Sunday, November 30, 2008

speaking of jug bands...

Now, why does this make all the sense in the world?

Mungo Jerry's 1970 jug band revival pop hit, in a Caribbean context? This is the beat I had in mind when I compared the groove of some jíbaro tunes to jug bands.

I'm no musicologist, but now that I think about it, this catchy Mungo Jerry/Shaggy beat is a habanera bassline, from the old Havana contradanza which gave rise to danzon and son. You hear this bassline in tango, in European classical "habaneras," in North American jazz, and even--as Robert Farris Thompson pointed out--in today's reggaeton.

Everything really is wired through the Caribbean...

Parranda Navideña

An excellent update has just been added to the AfriColombia blog on Puerto Rican "jíbaro" music (see sidebar for the list of "Blogs We Like"). The articles are in Spanish. There are also some nice album covers and MP3s.

I love this "country" music of Puerto Rico's highlands, which is heavily played around Christmas time. The long-form, improvised verse styles are influenced by Spanish/Andalucian oral poetry, and the more finely grooved Puerto Rican guiro, or gourd scraper, gives a characteristic, sandpaper-like groove. Some of these rhythms sound to me like distant relatives to North American jug bands. Maybe I'm not crazy, since according the article, música jíbara is a "favorite dish" for black Colombians in places like Palenque, Barranquilla and Carthagena.

The first singer profiled, Chuito El de Bayamon, is said to have been an important influence on Hector Lavoe. It's easy to hear it in Hector's distinctive salsa phrasing, and he even recorded several Christmas albums of jíbaro music with Willie Colon and Yomo Toro in the early '70s. I was discussing this one time with Rei Alvarez of Bio Ritmo, a Ponce native like Lavoe, and he concluded nostalgically that, had Hector lived, he probably would be making albums of jíbaro music right now. A lovely hypothetical. Come to think of it, maybe Rei should consider it one day.

Another all-time favorite in this genre is Ramito, whom you can also hear on the Africolombia page. I remember talking to Yomo Toro a few years ago about some radio shows and albums he did with Ramito in the 50s and 60s, and he recounted a gruesome story of how Ramito ended up taking his own life due to some terminal illness. A sad ending for a really, really happy guy (just look at him). Ramito had two brothers who also sang (maybe still living? don't know) and I have one CD they recorded as a threesome in the 90s. Ramito albums are around, that is to say he made many, and they sold well, or so I deduce by the fact that it's not that unusual to find them in used vinyl bins or on eBay.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Messengers for Dignity

Runners carrying the flame from the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City will be passing through Durham today, on route to New York City. It's a religious pilgrimage designed to put focus on immigrants' rights with the motto: "Messengers for the dignity of one people divided by a border." The run got underway in October, and will end in New York on the Virgin of Guadalupe's feast day, December 12.

Runners will be arriving from High Point to the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St in Durham today, Saturday (11/29). One of the organizers at Immaculate Conception told me they will be welcoming the torch at 7 pm. The public is welcome.

Some video about the run and a full schedule of the route is available here, at the Tepeyac Association of New York's website.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Party 411

Carmen's Tropical Night with DJ Salsa Mike is CONFIRMED for tonight, Friday (11/28). This date is posted on Carmen's website, and was confirmed via word-of-mouth from Salsa Mike via Nataki (of NCSalseros Meetup). It was also announced at last Tuesday's social at Carmen's.

The Brazilian Party at Oliver Twist in Raleigh is CANCELLED for Saturday (11/29). Triangle Fiesta's website is ambiguous on this point, but management at Oliver Twist confirms that this party has been discontinued at this venue through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the following holiday cancellations were announced by Salsa For You: this Sunday's (11/30) social at Triangle Dance Studio is CANCELLED. The next Sunday Salsa social will take place December 7.

Also, their 3rd Saturday Salsa/Mambo Dance Party at Fred Astaire Dance Studio is cancelled for December. The next monthly party there will take place January 17, 2009.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Workout

Triangle Fiestas is moving their Thursday Latin Party at the Red Room to Wednesday night (11/26), this week only.

Also this week only: Admission will be free for everyone.

See calendar for more info.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eye of the Beholder

I suppose that The People's Cube, an anti-progressive satire site, generated this as some kind of ironic commentary.

Fittingly perhaps, the right-wingers had the palo (stick) upside down on their original graphic. This corrected version, with stick flipped (and irony removed), was created by musician and graphic designer Gary Eisenberg. You can read the thread about it in the Latin Jazz Yahoo Group. (Membership and moderator approval are required.)


Gary is on a roll. Check out Obama as Rumbero-in-Chief:


...and, ONE MORE TIME with aché:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dil Valay Update!

Some of you recall the story I wrote on Asim, a Pakistani musician in the neighborhood, back in August. Well good news: his band Dil Valay has reunited. They even played a gig at the recent Cary Eid Festival, a celebration at the end of Ramadan. Too bad we missed that, but as you might have guessed, there's video.

I believe this song features Asim (far left) on vocal:

And don't miss out on Khalid's very different vocal style:

Backstory: Read my first post about Asim, an unusual nightclerk at the Town & Country convenience store.

That was fun

I wish I had a documentarian to follow me around like this all the time. One of Lisa's spontaneous moment-captures, backstage at La Ley Festival 2006. All the acts were Mexican regional except for one bachata singer, Domenic M [Marte] and his band, who were some top-notch Dominican musicians. Here I am dancing in the green room with the back-up singer, while the bass player improvises some beats.

Who needs music? from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the vaults...John Santos Quintet

Vilató solo 3

I just posted some 2006 photos of the John Santos Quintet at Duke over at my flickr photo stream. Click on the link or this photo to browse the series. John gave an animated and informative talk before the performance, and I had an incredible front row seat for the action. Personnel included John Calloway, flute, Saul Sierra, bass, Marco Diaz, piano and Orestes Vilató, timbales and bongo.

Also includes photos of some of our local musicians who were in attendance: Beverly Botsford, Ricardo Granillo and Nelson Delgado.

Backstory: Read "Hell's Bells," a column I wrote about it at the time in the Independent Weekly that includes a short conversation with Orestes Vilató.

Discography: John Santos has two excellent 2008 releases out now, one with his quintet, and one with his folkloric group, El Coro Folklórico Kindembo. You can contact him for more info at his website,

update: "El Benny" review

I've posted my movie review of the Cuban film about Benny Moré. Click on any link to see the updated post.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cornelio Campos Reception @ Peace College

Works by one of my favorite local painters, Cornelio Campos, will be on display at Peace College for one week only, Nov. 17-21.

Campos paints complex, large-scale works with strong symbolic themes related to immigration and life in the U.S. He grew up in Morelia, Mexico and later studied in Guadalajara. His work has been exhibited locally at La Fiesta del Pueblo, the Antorcha Guadalupana, Durham Artwalk, and are featured in a new documentary about the culture of Mexican immigrants in Durham, The Virgin comes to La Maldita Vecindad.

WHAT: Cornelio Campos art exhibition
WHEN: Nov. 17-21
WHERE: Peace College, Flowe Building 3rd fl.

RECEPTION TODAY: Wednesday (11/19), 7 pm. Campos will speak about his paintings and answer questions. Dessert will be served. Both the exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

mother of all guitar auctions

For a long time, I've toyed with the idea of dedicating an edition of Azucar y Candela to something very special in salsa history: the electric guitar solo.

Elliott Randall, known for his work with Steely Dan and the early SNL Band, is responsible for a lot of those, infusing rock flavor into salsa albums by Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentin and Larry Harlow.

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, Randall will be auctioning off some of his rare and storied guitars at London's FAME Bureau, an auction house that has handled the music memorabilia of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra. (If you can't make it across the pond for the live auction, you can still bid online.)

Check out the catalog of beauties and read more about Elliott Randall's career at his website,

Correction added: auction will indeed take place on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 27, not Nov. 29 as previously posted.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I'm going to start adding concert reviews and photos to the original event postings, in most cases, rather than as new blog posts.

Recently updated: Latin Grammys, Tambor Vivo, Calexico, and Bio Ritmo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Charanga Carolina & ELM Collective Friday

Charanga Carolina opens for the ELM Collective at the Carrboro Arts Center this Friday (11/14).
¡Feliz cumpleaños!
Here are some details from Charanga director David Garcia:

Charanga will start at 8:30 pm followed by jazz-world music fusion group ELM Collective at 9:30pm.

Charanga Carolina will feature guest artists Nelson Delgado, Pako Santiago, Alberto Carrasquillo, Ramon Ortiz, Jay Kaufman, and Brevan Hampden!

Charanga's set list will include music by Eddie Palmieri, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Tipica 73, Orquesta Aragon, Soneros del Barrio, and other salsa dura music from NYC, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Tickets are $15 general; $12 for ArtsCenter Friends and UNC students (w/ One Card)

The dance floor will be open!

ELM Collective
I'm excited to hear ELM Collective for the first time, which brings together musicians from Lebanon, Italy, Suriname, the Ukraine and the U.S. Several of their members also play with Children of the Horn.

UPDATE, added Saturday:

ELM Collective - what a cool band. These guys are each heavy musicians in their own right, and they pool their virtuosity and international influences in really interesting ways. It's a unique palette to begin with--flutes, oud, keyboard, guitar, percussion, drumset and bass--but what I also liked about it was that each tune had rhythmic integrity from identifiable, different sources like James Brown funk, middle-eastern odd meters, samba blues, etc. combined in seamless, intricate ways. After only one year of playing together in this format, these guys have great synergy and momentum. I'm looking forward to hearing more from them.

The "chemistry" with Charanga musicians was palpable in backstage conversations, it would be cool to get these musicians together on stage to sit in or jam in an "all star" setting. The connections have been made.

el vacilon

(click on photos to see more)

Charanga was gorgeous, the new student violinists this year are bearing the torch of their predecessors, and it was flutist Christina Smith's second-to-last gig with the group: Smith graduates from UNC in December and moves to Atlanta. Charanga is in her blood now, I'm pretty sure some Latin band in Atlanta will be inheriting her stage presence and her talent. You can swing with Christina one last time, at the Charanga Carolina's December 2 show at UNC. See calendar!

pretty christina

Oh yeah, that...

I can't say that I'm really excited about it, but the 9th annual Latin Grammy Awards are on Univision tonight (Thursday, 11/13) at 8:00 pm. You can see the [was nominees, now winners] list here.

Among the weirder matchups: Kenny G. goes head to head with Bebo Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the "Instrumental" category, and Andrea Bocelli stares down Cafe Tacuba, Juanes and Julieta Venegas for "Record of the Year." In the "Jazz" field (where Gonzalo should be, doncha think?) there is only one award category! At least there are a few good entries there, like Dave Samuels and David Sánchez. As for salsa, I'm guessing that Marc Anthony's El Cantante soundtrack will trump the usual suspects.

Anyone want to tune in to see Gloria Estefan (who has an entry in the "Traditional Tropical" category, believe it or not) in a wiggle sheath dress accept a Person Of The Year Award? That's what I thought. Set the DVR, just in case something newsworthy happens, and come out to the rumba at Mosaic instead.

Afterparty: Read Jon Pareles' intelligent rundown of the Latin Grammys show (New York Times may ask you to register to read online, but it is free)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rumba Thursday @ Mosaic

Tambor Vivo will be back at Mosaic in Raleigh again this Thursday (11/13).

La rumba me esta llamando...

What it is: Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble, two short live sets at 10:30 and 11:30 pm, with DJ'ed salsa in between. FREE, no cover.

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

This party is happening. More and more people turn out each time for this (soon to be regular?) monthly percussion performance, with sweaty interludes of salsa. DJ Steven Feinberg played Bio Ritmo from the new album, the fortified plena/salsa mix "Dime Vida," also some Cuban timba (why wasn't I paying closer attention?), some Willie Colon (I think it was the real thing, "Todo Tiene Su Final") and some Marc Anthony from the El Cantante soundtrack, "Aguanile." Betto and some of his Mambo Dinamico crowd turned out, as well as the stalwarts from Paso, with their rueda and rumba guaguanco students, and members of the NCSalseros Meetup group. It was a good feeling to see a large crowd responding to live drums. Tambor Vivo sounded the best I've heard them at this venue, possibly feeding off the crowd energy. They were doing a samba batucada thing when I came in, at the tail end of the last set. After the intermission, they entered with a shekere procession, and Beverly (Botsford) was in her element. One of her percussion buddies drove in 100 miles from Greenville. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. This wouldn't be happening 20 years ago," he said during the second set's long guaguanco, for which Betto and Beverly improvised some vocals. Like a tiny flame, we shelter it and watch it grow.

Open Border Rock

Calexico, with their desert twang and mariachi brass, revisit the Cradle Wednesday (11/12), just back from a European tour.

To get a really good preview, check out an entire live show on Fabchannel that the Tucson sextet played in October.

Opening for them are The Acorn, a similarly ambient, wallpaper-of-sound folk rock quintet out of Ottawa.

Doors open at 8:30, show at 9:15. Tickets are $15.

Back story: Read The Miles Davis of Mariachi, my interview with Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela in the Independent Weekly in 2003.

stage set

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

Calexico has grown in confidence since I heard them last, probably a couple of years ago. Joey Burns has really stepped up to the mic, literally, I can make out much more of the lyrics to their songs now in live performance. This is a good thing.

It's been awhile since I was in a rock club, and conditioned as I am now to hardcore salsa, there were a few times I had to check my expectations. It's a different (pleasant) sensation to hear indie rock in a club, the way the sound hits you makes different parts of the body tingle. The sea of aromatic humanity struck me as polite and nonaggressive, in non-dancing appreciation. Instead of Corona, empty PBR cans and Jamaica stripe bottles littered the edge of the stage. With salsa, you get used to an incredibly high level of technical fire and virtuosity, particularly in the horns and percussion, so the muted atmospherics favored by Calexico as they juggle a rotating parade of instrumental extras--marimba, accordion, French horn, peddle steel, something like an electronic shawm, etc.--took a different listener's mindset. It's a certain enchantment they've honed to fine points over the years.


Trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela (pictured, left), whom I interviewed in '03, sang a nice original song in Spanish, "Inspiración." Just like his trumpet playing, he's got a wide vibrato and warm sound to his singing voice, and the more intensely punctuated Latin rhythms of this tune caused a noticeable crowd reaction. I chatted with him after the show, he said he's contemplating a Latin solo project. Sounds good; hope he keeps me informed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bringing Sacred Power to Durham Neighborhoods

An important new film about life in Durham makes its world premiere at the Latin American Film Festival tonight:

The Virgin comes to La Maldita Vecindad documents Mexican immigrants in Durham who celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on her feast day, 12/12, as matachine dancers. They participate in outdoor religious processions that wind through an East Durham neighborhood, aka "La Maldita Vecindad," as well the area around the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St., where the Antorcha Guadalupana makes an annual stop. The sacred flame is relayed by runners all the way from the basilica in Mexico City to New York as a pilgrimage of faith and a demonstration for immigrants' rights.

(click on photos to see more at my flickr stream)

young girl as Mary

I love these celebrations; I've been to several of these processions since Guadalupe became such a powerful presence in Durham, including the two torch relays shown in the film. The power they generate is palpable: hundreds of people peaceably taking to the streets, led by a Franciscan monk and ordinary people carrying their images of the Virgin, shutting down traffic with their songs for her, as curious residents come out of their homes to see what's going on. Kids dress up in a tableau of the Virgin and Juan Diego on a flatbed trailer float, youth dancers dress as Aztecs and demons with bells on and dance snake-like circles around the marchers, as if they were forming a spiritual membrane of protection around us.

Last year, in 2007, I didn't intend to go, but absentmindedly drove right into it. I had been preoccupied with a problem of some sort; this seemed like a sign. I pulled the car over and jumped out, just as the torch was approaching me, and as it passed, I fell in step with the crowd following behind and joined in the chorus: ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana es algo esencial.


I'm not Catholic, but the Marian rituals and the people power they inspire, me hacen vibrar. I don't really need a doctrinal framework to feel comfortable with that, I just go. Marching through the dark streets of Durham, it's a like a spiritual power surge, a solidarity lightning bolt.

The filmmakers, Elva Bishop, Altha Cravey and Javier Garcia, and community dancers who are in the film, will be present at the screening, which happens tonight (11/11) at 7 pm at the ERC Auditorium at Durham Tech's main campus.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Latin American Film Festival Main Page

Must-see Cuban film depicting 1950s bandleader and charismatic singer Benny More, paired with a documentary on Mexican guitar makers at the Latin American Film Festival tomorrow:

Saturday. NOVEMBER 8

Family Life Recreation Center at Lyon Park (1309 Halley St. Durham NC 27701) 5:30 pm

“Guitar Holiday.” Dennis Conway. (USA-Mexico) 2007.

English and Spanish. 47min.

It is a documentary about the guitar makers of Paracho, Michoacan and the Mexican National Guitar Festival that continues to acknowledge and celebrate their world renowned craftsmanship. Guitar Holiday features compelling interviews with guitar makers in their homes and workshops, and an occasionally drifting frame invites viewers to witness the rich culture and cherished traditions of the people of Paracho. Dozens of guitar shops line the main plaza and side streets of Paracho, where you can buy a guitar from the person who made it. Every August Paracho comes alive as it hosts the Mexican National Guitar Festival. The festival features classical guitar concerts, parades, mariachi and Purepecha folk performances and competitions for guitarists and guitar makers. But ultimately, it is the town that emerges as the main character in a spirited display of tradition and community pride.


“El Benny.” Jorge Luis Sánchez. (Cuba) 2006

Spanish with English subtitles. 120min.

It is a fictional story based on the life of the famous Cuban musician Benny Moré. It includes new versions of his songs performed by musicians including Chucho Valdés, Juan Formell, Haila and Orishas. The film premiered in Cuba in July 2006, and was presented at the Locarno International Film Festival (2006). The film was Cuba's candidate for the Academy Awards. The film won the "First Work" (Opera Prima) award at the New Latin American Cinema festival in Havana in December 2006. U.S. premiere at the "Palm Springs International Film Festival" (2007), and its east coast premiere at the Miami International Film Festival (2007). The director is distantly related to Benny Moré. [--Wikipedia]

In partnership with Durham Parks and Recreation.

Synopses from the festival website.

Footage of the real Benny More:

Lots more great stuff in this FREE festival which runs through November 21.


Posted 11/20/08

The El Benny film was excellent. Made in Cuba in 2006, co-written by Abrahán Rodríguez and director Jorge Luis Sánchez, the role of Benny was played by actor Renny Arozarena, with vocals provided by Juan Manuel Villi. Other contributions by musicians who did not appear on camera were a conspicuous piano solo provided by Chucho Valdés, and a tribute arrangement by Juan Manual Ceruto with the voices of Haila Monpie and the rap group Orishas.

What El Benny gets right: the body language, from the facial gestures, to the sleight of hand of stashing a joint underneath a shirt collar, to the physicality of Moré's conducting style, to the way Benny enjoyed alcohol without imbibing it once he had ruined his liver (by rubbing it between his hands and cupping them over his nose and mouth like an oxygen mask).
And of course the music and dance vocabulary, the look of the settings, the language, the cubanía of it all.

What the film embellishes on is the fictional narrative, what one might call the propaganda frame. I say this advisedly, not only because I don't fancy that a movie about Beny Moré that depicted him playing dominos with Batista (which according to family and friends is a biographical fact) could ever be made in Cuba. No more than movies get made in Hollywood that don't conform to certain narratives that will be palatable to audiences and studio powers.

Besides, the film doesn't waste much time on a subplot about fictional associates of Moré's who are engaged in revolutionary activities. There is a lot of time spent, relatively, a surprising amount, on the ins and outs of the music business, especially the negative aspects behind the scenes: racism, envy, swindles and double-dealings. This probably reflects the reality pretty accurately, in spirit if not 100% in fact.

It's easy to imagine the ways Hollywood would get this story wrong. Cultural things like Moré's humble roots ("Soy Guajiro"), and the African spiritual practices he inherits from his grandfather, would have been opaque to Hollywood. They would have simply left it out, or tried to overexplain to outsiders, just like El Cantante did with the Fania story. Hollywood usually underestimates the average movie viewers' ability to follow a suspenseful narrative, even when it means taking on unfamiliar assumptions. Just look at the vast appetite for plot twists and fantasy worlds on the part of today's video gamers, film and TV viewers. Really you just have to get people to identify with and care about your characters and they are along for the ride.

The advantage a Cuban filmmaker has is he can use all these cultural allusions as vehicles to tell the story (to his culturally literate audience) in a non-literal way. So for instance, "death" was portrayed allegorically, with a sort of Santería twist, as one of Benny's fans, a sexed-up, middle-aged nurse who has the hots for him after he's hospitalized with liver failure. There was a delightful sex scene in the movie too, (and I don't the mean the quick, funky bang in a nightclub men's room), refreshingly absent of the airbrushed, high-pressure Hollywood cliches. The camera seemed to move with a Cuban sensibility, from the novel way it maneuvered through the lovemaking, to the unapologetic delight it took in the fleshy curve of a young woman's back.

I liked the way the film shows snippets of the real Benny at the end, as well as footage of the massive mourning at his funeral. The way modern musicians are incorporated in the closing credits of the soundtrack captures how vital Benny's music remains to the music of Cuba today, even though popular styles have changed drastically. The film captures his sheer genius, and the effect it had (and still has) on people.

This interview on the America TéVé talk show "A Mano Limpia" with host Oscar Haza features the grandson and Moré's trombonist Generoso Jimenez. My sense from this was that Benny was "of the people" but above politics, and to be fair to the film, it does give Benny lines of dialogue that intimate this. The upshot from the interview was that while some characters were invented, and much of the story is a fantasy, it does lock in to true events at times, and the characterization is spot on.

Bio Ritmo @ Local 506 TONIGHT!

Friday (11/7) marks the long-awaited arrival in Chapel Hill of Bio Ritmo. The Richmond salsa band is touring nationally with their new album Biónico (which includes a spoof of the '70s TV show action theme The Six Million Dollar Man). Showtime is 10 pm at the Local 506.

Backstory: Read my review of Biónico, the Indy's album of the month, out in this week's edition of the Independent Weekly.

sabor ponceño
Rei Alvarez, of Bio Ritmo.

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

Has Bio Ritmo really gone bionic? I've heard all these songs before, but they were etched deeper, customized with craftsmanlike sectionwork (horns) and longer, more introspective solos (Marlysse). If you know the album, it was satisfying and up to that standard without mimicking the studio performance. Good show.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

RADIO ALERT: Branford Marsalis on WUNC THIS HOUR

Branford Marsalis will talk about this Brasilianos tour on The State of Things TODAY at NOON.

WUNC 91.5 FM

Update: stream or get the podcast of the Marsalis interview here.

Added Friday morning:

It was a lovely concert, the Filharmonia Brasileira is a versatile, small chamber orchestra, with a fanciful, light touch on a lot of works that merit it by Villa-Lobos and Milhaud. In the interview, Marsalis talks about the jazz motifs in these classical works, and what he had to do technically to adapt and blend with the delicate, subdued colors of the strings, relative to loud horn-based jazz. We got to hear a little Brazilian rhythm toward the end, as one of the percussionists played a dancing rhythm on the pandeiro. Local composer Eric Hirsh was there and tracked down some of the unprogrammed encores. In fact, the orchestra itself didn't seem to want to go home, and just kept offering up gem after small gem. Milhaud's "Creation du Monde" was the highlight for me, a sweet, quirky jazz creation story; picture the first man and woman as Matisse cutouts cavorting in a jungle painting by Rousseau. They also played a dandy Scaramouche by Milhoud, and a few Bachianas Brasilianas and other works by Villa-Lobos; Branford executed very cleanly and with a very even, well-tempered tone, sticking largely to soprano sax, with a few pieces calling for alto. There was a very healthy turnout and several standing ovations. The Brazilian musicians seemed well-served by a very laid-back demeanor, which does not translate into a lack of musical discipline, but rather a sort of relaxed agility. Notably blurring the lines of "standard" classical concert deportment, the excellent clarinettist wore a bandana on his head, and Gil Jardim, Marsalis and other members of the orchestra exchanged soul brother handshakes. This orchestra was hip without ironic detachment, cool without pretension. Pretty much everything I had hoped a Brazilian classical orchestra would be. It's a very special repertoire, as well; it would be worth catching the remainder of this tour if it's in your area; remaining tourdates are at Branford's website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marsalis Brasilianos: Thursday

Branford Marsalis comes home to Durham Thursday (11/6) with 30 of his newest, closest friends: the Filharmonia Brasileira led by Gil Jardim. Together they are touring a program of majestic orchestral works by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and his kindred spirit and friend, French composer Darius Milhaud.

It's an 8 pm show in Page Auditorium on Duke's West Campus. Duke Performances has the hookup.

Marsalis' love for Brazil goes back to at least 1986, when he included a Villa-Lobos composition on his classical debut, Romances for Saxophone. His latest album with his jazz quartet, Braggtown, pays homage to that neighborhood here in his adopted Bull City.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Charanga Tipica This Wednesday

A late add to the calendar this week: UNC's Charanga Carolina will play a free, public concert from 6-7 pm Wednesday (11/5) at the FedEx Global Education Building on UNC campus. Director David Garcia reports that the group in its "charanga tipica" formation will perform son montuno, songo and danzon. See calendar for directions.

Adopting Mexican ways to get by in the US

Not about music, but interesting nonetheless: Today's LA Times has an article about Central American immigrants "Mexicanizing" themselves to get by in the US. Although the article's focus is on SoCal, I wonder if this is sometimes the case here in Norte Carolina as well?

VOTE! Election Day November 4

You know what to do.

7:00 am - I just voted. I was 16th in line and the 60th person to cast a ballot in my precinct. Get out there and exercise your franchise, people! Let's make America more beautiful. Our democracy needs to hear the voices of people who care about music and culture.

I keep meditating on Ismael Rivera this morning. However, rather than post about that just now, here's a link about the actual soundtrack I was listening to on my way out to the polling station: Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall, the new live album from the now infamous 1998 concert. What music were you listening to ten years ago? How have you, and the world, changed since then?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Souls Rumba

As great as it was to have El Gran Combo here in N.C. last night, I can't help but feel some longing as to where else I might have been:

This is fresh footage from the Nov. 1 reunion concert of Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, the legendary '70s jazz/folklore experiment at the Hostos Center in the Bronx.

If you ever wanted to know what motivates those of us who love rumba, check this clip out and make a commitment to watch the whole thing through to the end. If you don't have 10 minutes, just skip it. Staying power is not encouraged by the current pace of our popular culture, but you have to build intensity to get to ecstasy.

This starts small, but passionate with Jerry Gonzalez on trumpet recitative. Assembled luminaries include Jerry's brother Andy Gonzalez on bass, and Manny Oquendo on timbales, who played in Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta in the '60s. Those who stay to the end are rewarded with some rumba dancing by lead singer/conguero Pedrito Martinez.

If those steps look familiar, you may have seen them before. Pedrito unleashed similar rumba moves at the Cat's Cradle three years ago, in a much more contemporary context--the urban melange of Latin styles known as Yerba Buena.

Cuban Hip-Hop Doc Opens Film Fest TODAY

The free, fantastic Latin American Film Festival opens TODAY (Sunday 11/2) with a much anticipated documentary on Cuban hip-hop: Jovenes Rebeldes (2005). Screening is at 7pm in the Campus Cinema in Witherspoon Student Center, North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

A live performance by local rappers (including Nino, a Panamanian rapper who was on Azucar y Candela last week) will follow the film.

More on the rest of this 3-week, multi-campus festival line-up to follow; for now check out the full schedule here.

First Photos

El Gran Combo in Greensboro last night. Click on to see more at my flickr stream.

ambiente y color


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Puerto Rico's Great Combination

I've seen some great shows in Greensboro: Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the Afro-Cuban All Stars (where I danced, albeit briefly, in a front row clench with Pedrito Van Van).

Now tonight, El Gran Combo moves into view at Rumba D'Cache on W. Market St. (see calendar).

The band formed in 1962, as an off-shoot of the estimable Cortijo y su Combo, and is still going strong 46 years later with pianist Rafael Ithier at the helm. Known as "La Universidad de la Salsa," some of its 'graduates' include bongocero Roberto Roena and trumpeter Elias Lopez, who went on to work as band leaders in Puerto Rico, and sonero Andy Montañez and bolero singer Pellín Rodriguez. The band's current signature lead voices are Charlie Aponte, Jerry Rivas and Papo Rosario.

El Gran Combo rejected a signing offer from Motown in the early '70s to create its own label, Combo Records, a business decision that has put them in control of their own commercial and artistic brand. Their output has been voluminous, producing new albums, compilations and live recordings almost yearly for most of their career, and hits that are still widely played and recognized by salsa fans around the world. Evergreens such as "Un Verano en Nueva York," "Azuquita Pa'l Cafe" and "El Menu" resonate as markers of Puerto Rican identity--and for tonight's Halloween theme, there are hits like "La Muerte" and "Brujeria." More recently, their 2001 El Nuevo Milenio - El Mismo Sabor spawned the dancehall staple "Me Libere" and a tribute to the passing in 2000 of timbal king Tito Puente. Their last album was Arroz con Habichuela in 2006.

Here's a pre-1977 clip of the band from YouTube, featuring Andy Montañez at his height:

Three men sharing a microphone may be old school, but it captures the convivial force of the art form, the essence of salsa's stage presence. Nice dance moves, too; musicians, you can polish up your stage footwork with these fine fellows.

At the end of the clip, there's an Easter egg of La Sonora Ponceña, Puerto Rico's other iconic, long-running salsa band. You will catch a glimpse of Yolanda Rivera, one of the first ladies of salsa, and the great Luigi Texidor spinning a soneo. Seeing the two bands bookended is a great combination, indeed. Thanks to L.A. Times music critic and author Ernesto Lechner for suggesting this clip as essential viewing.