Puttin' back the sauce into Cuban music: Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and The Afro-Cuban All stars: as diverse as they are connected.



Pursuing any art form demands an independent cast of mind. Like other artists, musicians chase after personal visions, and their individual works can sometimes seem isolated and untouchable, often to the point of exclusivity from the general populous. This aloofness can sometimes be quite evident. That is, of course, until you introduce the element of Cuban dance music into the equation, and that is exactly what happened on March 27th and 28th, both at the Tilles Center (in Brookville, Long Island) and at New York City's Town Hall, as the two engaging programs brought together seventeen diversely talented and receptive musicians, including three outstanding singers (four, if you count the bandleader) and an equally impressive volume of material. It was a totally energetic coming-together of performer, repertoire and spectator. If you want to be left alone with your creative juices, then go paint a landscape on some isolated beach, but if you want your art to be shared by everyone at the moment you are creating it; then, by all means, go and start a Cuban-style "fiestón," or dance party, where audience participation is a given. Not only is this a sure-fire recipe for commercial success, but it is also the number one antidote for the aloofness of musical genius. It is a phenomenon that can happen anywhere, anytime.

This writer bore witness to such a happening, and I can only tell you that these guys stretched the limits of their individual boundaries, bringing all their collective influences and experiences, and weaving them into one single entity. This was music, period, and on both occasions, The Afro-Cuban All Stars proved beyond a doubt that their autochthonous rhythms were created for that purpose, and that their infectious "cubanía" (essential Cuban cultural identity) has once again transcended international barriers. In my opinion, with all due respect to some of the great bands that are working stateside, this type of cross-cultural interaction--with its uninhibited and intoxicating party atmosphere--had not been seen in NYC since 2003, when the Bush administration outlawed having fun with the "enemy." Please don't misinterpret what I am saying; New Yorkers do party hardy, but more often than not, they are oblivious to the performers. I should know. Latin American bands, likewise, have this thing about playing for themselves, and not for their audience. This was not the case however, when these bad boys came a-calling.

And what performers they were, these soul brothers from another planet! Regarded separately, each musician is a world unto himself, as exemplified by Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera's haunting piano introduction to Amor Verdadero, or his enchanting solo work on...

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