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“Rumba de la Isla” by Pedrito Martinez

Pedrito Martinez at Jazz Fest. Photo by Kichea S. Burt.
Pedrito Martinez at Jazz Fest. Photo by Kichea S. Burt.

The Pedrito Martinez Group will be playing Friday, March 22, at Tipitinas. Show starts at 9PM. The group will also be featured at the Congo Square World Rhythm Festival Saturday, March 23rd.

Cuban percussionist and bandleader Pedrito Martinez is on tour to promote his new album “Rumba de la Isla”. Exiled in New York City since the late nineties, Martinez and his band have become a sought after act, developing a following among the Latin American diaspora and Anglo fans alike. When the group is not touring, Pedrito Martinez hosts a regular gig several times a week at Cuban restaurant Guantanamera in Hell’s Kitchen.
 

Known for his ethnic Afro-Cuban rumba, Pedrito Martinez “Rumba de la Isla” explores different territory, deviating ever so slightly from the traditional, percussive, polyrhythmic Cuban rumba of the Congo to explore Andalusian Spain’s own rumba flamenca. Although rumba is an African creation, the sounds of colonial Spain were influential.

Rumba originated in the free slave “barrios” of Cuba much in the same way the early music of New Orleans developed on Congo Square. Assemblies of freemen carried the tradition of West Africa within, like living vessels in remembrance of what was left behind. Oral tradition, food, crafted mementos, folkloric dance and music were all exchanged at these congregations.

As time passed, the creolization of Cuba popularized the genre throughout the island nation and beyond. “Rumba de la Isla”, however,  takes aim on flamenco legend Camaron de la Isla’s body of work. Martinez pays tribute to the late bleeding heart of Camaron with titles like “Yo Vivo Enamorao”, “Volando Voy”, and “Quiero Quitarme Esta Pena”, songs about love, loss, and despair. However, this is no flamenco album. These are flamenco songs with an Afro-Cuban feel.

Pedrito never forgets where his music stems from, for he is deeply grounded in the Afro-Cuban tradition. Even though the songs are accompanied  by the acoustic guitar, and cajon, Martinez studies the sensual, emotive Spanish genre with Cuban gusto. Martinez and his group vacillate purposefully between la rumba, extended improvisations, Spanish guitar strums of traditional flamenco, and sudden, festive son cubano frenzies.  Sometimes, the band breaks into rumba medleys; congas and bongos merging with the cajon and handclaps of flamenco. A violin sings a song in a language understood by all. African chants, or dianas reminiscent of Santeria rituals and incantations sound oddly familiar to flamencos own melancholic, “canto jondo” of Andalucia.

Rumba de la Isla is a thoughtful and beautiful album. It is contemplative, conscientious of music and its power to transform. The audience is transported to different eras, taking in by a rhythm that belongs to so many eras and places. One is left self-aware that without the struggle and adventure of centuries past, the delicate hands that crafted the violin in privilege would be as absent as the hands that play the ancient conga, or all the witnessing hands that participate in clapping gesture universally. At their very best, the Pedrito Martinez group evoke the sentiment that music is a celebratory product of the struggle of man. Unlikely harmonies are found in opposing forces. Some of these songs will make your heart race and hurt, but all of this is easy to forget when you find yourself unexpectedly or deliberately dancing.

 

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