Cuban Groovin’

The hurricane of screaming trumpets, snapping bongos, and dancing bass and piano rhythms of the Afro-Cuban All Stars swirls around listeners with a jovial force. On a world tour to support its debut album, A Toda Cuba le Gusta , the band performs its powerful music at GW’s Lisner Auditorium Saturday.

It is difficult to believe the upbeat music masks the brutal experiences of life in post-revolutionary Cuba. But the band represents a collection of former shoe shiners and cigar rollers who survived in Cuba on $15-per-month state pensions. For several years, the Afro-Cuban All Stars’ guest pianist, Reuben Gonzales, was unable to perform because woodworms destroyed his piano.

In the face of economic detriments, the band persevered. The players find spiritual sustenance through songs about life, love, women and all things pleasurable – themes that emanate from the Latin heart of the All Stars.

The 13-piece band is the brainchild of Juan de Marcos Gonzales. He hoped to recreate the bold, brassy sound of Cuban music’s pre-revolutionary golden age by reuniting the island’s legendary players of the 1940s and 50s with the evolved styles of the nation’s young innovators. Juan de Marcos Gonzales, who plays tres (a small, three-stringed Cuban guitar), leads the band through mambo, African, rumba and Mozambique numbers. The music reflects the eclectic musical personalities of both vintage and novice musicians.

The Afro-Cuban All Stars attack Latin jazz with fresh, contemporary homage that acknowledge the genre’s horn-laden boisterousness and its intricate, nearly mathematical, rhythmic nuances. Older members of the band (two have surpassed 70) play with techniques and styles their musical forefathers invented years ago when Cuba first fused traditional Latin music with American jazz.

Ibrahim Ferrer, a 71-year-old vocalist, pioneered the polon rhythm that is reputedly based on the sound of pounding coffee beans. Ferrer had given up on music until Juan de Marcos Gonzales knocked on his apartment door last March and presented his vision of the Afro-Cuban All Stars. A few weeks later, Ferrer – a key jazz innovator – played on his first recorded album.

With a musical palate that encompasses four generations, coupling orchestral masters with the gruff voices of Havana, the Afro-Cuban All Stars triumph musically and socially. Isolated by economic and travel embargoes and stripped of U.S. diplomats, Cuba swings in the American consciousness between forgotten and enigmatic. The Afro-Cuban All Stars represent a rare link between Cuba and the surrounding world.


Afro-Cuban All Stars perform at Lisner Auditorium Saturday at 8 p.m.

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