Thursday, May 26, 2022

CG has Four Performances at North Carolina Folk Festival

 


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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo 

 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Conjunto Guantánamo is RECOGNIZED WITH CITY ARTISTS CORPS GRANT FROM NEW YORK FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS




Afro-Cuban sextet, Conjunto Guantánamo is RECOGNIZED WITH CITY ARTISTS CORPS GRANT FROM NEW YORK FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS (NYFA) AND THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS (DCLA) 

Conjunto Guantánamo Will Present a Free Concert At The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center on October 20 as Part of the Award Program

New York, NY – Conjunto Guantánamo is one of 3,000 New York City-based artists to receive a full grant through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

Conjunto Guantánamo was recognized for their significance in their roles as the “ambassadors of Cuban Folklore,” and they’ll bring their own brand of traditional “Son Cubano” music to this multi-arts cultural institution in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on October 20, 2021 at 8pm. 

Conjunto Guantánamo's soulful sound is layered with authentic Cuban swing and sophisticated influences like "El Barbaro" Benny More, Arsenio Rodriguez, Roberto Faz, and Miguelito Cuní. Playing authentic traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms like Son Montuno, Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo, and Rumba with contemporary energy, their performances sometimes transition into extended experimental descargas -- a type of Afro-Cuban improvisational jam session -- using musical motifs straight from the streets of Havana and Matanzas, combined with the very spirit of New York City. Their recordings, available on Spotify and everywhere, are also lively and robust revivals of the most traditional compositions of the Afro-Cuban songbook. 

Over the course of three award cycles, more than 3,000 artists will receive $5,000 grants to engage the public with artist activities across New York City’s five boroughs this summer and fall. Artists can use the grant to create new work or phase of a work, or restage preexisting creative activities across any discipline. 

Members of the public can participate in City Artist Corps Grants programming by following the hashtag #CityArtistCorps on social media. 

City Artist Corps Grants was launched in June 2021 by NYFA and DCLA with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre. The program is funded by the $25 million New York City Artist Corps recovery initiative announced by Mayor de Blasio and DCLA earlier this year. The grants are intended to support NYC-based working artists who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. It is strongly recommended that a portion of the grant be used to support artist fees, both for the applying artist and any other artist that is engaged to support the project. 

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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo 

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Release of Soul Makossa

 




Conjunto Guantánamo drops their latest single, a remake of Manu Dibango’s hit Soul Makossa.  This musical release, out October 30, 2020, will find a wide audience with both newcomers and aficionados alike.

Preview CG’s ‘Soul Makossa’ via Soundcloud - http://bit.ly/XXXXXXX

“Soul Makossa,” touted as the 70s underground hit that inspired the Disco craze, has been reinterpreted and refreshed as a spectacular Afro-Cuban son by the so-called “ambassadors of Cuban folklore,” Conjunto Guantánamo. (Out Oct 30, 2020/Nganga Records) 


The Afro-jazz-funk classic, composed by Manu Dibango and originally released in 1972, has been either sampled or covered numerous times by scores of different artists throughout the decades, most notably by Michael Jackson in his song “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” off his best-selling “Thriller” album and by Rihanna in her song “Don’t Stop the Music.”


This time though, “Soul Makossa” has been repurposed into an infectious Cuban dance track with new instrumentation and a fresh arrangement by bassist Carlos Mena. It’s the first time “Soul Makossa” has ever been cast as a salsa theme.


 “… Afro-Cuban Ensemble Conjunto Guantánamo [explore] the rhythms of son montuno, cha-cha-cha, mambo and rumba with contemporary energy…”

– Jane Levere, Forbes



“It’s always been one of my favorite tunes ever since I heard it at the age of six,” says percussionist Ulises Beato who’s the leader of Conjunto Guantanamo. “As I first arrived in funky Miami in the early 70s, I heard it on the radio and it immediately had me hooked. It was one of my favorite songs even then.” He adds, “Years ago I had the idea of playing it Afro-Cuban son style but other projects always got in the way of that idea.”


Watch the video of 'Conjunto Guantánamo' - http://bit.ly/XXXXXX


Sadly a few weeks after COVID hit, the song’s composer Manu Dibango contracted coronavirus and passed away near Paris at the age of 86.


“I heard the news and then I realized the loss of this influential guy. I thought this is the time to finally make this song into a son Cubano number and give the tune and composer the appreciation they deserved.” Beato continues, “I talked to the band and due to the quarantine, we started working remotely on interpreting the tune. We were used to always recording all together at the studio at the same time so it was kind of weird.”


This new Afro-Cuban interpretation of the song takes its original Cameroonian roots and rehashes the whole affair in an Afro-Cuban light with the roots of Afro-Cuban polyrhythms stemming from places in Western Africa like Nigeria and the old Congo region. Dibango was from Cameroon and spoke Duala so some of the rhythms used in his original music are from a different end of the African rhythmic spectrum.


Conjunto Guantánamo’s new version definitely has a different feel from DiBango’s and yet it retains the same laid-back swing and power of the original. The harmonies of the backup vocals along with Pepito Gomez‘s powerful lead vocals, the deep, sultry tones of the Trumpet, and the way the Bass and Piano are intertwining their own grooves around the polyrhythms of the Tumba and Bongo are given a steady beat by Pepito’s Tres guitar. Like a steam locomotive steadily driving the dancers with the steady funky beat of its very capable engine.


Find the new single ‘Soul Makossa’ on all music platforms starting October 30, 2020


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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo #manudibango #afro-cubanfunk #

 


Friday, November 29, 2019

Our Latsest Single, El Son Convidando — Out Now!

 


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A big shout out to our friend Alastair Johnston of Muzikfan


A big shout out to our friend Alastair Johnston of Muzikfan for playing our upcoming single 'El Son Convidando' on Muzikfan's Podcast. Listen – http://bit.ly/33KeMAz

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

News from the Richmond Folk Festival 2019 - November 6, 2019

Presave our third single titled ‘El Son Convidando’ before its release on November 29 and you could win some cool prizes while supporting us in a big way. The more Presaves we get for our single before it’s released, the more Spotify is likely to add our song to its own hugely popular curated playlists and that’s GOLD to an independent band like ours. Getting added to playlists helps us grow our fan base exponentially which is a tremendous benefit to Conjunto Guantanamo. Help us get our music to more fans by Presaving now!


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November 6, 2019

News from the Richmond Folk Festival 2019

A couple of weeks ago we played the Richmond Folk Festival in Virginia and we had such a great experience that I wanted to share it with our Tribe and tell you all the details. The festival was 3 days long and we played a total of six engagements of different sorts so here are some highlights. let’s start at the beginning.

On Friday...

Style Weekly
The first cool thing to happen for the Festival was that the local arts and entertainment publication in Virginia called Style Weekly published a nice article about us entitled Digging Deep and written by Peter McElhinney. It felt good to arrive in Richmond with a little fanfare being shared about us right before we got there.

“Conjunto Guantanamo(’s) musicians are veteran champions of Afro-Cuban music.”
– Peter McElhinney, Style Weekly, Richmond


Digging Deep Article in Style Weekly
Southhampton Elementary School Workshop
Friday started early with us arriving at Southhampton Elementary School for a school workshop that was arranged by the JAM Inc organization. Many thanks to them for inviting us to share our music with the next generation of future musicians. There were around 250 students with us in the school auditorium. It was very gratifying to see these kids enjoy the music so much. In spite of, in some cases, the music being over a century old it was amazing to see how relevant it still is even to third and fourth graders. We taught the kids about polyrhythms in Afro-Cuban music and showed them how it’s put together piece by piece until you have the basis for a song.





Interview on VPM’s The World Music Show with Ian Stewart
Another big bonus is that on Friday they also posted an interview I was invited to do with Ian Stewart of the Richmond NPR affiliate VPM for his program World Music Show. Ian did a Richmond Folk Festival Artist Profile on me and he asked me to explain the influence traditional Cuban music has had on contemporary popular music. The show is just over five and a half minutes long and some of you might be surprised where we find these influences.





First Concert at Dominion Energy Dance Pavillion
Our first performance was out of this world. The huge crowd was on FIRE and this made the band feel the love these festival-goers had for our music. There were thousands of people in the audience and it was a sea of people dancing right there in front of us. We were sure to put them through their paces for our hour-long set. We let them have it from the first note we played and that audience knew right away that we meant business! We left them asking for more once we finished. The crowd went wild for us that night. We loved it!




Immediately after us getting off stage the festival had arranged a portrait sitting for the whole band backstage with photographer Dean Whitbeck for his Folk Festival Portrait Project that will be unveiled online soon.

Check back here to see our Portrait sitting with Dean Whitbeck for the Folk Festival Portrait Project


On Saturday... 

Coverage of us on RVA Hub

on Saturday morning right after breakfast at the Downtown Hilton, where the festival put us up, we found out that some really great photos of us by photographer Richard Hayes had been posted on RVA Hub. Richard took some really amazing photos of us which we really loved. Here are a few of them.







Interview for Music Time in Africa on Voice of America with Heather Maxwell
The Festival had scheduled another cool interview for us. This time with Heather Maxwell who does the show Music Time in Africa. Unfortunately, her production team ran into some logistical issues and the interview didn’t happen but we are looking forward to sitting down with Heather soon and talking about some musicology together.





CD Signing at the Brown’s Island merch tent
Thanks to all the new fans that decided to meet us at the merch tent for a meet and great CD signing. The Brown’s Island tent was run by Plan 9 Records in Virginia and they did such a great job nearly selling out of our CDs. If you’d like your own copy of our actual CD, Plan 9 is carrying our CDs now right at their Richmond store.



Backstage and Behind the Scenes
As usual, the band had a great time off stage too. Being in a band is like being married to 5 other people. Thankfully in our case, not only do our band members get along really well. We actually party it up and have a total blast together behind the scenes. All the guys in the band have a great sense of humor and the witty jokes, pranks and shenanigans never cease. Our vibe is always professional and en point yet relaxed and full of fun moments.





Party at the Hotel and Open Jam
On Saturday night after dinner, the NCTA held a party for all the musicians playing the festival (there were 35 bands in total) and the festival’s staff. There was a stage and sound system set up and the musicians were invited to jam together on stage. There were quite a few that took turns jumping up on stage and jumping into the jam. The jam went on for a good few of hours and was still going when we left the party after around 1am.




On Sunday...




Altria Stage
Our last concert at the festival was on Sunday afternoon at the Altria stage. There were people there as far as the eye could see. A band had just finished playing there right before us and there were lots of people on the lawn laying on picnic blankets and such. Not that many people were sitting though by the time we started playing. We made sure to turn the energy up a notch on that crowd and halfway through the first song we had tons of people up and dancing. We played hard and they danced hard. It was a great combination. And the energy between the fans and the band was terrific! I think since the crowd knew this was the last show, they showed up in massive droves to hear us one more time and see us off.


Global Voices: Asia to the Americas at the Community Foundation Stage
Global Voices: Asia to the Americas at the Community Foundation Stage
The last event we participated in was Global Voices: Asia to the Americas as part of a panel of musicians from countries discussing and sharing their own respective vocal traditions. There where, among others, Tuvan throat singers, musicians from Aleppo, a choir from the Republic of Georgia and 3 members of CG as part of the panel. The audience that attended really seemed to enjoy what everyone had to share and we really enjoyed taking part in this workshop.




Recordings for the Library of Congress
The National Council for the Traditional Arts Collection
Our performances were recorded and will be included in The NCTA’s archive of original audio recordings which dates back to the 1930s. To date, over 6,000 hours of recordings in The NCTA Collection are now housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where they are accessible to interested scholars and the public. It’s a great feeling to be immortalized in such an important national archive that will be available for so many future generations.


Thanks so much for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed the story. Stay tuned for lots more great music performances and goodies coming up soon. Remember to Presave ‘El Son Convidando’ on Spotify but first, go grab your dance shoes because you’re gonna need them!

And of course, we would like to say a very special thank you to our Artist Hosts who take the time to usher the band around the festival and help make things run smooth like buttuh! Carol, Diego, Julie and Alex, you were indispensable and we're glad to have you as our new friends!

Thanks also to Madeleine Remez, Blaine Waide and the rest of the festival staff who run that huge festival like a Formula 1 racecar! Your efforts are unreal! We love the NCTA!



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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo #richmondvirginia

Friday, February 1, 2019

‘Mamaita no Quiere’ is Available Now!

The second single off of our new album just dropped!

‘Mamaita no Quiere’ is available now!

Spotify users, here’s the Spotify link (and all the other streaming services too) to the song - add it to your library now. Click here.






Our new single, 'Mamaita No Quiere’ hits the ground running with an explosive energy created by what is essentially our six-man rhythm machine. From the first note, the trumpet and percussion beckon itchy feet to the dance floor with an upbeat melody that can lift any spirit. The Spanish lyrics spin the narrative of a party goer who can’t imagine why “Mamaíta” (Little Mama) won’t dance with him only to have him admit the ground will tremble if she does.

‘New York City’s Conjunto Guantánamo… celebrates Cuban folklore as the spirit breathing life into its sound.’  – The Lowell Sun

This second single from the upcoming album gives our tribe yet another teaser before the April 2019 full album release. Co-produced by Ulises Beato and Pepito Gomez, 'Moviendo Los Caracoles’ is a collection of some of the most beautiful and infectious Cuban songs ever written, masterfully refreshed in Carlos Mena’s contemporary arrangements at Brooklyn’s Nganga Records by Conjunto Guantánamo. The album will feature 10 addicting new tracks and never a dull moment. Look for 'Moviendo Los Caracoles’ wherever you get your music starting April 12th, 2019.  

We hope you enjoy our new track and play it in your car, at work, at parties, and share it with your friends. Help us spread our message of fun and infectious rhythm.

And, by all means, write us and tell us what you think of the music. We would really appreciate the feedback.

Until next time… Hasta la vista, baby!!

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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Cuchillo para la Piña Cubana - Out Now!


Conjunto Guantánamo, One of Today’s Most Authentic Traditional Afro-Cuban Ensembles, Drops their Latest Single - Out Now 

‘Cuchillo para la Piña Cubana’ (out now) is the first single from the highly anticipated new album ‘Moviendo los Caracoles’ (coming April 12/Nganga Records) by Conjunto Guantánamo. From its first bars, 'Cuchillo para la Piña Cubana' draws the listener in with one new fresh rhythmic passage after another, before exploding into a full-on, high-energy Cuban dance number with all the strength and driving beat of a steady locomotive.  

The band, once again, flexes its musical muscles establishing it as a true tour de force in traditional Afro-Cuban music and one of the most promising Afro-Cuban son ensembles of its generation. Conjunto Guantanamo are truly the ambassadors of Cuban folklore.

Watch a teaser video of 'Conjunto Guantánamo'

Listen to 'Cuchullo para la Piña Cubana' via Soundcloud

Led by its founder, Cuban percussionist Ulises Beato, the sextet features some of the finest players in traditional Afro-Cuban music today. Pepito Gomez’s lead vocals combined with the lush harmonies of the backup vocals and Itettsu Nasuda’s piano and Hammond style organ solo give this track a festive and contemporary feel, while staying true to the genre's nearly century-old style. The song was arranged by bassist Carlos Mena, whose pounding syncopated bass provides brazen backing to the lively polyrhythms of Mauricio Herrera’s bongo and Ulises’ conga drums.

The band have recently enjoyed the support of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and was recently ranked  Number 6 on ReverbNation’s Latin Music category. They’ve also been featured on WPKN, WFMU, and WVST in the U.S and Celtica Radio in the U.K.

This lead single from their upcoming album gives fans a teaser until the release of the full album in April 2019. Co-produced by Ulises Beato and Pepito Gomez, Moviendo los Caracoles is a collection of some of the most beautiful and infectious Cuban songs ever written, masterfully refreshed in contemporary arrangements at Brooklyn’s Nganga Records by Conjunto Guantánamo. The album will feature 10 infectious new tracks and never a dull moment. Look for ‘Moviendo los Caracoles’ wherever you get your music starting April 12, 2019.

Watch a teaser video of 'Conjunto Guantánamo'

Listen to 'Cuchullo para la Piña Cubana' via Soundcloud

Led by its founder, Cuban percussionist Ulises Beato, the sextet features some of the finest players in traditional Afro-Cuban music today. Pepito Gomez’s lead vocals combined with the lush harmonies of the backup vocals and Itettsu Nasuda’s piano and Hammond style organ solo give this track a festive and contemporary feel, while staying true to the genre's nearly century-old style. The song was arranged by bassist Carlos Mena, whose pounding syncopated bass provides brazen backing to the lively polyrhythms of Mauricio Herrera’s bongo and Ulises’ conga drums.

The band have recently enjoyed the support of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and was recently ranked  Number 6 on ReverbNation’s Latin Music category. They’ve also been featured on WPKN, WFMU, and WVST in the U.S and Celtica Radio in the U.K.

This lead single from their upcoming album gives fans a teaser until the release of the full album in April 2019. Co-produced by Ulises Beato and Pepito Gomez, Moviendo los Caracoles is a collection of some of the most beautiful and infectious Cuban songs ever written, masterfully refreshed in contemporary arrangements at Brooklyn’s Nganga Records by Conjunto Guantánamo. The album will feature 10 infectious new tracks and never a dull moment. Look for ‘Moviendo los Caracoles’ wherever you get your music starting April 12, 2019.


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#pepitogomez #conjuntoguantanamo #salsa #nyc #cuban #cuba #barquisimeto #venezuela #cubanmusic #livemusic #dance #salsero #piano #キューバ音楽 #latinmusic #percussions #キューバ #timba #afro-cuban  #futbol #timessquare #ラテン #music #buenavistasocialclub #japan #サルサ #afrocuban #newyork #yamaha #latinpercussion #remo 


Monday, December 3, 2018

Global Mashup - Cuba Meets Bluegrass at Flushing Town Hall

He had a great Performance at Flushing town hall having a great mashup with Buddy Merriam and his crew. Watch the video posted by Queens Public Television (this link will take you to the video on QPTV's Facebook page)




Click here to see the full live concert

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Free Download Offer - Oye Como Suenan EP




The following is a test of our emergency music sharing systems. This is just a test. Had this been a real emergency, you would have been instructed to grab your dance shoes and head to your nearest dance party.

https://bit.ly/3lPG2IQ

This concludes this test of our emergency music sharing systems. Carry on...
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Thursday, November 1, 2018

"... A musical foundation of their Afro Cuban identity"

"Conjunto Guantánamo, whose goal is to bring traditional Cuban music back to New York City consciousness, proudly asserts their African heritage with every beat of the clave and conga drums–A musical foundation of their Afro Cuban identity"

– Maylis B. Student, Columbia University
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#salsa #soaandreggaeclass #combiauniversity #abridgetothepast

Friday, September 9, 2016

CG Included in Film Score on Film About Photographer Walker Evans

In the Footsteps of Walker Evans: Return to Cuba

a film by Ross McDermott



Conjunto Guantanamo is asked to include a track in the score of a new documentary by Ross McDermott about the great photographer Walker Evans. The film was even selected for the Camden International Film Festival in 2016.

See more about Ross's film here — http://bit.ly/2LtnQ4D

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Conjunto Guantánamo does Christmas Cuban-Style in their Holiday Double-Single Out Now

 


Conjunto Guantánamo does Christmas Cuban-Style in their Holiday Double-Single Out Now

LISTEN TO ‘SANTA CLAUS LLEGO A LA CIUDAD’ VIA SOUNDCLOUD HERE

Kick-off your holidays with some of the best new Christmas songs to come along in years. A holiday music release that will have everyone dancing, swinging, and feeling good.

 
'Conjunto Guantánamo' are sure to get any Christmas party going with their signature holiday singles, 'Santa Claus Llego a la Ciudad' and 'Navidad, Navidad' (OUT NOW). The tracks are just right for any get-together with family and friends and perfect for getting your holiday season started off right. This is Christmas music your loving friends and family will remember from your get-together. Find the tracks on their double-single '¡Las Navidades con el Conjunto Guantánamo!'

 
Watch a teaser video of Conjunto Guantánamo

Listen to !Las Navidades! con el Conjunto Guantánamo' via Soundcloud here

Santa Claus Llego a la Ciudad 

Navidad, Navidad
 

Their version of these holiday classics is lively and spirited, perfect for your Christmas playlist, dance party, or any holiday festivities.  Here’s some Christmas music you’ll never grow tired of. When it's time to have fun during the holidays, whether you’re waiting in line to stand under the mistletoe, kicking back with some spiced eggnog or enjoying yourself with the other Christmas revelers, add these tracks to your holiday playlist and cut loose at the Christmas party! Tune in to the thrills of lively percussion, pounding syncopated bass lines, brazenly exotic trumpet melodies, uninhibited improvisation, and the sultry, sexy, dynamic lead vocals of lead singer Pepito Gomez along with some great lush backup vocals.
 

Order '¡Las Navidades con el Conjunto Guantánamo' here

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

CG Perform at the Lowell Folk Festival's Global Voices Series


2014 Lowell Folk Festival

Music Workshop
Global Voices: The Power of Song
at
Market Street






Before our first performance in Lowell on Sunday, the last day of this year's festival, a handful of us from Conjunto Guantánamo were asked to take part in one of the several music workshops the festival offers. So, after breakfast, we got shuttled off to one of the stages, a small one at Market Street. There were 12 participants in total arranged in a semi-circle facing an audience that braved a good amount of rain that morning just to hear what we had to say and play. Those who took part in the workshop on stage were, from stage left to right...

Seán Keane - a renowned sean-nós (old style) singer (Ireland)
www.SeanKeanesinger.com


Samba Mapangala and two members of his Orchestre Virunga singing vocals - East African Rumba (Congo, Africa)

Joe Mullins (three of his Blue Ramblers joined him later singing vocals) - Bluegrass (Ohio, USA)

Myself (Ulises) on one conga drum and three members of my Conjunto Guantanamo - Afro-Cuban Son (Cuba)
Carlos Mena - bass and vocals
Pepito Gomez - lead vocals and guitar
Angel Diaz - vocals and clave

Hassan Hakmoun (and two of his bandmates) on a sintir (a three-stringed bass lute) - Gnawa (Morroco) www.HassanHakmoun.com

The workshop was moderated by Gregg Kimball, a multi-instrumentalist, music lecturer, author, curator and scholar specializing in American roots music and who is Director of Educational and Outreach Services at The Library of Virginia.

Gregg did a great job making all the panel members feel relaxed and he was great at engaging and getting the panel to open up and discuss their experiences within their own careers and musical genres.

As far as our participation, at first, I was somewhat apprehensive about participating because I didn't know what to expect and I wanted to make sure my band-mates and I brought something worthwhile to the table. I knew we would be asked to perform with the panel at least for a few minutes during the workshop and I wanted to make sure our participation would be appropriate.

First, Seán Keane, the folkloric singer from Ireland was asked about his musical traditions and he discussed the origins of his music which was handed down through the generations in his family. He explained that he learned "sean-nós" (“old style”) singing from his mother and aunts, and by the time he was in his teens, he had won thirteen All-Ireland medals in various singing competitions.

He sang an interesting Irish hymn that was characteristically melancholy and utterly unforgettable. To my ears, it sounded very authentic.  

Next, Samba Mapangala, who is said to be East Africa's most beloved singer, and two other musicians from his ensemble discussed their music which they described, in part to be "rumba" and this immediately caught my attention. Rumba, being an exclusively traditional Afro-Cuban form derived from more traditional African forms brought to Cuba, developed as a genre around the mid-19th century. I was curious when I heard this was the genre they were working in.

Samba explained that the event, The Rumble in the Jungle, which was centered around the historic Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman boxing match held in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974 and which featured several musical acts including of course, Celia Cruz, inspired them to explore their own version of "rumba" which sounds markedly different yet similar from what they do in Cuba. That genre eventually became the globally popular Souka we're all so familiar with today.

In 1974, Celia Cruz was one of the top Cuban exports via the US and part of a group of artists which also included BB King, James Brown, and Miriam Makeba that performed in Kinshasa alongside some top Zairean groups like T.P.O.K. Jazz and Tabu Ley Rochereau. The performance was part of a three-day festival called ZAIRE ’74, the brainchild of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and his producer Stewart Levine, who had come up with the idea of a music festival to precede the boxing match between the reigning champions. Here's a link to part of Celia's stellar performance.


Next up was Joe Mullins from Ohio, who sang and played his banjo. The banjo and the instrument that the musician to our right, Hassan Hakmoun had, a sintir which is a three-stringed bass lute, were strikingly similar right down to their first strings only reaching halfway up the neck as well as having their bridges resting on a skin. The banjo had a synthetic skin whereas Hakmoun's, sintir used a skin from a camel's neck.

By the time the moderator's questions reached us, my head was loaded with idea's. I was able to discuss how all of the elements everyone had already shared, converged in Cuba, which became the glue that bound everything together, and after a long period of development eventually developed into Son, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-cha, guaracha, etc. and deeply influenced the rest of the world's music until this day. The gentlemen from Africa all nodded in approval, which was very reaffirming to me.

Now, the questions turned to Pepito who chose to sing "El Carretero" (written by Guillermo Portabales) which has been recently popularized by Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club. Afterward I explained that, as Joe Mullin's music was the music of the mountain people of the Appalachians, so was Pepito's song the music of the mountain people of Cuba.

I was asked by the moderator how the music of Santeria, from the Yoruba culture, plays into the scheme of things, musically speaking. I sang a short verse of a Yoruban orú (song) often sung to Elegua the child "saint" and guardian of the crossroads in the pantheon of  Santeria's deities...

"Barasuayo

omoni alaguana o mamakeña irawo eeee

Barasuayo

ekue echu ordara

Omoni alaguana o mamakeña irawo eeee

Ache, moyugba lorisa

moyugba, moyugba lorisa

Ache moyugba lorisa

moyugba, moyugba lorisa"

They asked me what the song meant and I explained that the Yoruba language in Santeria is rather like Latin in the Catholic church. Not everyone knows the meaning of what they're saying or singing. But, I explained, that, as I understood it, for instance, aché means good fortune, orisha is the word for deity and moyugba is the word for conversation. I also explained how the use of clave or a central, syncopated rhythm that the rest of a Cuban song is built around  (as in the 3/2 clave in the 4/4 signature of Son or 6/8 clave predominant throughout the different sacred forms of Cuba's, music), is inherently purely African. Samba and his bandmates, again, smiled and nodded in agreement. I discussed how Joe Mullin's banjo with its string configuration and having the bridge resting on a skin is derived from instruments such as the African sintir Hassan Hakmoun was playing which he had already mentioned originated some 3,000 years ago (Before the guitar originated in Spain centuries ago, it's predecessor arrived there from Africa).

I also wanted to express some contrasts within these related things and so I explained how in Cuban music, the base line is characteristically syncopated as opposed to the "walking bass" style used in Bluegrass, Rock and Roll, Jazz, and most other styles. This is also an African trait. I then asked Carlos to demonstrate that for me so the audience could hear it in practice. This building block that gives Cuban music its distinct "dancey" sound". How the bass executes this in our music is a mystery to many musicians so I wanted to illustrate it here.

At this point the panel of musicians all started to improvise a jam that sounded like we had all rehearsed previously but in reality, we had never met one another. Hassan offered that this is because "music is like food. You set the table and everyone comes to eat," offering their respective input in harmony with the rest of those eating.

Hassan also played from his Gnawa tradition which is trance-like and mystical. Gnawa musicians often express their religious devotion through their music and through dancing, using that to enter into spiritual trance states (a sign of its West African roots). Hassan played his sintir, deftly plucking a stuttering bass line along with the triple-time clatter of the metal castanets call qraqeb played by his bandmate. His music was both ritualistic and spectacular. His unique voice leaped above the instruments with an untamed cutting edge.


In my appreciation for his work, I offered the workshop audience information on Ned Sublette's fine book no musician should go without reading (and neither should you). The book is titled, Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. It discusses musical history over the past 1000 years and traces its development during the centuries as it was shaped by cultural and political influences. This book will make anyone who reads it's 700+ hard-to-put-down pages, quite the musicologist as it explains the roots of many different world genres of today's music.


The workshop lasted almost a full hour and it all flew by! It felt like it lasted all of six minutes but all of the musicians really seemed to enjoy the time we spent enjoying each other's art and history. I'm sure each participant got shuttled off to the rest of their respective Sunday at the festival with a happy heart and inspired to do their next concert at one of the many great stages in the festival that afternoon.

As far as Pepito Angel, Carlos, and I, we all agreed that it was a highlight of the whole festival for each of us as musicians and music lovers. We all really enjoyed the experience. It was the first time I had spoken to a large group like that about the part of music history. After the workshop and throughout the rest of the day I had many people congratulate me on the discussion saying they really enjoyed it. Someone even said the workshop was "Heavenly".

Many thanks again to all those that made this enjoyable time possible.

Stay tuned for an audio recording of this event which will be made available very soon in the coming weeks. I will update this page with a link when it becomes available.

Please stay tuned. Please share this nice story with your music-loving friends and with your Facebook community too. If you haven't already please like my band by following this link...


Aché e iré para todos,
Ulises

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See also...

Harry Belafonte's PBS documentary, Roots of Rhythm


And for all you friends that read till the end here's a special treat. Click her for a special preview of the video footage taken of Conjunto Guantanamo during our first performance at Boarding House Park playing La Negra Tomasa (Kikiribu Mandinga)



 








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