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Cuba based rap duo, Zona Franka, blends traditional rhythms with the grit and swagger of hip-hop and rap vocal phrasings. Their clever shout choruses create instant tropical dance classics using their unique self-titled "changui con flow" style.
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Sin Clave No Hay Na

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Wednesday, 05 December 2012, 03:54 AM

Gotham Gets Her Groove Back, Part II:

Alexander Abreu's Ultimate Challenge


El Tosco's Revenge: Red Hot + Cuba at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Article and Photos by Bill Tilford -- All Rights Reserved

Charanga Habanera Takes One For The Team …

      Superstorm Sandy and the damage that it left forced a rescheduling of the Havana d’Primera performances in New York, and for one venue, S. O. B.s, this meant moving the show to a date when they would be on the same bill with the legendary ensemble Charanga Habanera . Unfortunately, a problem that I previously discussed in a July 2012 article about the New York Mega Timba Concert reared its head once again – most of the anticipated audience decided that it wanted to wait until the last possible minute to make a decision about whether to buy tickets.   As we mentioned in that earlier article, this problem is not at all unique to New York, but here its effect was even  deadlier than that of the storms – Timba.com has learned that as the date of the shows approached, a double bill didn’t look economically viable to anyone, and what surely must have been a very difficult decision for the promoter and the venue (especially considering that the whole process of the East Coast tour was being given a level of scrutiny normally reserved for failing banks and corporate bailouts  by elements  of the Timba community) was made.  Bear in mind that this is a venue (S.O.B.s) that had already lost a week’s worth of revenue due to storm damage. From this writer's perspective, both the numbers and the massive wave of popularity that Havana d’Primera was enjoying from its other recent performances would have clearly pointed to keeping Havana d ‘Primera on the program as the right choice.  While this undoubtedly disappointed many Charanga Habanera  fans, the fact that they didn’t “represent” earlier with significant advanced ticket sales helped make this outcome virtually inevitable.  As I mentioned in my July article, the question of whether or not this level of skepticism among ticket buyers is understandable is now beside the point. It’s there, and if this situation continues into the future, some cities will just not see some bands regardless of the identity of the venue, the promoter or even the band. More about this problem and what it means for all of us in the final chapter of our story. 

Alexander Abreu ‘s Ultimate Challenge

      Personally, I had always considered the addition of anyone to a program featuring Alexander Abreu and Havana d’Primera to be a fringe benefit at best – no disrespect to the other artists, whom I also love and enjoy, but HdP was the reason that I took a flight from Chicago to New Jersey -- and I’m willing to wager that most of those who knew what they were in for musically felt the same way.  Consequently, the deletion of Charanga Habanera (and a subsequent miscue about whether or not Tirso Duarte would really be part of the evening’s program)  didn’t dampen my own enthusiasm at all for the show that was to come. After everything that had already happened during the process of getting Havana d’Primera to come to New York, this should have been Alexander’s moment to enjoy the triumph of being there.  But Fate had one last cruel trick up her sleeve:  tragedy struck in the form of the death of Alexander’s father just hours before the show was scheduled to start.   The saying "The Show Must Go On” is true throughout the world, and although the sad news was already beginning to slowly flow through social media and other sources, some care was taken to assure that this did not cast a public shadow over the shows themselves.  The shows did go on, and Alexander performed with a depth of emotion that I have seldom witnessed from anyone on a stage. Alexander, my deepest condolences for your loss, but I also want you to know that in addition to whatever other names you acquire in the course of your career, I will also think of you as El Gigante from this point forward.  You just proved to all of us the hardest possible way that you really do deserve that title. 

To read more about the actual concerts at S O.B.s  (which were powerful) and view the photo galleries, click here. 

El Tosco’s Revenge:  Red Hot + Cuba  at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

     Since I already had four nights of Havana d’Primera on my calendar, I originally had not planned to take in any additional shows even though I was aware that Red Hot + Cuba and a few other events were also taking place around the metro area that week.  It just didn’t look practical to attend any extra performances.  But El Tosco found me at S.O.B.s and convinced me that I could and should go to Red Hot + Cuba . ("El Tosco" and "BAM" just SOUND right together, don't they?)   I’m calling this El Tosco ’s revenge because his other trip to New York for a large show earlier in the year had not been nearly as much fun for him for several reasons.   Although Red Hot + Cuba was an extravaganza with multiple artists, El Tosco was the dominating force.   As you’ll see in the photos, he is sporting a tricolored Mohawk these days, a nice touch considering that the original Mohawk tribe lived in what is now upstate New York. The most remarkable thing about this show is that it violated a lot of conventional wisdom about the best way to present modern Cuban music AND it did so successfully.  (By the way, congratulations to this founding father of Timba for 44 years in the business.)

El Tosco makes us an offer we can't refuse...

     I mentioned that Red Hot + Cuba successfully violated conventional wisdom regarding the best way to present modern Cuban music to the general public in the United States. For one thing, the show featured performers from several different ensembles and representing several different genres from traditional ballads to Nueva Trova to Rock to Timba on the same stage performing together.   In the past, we have written unfavorable things ourselves about "All-Star" performances from time to time because they frequently sound like they were thrown together at the last minute, and the results are often a watered-down version of what the music normally sounds like.  Red Hot + Cuba was different.  These musicians functioned as an integrated unit, and no compromises were made with the music or the production values, which were quite high. Also, Timba and Trova tend to attract different audiences in the United States, and conventional wisdom states that you normally don't present them together.  Yet, in this show, it worked. (Note to private promoters:  Don't try this at home.  This writer firmly believes that the involvement of a venerable, established venue, in this case the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the top-shelf skills of the show's production and publicity teams and the concept of performing as an integrated unit were all critical to the show's success.  Not to mention, a portion of the proceeds were to be donated to HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness in Cuba.  Trying to do this type of thing without the full range of crack professionals involved in this show would only make a mess.)    

     Sidebar:  This concert was this writer's first visit in person to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, now celebrating its 150th year.  It  has a very impressive arts complex including the wonderful Howard Gilman Opera House, where this show took place.  We strongly encourage you to learn more about it by clicking here.

     To read our review of the Red Hot + Cuba extravaganza and see some wonderful photos supplied by BAM, click here.  

Coming Next in Part III:   Mayito and Tirso Address The People

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Monday, 03 December 2012, 09:46 AM

Gotham Gets Her Groove Back, Part I:

The Odyssey of Alexander Abreu

Article and Photos by Bill Tilford -- All Rights Reserved

     I’m going to bend a journalistic rule and write parts of this in the first person because it will be easier to read that way.  Permit me to begin by saluting the people of New York and New Jersey for keeping your spirits high after the recent damage from superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. I was inspired - moved, even - by how well and how quickly you got your spring back in your step. 

     I also need to perform a brief reality check with some of my trash-talking friends in the Bay Area about the metro New York music scene. New York is a big place with a lot of music, and New Yorkers have choices.  In addition to the five performances that I enjoyed in New York and New Jersey, there were a few others, including Yoruba Andabo at Carnegie Hall and Pedrito Martinez at Guantanamera, which I could have taken in as well if I could have figured out how to be at two places at once.    (As I’m typing this, Los Papines are scheduled to perform in New York tonight.) Don’t get me wrong, the Bay Area is a wonderfully loving and supportive host and audience for touring bands, and it has some extremely talented musicians of its own as well, so keep doing what you’re doing.  But remember:  when you go to that Pedrito Martinez concert that you love to rave about, Pedrito plays regularly in his home city, which is New York.  There is also an entire platoon of New York musicians (such as Manuel Valera, Yosvany Terry and Rafael Monteagudo to name just a few examples) who could be melting your ears by playing Timba but have chosen instead to spend most of their time blowing the minds of those of us who also listen to Jazz.  It may possibly have a short supply of writers who are both able and willing to cover that scene, but the scene is very much there.  

     So why call this The Odyssey of Alexander Abreu?   Well, in the original Greek epic poem, Odysseus spent ten years attempting to return home after the Trojan War.  He was delayed and obstructed by sirens, a Cyclops, witches, storms, captivity and monsters among other things.   Alexander’s voyage to New York was closer to ten months than ten years, but he faced his own versions of sirens (in the form of multiple promoters involved in a scramble over terms), a Cyclops (in the form of a venue which was ultimately cancelled after it appeared that the operating terms and conditions would have almost guaranteed a failure), captivity (his wonderful cd Pasaporte was pulled from distribution in the middle of his US tour for a couple of track substitutions at the very time when US sales would have peaked if the cd had remained available) and even Scylla and Charybdis in the form of superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. The storms knocked one of the venues (S.O.B.s) out of action for eight days and took another venue (The Park Theater in New Jersey) out of the game for the duration.  For a time, it seemed as if the gods themselves were determined that Alexander Abreu and Havana d’Primera would not be permitted to perform in New York. 

But - he finally made it and played and sang his heart out when he arrived (in more ways than one, as you will read as the story unfolds).  One good thing about the need to reschedule after the storms was that a lot of other Cuban music hit town at the same time, and the end results for the fans were wonderful. 

In Part II, I’ll begin sharing what it was like when the music started.  That's a phenomenal story in itself.   
Coming Next:  Part II:  Havana d’Primera at S.O.B.s  and El Tosco’s Revenge

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Thursday, 29 November 2012, 02:26 PM

Havana d' Primera is Tearing Up The East Coast

Lots of pix and a writeup coming up next week.  Right now, I have a concert to enjoy.  This band and the crowd are both going wild. If you're out East, catch it while you can.  And San Francisco, I love you, but you can still go to Hell.  New York and New Jersey are happening right now!  [Bill Tilford]

Havana D'Primera @ SOBs - Cuban Music News - Noticias de musica cubanaHavana d' Primera - Photo by Bill Tilford - Sent live directly from SOBs

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Saturday, 24 November 2012, 07:44 AM

"Innovation" by Rafael Monteagudo and The Music Connection Now Available!

Back in September, we wrote a sneak preview of this exciting new Jazz recording, but the actual release to the public was delayed until now.  (You can read our review here.)  Rafael Monteagudo and his bassist, Carlos del Pino, are part of the exciting and creative wave of Jazz artists originally from Cuba who now live and work in New York.  The pianist, Chiemi Nakai, is originally from Japan and made a name for herself in the music there prior to coming to the US. 
This CD, which we highly recommend for Jazz listeners (this goes triple for bassists), is now available on CD Baby. The page includes some audio preview clips. 

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