camagüeyanos (from Camagüey)… I used to get together with them every Sunday for several years just to listen and analyze this music. These gatherings established a clear “before and after” in our appreciation and respect for this music and its creators.

Ilé is a trip back home, home to our Caribbean flavors, our traditions, but this time incorporating contemporary elements and sounds from other cultures that we have absorbed throughout the years in our musical travels. These sounds are now a natural part of our everyday musical experience. The intention of this project is to give thanks to the spirits of light, our musical universe, and especially to our traditions and influences: Cuba, North Africa, West Africa, North America, Spain, South America, etc.

This album is an invitation to taste the many cultures that I have lived and experienced until this day; the cultures that have enriched me and push me in my incessant journey to discover new cultures and sounds that exist in other regions of our planet.

DM– The last time I saw you in Chicago (Mayne Stage, May 2011), you brought an array of keyboards from which you sampled ambient sounds as well as processed some of the live sounds, and there’s a good deal of that on Ilé as well. Will some of the guests on Ilé be making a virtual sampled appearance at the Jazz Showcase?

OS– Yes, Kokayi, “El Salao”, and ZogaroS are sampled and set-up to appear in Chicago!

Omar Sosa & Quarteto Afrocubano, April 23-26, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago. Two shows nightly plus Sunday matinee. Tickets at jazzshowcase.com.

About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.