David Oquendo was born in Havana, Cuba in 1958. Self taught, Oquendo absorbed the essence of the Afro Cuban rhythmical vernacular in the poorest neighborhoods of his native city. At 12 years of age, David started playing guitar and singing in several “Rock” bands around Cuba. Even though he was not conservatory trained, his passion for music, his discipline and self-criticism, took him to the point where eventually he was considered one of the best guitar accompanist in Cuba. This was evident in his appearances at “El Rincon del Feeling”, “Cabaret Tropicana”, “Cabaret Internacional de Varadero”, “ Salon Rojo” at the Hotel Capri and many more venues.
As accompanist, David has worked with artist of the caliber of: Moraima Secada, Elena Burke, Lucho Gatica, Meme Solis, Maggie Carles, Lenny Andrade, and many others. As guitarist, singer, composer, arranger and bassist, David has performed in concerts and recordings in Cuba, Panama, Dominican Republic, Austria, Canada, Greece, Spain, Brasil, Bermuda and the US with names such: Paquito D’Rivera, Compay Segundo, Marc Anthony, Johnny Ventura, Ray Barreto, Arturo Sandoval, Giovanni Hidalgo “Manenguito”, Mauricio Smith, Andy Gonzalez, Manny Oquendo, Johnny Pacheco, Gilberto Santarrosa, El Gran Combo, Jose Luis Quintana “Changuito”, Willie Chirino, Regina Carter, Candido Camero, Patato Valdez, Gato Barbieri, Carlos Ponce, Sergio Vargas, Rudy Calzado, Basilio, Yomo Toro, Anthony Rios, Jose Fajardo, Israel Lopez “Cachao”, Graciela and Chico O’Farril to mention a few.
David has a Grammy Award for the album “Tropicana’s Nights” with Paquito D’Rivera, a Grammy Nomination for “Bebop Timba” with Raphael Cruz and three Latin Grammy Nominations for “Raices Habaneras”, “50 Years of Mambo” and “Paquito D’Rivera Presenta Las Hermanas Marquez”.
Founder and director of the Afro Cuban folklore group “Raices Habaneras”, which has been performing, without interruption, every Sunday since 1996 what has become known as “Domingos de la Rumba” (Rumba Sundays), David’s mission is to expose the public to a genuine representation of the “Rumba” genre. David, was musical director and producer for “The Cuban Rumba All Stars”, a first time, historical collaboration by members of Cuba’s Rumba groups: Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, Clave y Guaguanco, Obba ILU, Coro Folklorico Cubano, Raices Profundas y Grupo Tata Guines.
As a member of Faculty of Harbor Conservatory for The Performing Arts, since 2002, he is teaching guitar, Cuban tres, bass, voice and the Afro-Cuban folklore workshop, the Latin Band workshop, the Guitar ensemble and the Vocal training Group Class.
David has appeared in: “El Show de Cristina” in Univision, the series “OZ” in HBO, “Harmony in the Kitchen” in the Food Network, “State of the Arts” and “The Cuban Americans” in PBS, The Ivan Acosta’s films “How to Create a Rumba” and “ Candido Hands of Fire”, The Heddy Honigmann’s film “Dame la Mano”, “Al Rojo Vivo” in Telemundo and “Orgullo Hispano” in Channel 47 Telemundo NYC, “Sabado al Mediodia” and “Al Despertar” in Channel 41 Univision NYC. As well as WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM, WBAI 99.5 FM and WADO 12.80 AM radio in NYC. He has also performed in prestigious stages such as: Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Town Hall, Beacon Theatre, NJPAC Newark, Symphony Space, Cami Hall, Seattle International Children Festival, Jackie Gleason Theater, Olympia Theater at Gusman Center and Tropigala at The Fontainebleu in Miami Beach as a part of The 4th Annual Latin Grammy’s performance, The WOMAD Festival in Spain, Tenerife’s Carnival, Sao Pablo and Rio de Janeiro Jazz Festival in Brasil, The JVC Jazz Festival, Ravinia Jazz Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival and The Montreal Jazz Festival.
Merita Halili and the Raif Hyseni Orchestra
The New York Times has called vocalist Merita Halili a “radiant soprano” who performs the highly ornamented melodies of Albania that are “punctuated by speed-demon accordion from her husband and bandleader, Raif Hyseni.” A native of the capital city of Tirane, Halili is a superstar both in her homeland and across the Albanian Diaspora.
Born in the capital city of Tiranë, Merita grew up singing the lyric songs of her native region of Central Albania. Her nationwide debut came in 1983, at the age of 17, when she sang at the National Folk Festival in the town of Gjirokastër. Soon afterwards she began to perform on Albanian Radio and Television and as a soloist with the State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances. She subsequently became one of the most popular singers in the country. Merita was among the first singers in Albania to release her own recording, which still sells briskly wherever Albanians live. Perhaps her greatest recognition came in 1995, when she was awarded first prize at a gala festival held in Tiranë in which 90 singers from throughout the Albanian Diaspora participated.
The repertoire for which Merita is best known is that of the towns of Central Albania (Shqipëria e Mesme), particularly Tiranë, Elbasan, Kavajë, and Durrës. As she was growing up, Merita modeled her singing not only on family music making but also on recordings of older singers. These included both taped performances housed in the Institute of Folklore in Tiranë, and performances broadcast on Albanian radio by two famous woman singers of the previous generation, Hafsa Zyberi from Tiranë and Fitnete Rexha from Krujë, the latter of whom also coached her personally. In collaboration with musicians and arrangers at Albanian Radio and Television, she then developed her own approach to these songs, which includes more elaborate instrumental arrangements and full use of her prodigious range and vocal technique. More recently, Merita has recorded several newly composed songs, as well as a few popular Turkish and Rom songs. Some of her best-known performances were featured in the soundtrack for the acclaimed Italian film Lamerica.
Raif Hyseni, Merita’s husband and principal accompanist, hails from Kosova, a province of the former Yugoslavia with a large Albanian majority. Raif grew up in the town of Mitrovicë in Kosova, where he studied accordion at music school and performed in amateur ensembles. Before moving to Tiranë in 1992, Raif was a well-known radio and television performer in Prishtinë, the capital of Kosova, where he was a member of the group “Besnikët.” Through his recordings and media appearances, Raif has become known as a major innovator on the accordion, for which he has composed dozens of instrumental melodies.
Merita and Raif immigrated to the United States in 1995, and now make their home in Caldwell, New Jersey. They perform frequently in the New York tri-state area in Albanian restaurants, festivals and at community weddings.
Situated on the coastal plain in the middle of the country, the region of Shqipëria e Mesme was a center of cultural activities during the Ottoman period and gained further importance when Tiranë became the capital in 1920. Until World War II, singing by community members at urban weddings and other large family celebrations was augmented by songs and instrumental music performed by ensembles of professional male entertainers called ahengxhinj, who might be of Albanian or Rom (Gypsy) ethnicity. A typical ensemble or aheng consisted of violin, clarinet, llautë (a fretted, short-necked lute) or saz (fretted long-necked lute), and dajre (large frame drum). Often a group of four or five women, called çengi, would accompany the men’s ensemble to an event, where they would sing to dajre accompaniment and perhaps also dance for the guests.
It is among the ahengxhinj and çengi that the most celebrated repertoire of
Central Albanian towns developed – a style characterized by soaring melodies, intricate ornamentation, and complex, shifting meters. After World War II, the accordion was introduced to the accompanying ensemble and quickly replaced the plucked strings. More recently, instruments such as saxophone, electric guitar and bass, synthesizer, and drum set have been used to give this repertoire a more contemporary feel.
(– From notes by Jane C. Sugarman)
Cherish The Ladies
The Center for Traditional Music and Dance celebrates the 20th anniversary of Cherish the Ladies. They have grown from a one-time concert concept to an Irish traditional music sensation, literally the most successful and sought-after Irish-American group in Celtic music. Organized by folklorist/musician Mick Moloney and sponsored by the Ethnic Folk Arts Center and the National Endowment for the Arts, they began as a concert series featuring the brightest lights in Irish traditional music.
Taking their name from the name of a traditional Irish jig, the group initially won recognition as the first and only all-women traditional Irish band. In a relatively short time, they soon established themselves as musicians and performers without peer and have won many thousands of listeners and fans of their music. With their unique spectacular blend of virtuosi instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements and stunning step dancing, this powerhouse group combines all the facets of Irish traditional culture and puts it forth in an immensely humorous and entertaining package.
The past years have seen the group traveling all over North and South America, the United Kingdom and Europe, Australia and New Zealand performing in the finest concert halls and international festivals. They are equally at home in front of a symphony orchestra, a performing arts center, a folk festival or even at the White House.
They have been chosen Best Musical Group of the Year by the BBC, Top 100 Irish Americans by Irish America Magazine, Entertainment Group of the Year by the Irish Voice Newspaper, selected as the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall's International Group of the Year in Scotland and voted the Top North American Celtic act by NPR Radio’s “Thistle and Shamrock”.
They have shared the stage with such noted entertainers as James Taylor, Joan Baez, Emmy Lou Harris, The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, The Chieftains and dozens of symphony orchestras. The "Celtic Album", their collaboration with the Boston Pops Symphony led to a 1999 Grammy nomination.
The Ladies have recorded eleven highly acclaimed albums. Their last two albums on Rounder records were released to rave reviews. “On Christmas Night” was chosen as one of the top Christmas Albums of the Year by The New York Times, Washington Post, The Village Voice and many other nationally syndicated Newspapers and their latest release, "Woman of the House" is heralded as their best album to date and hit Billboard Magazines' top 10 world music Charts.
Cherish the Ladies have appeared on CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Evening at Pops, C-Span, Imus in the Morning, PBS and National Public Radio in the United States and on BBC and RTE radio and television overseas. At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, they were chosen to represent Irish music and culture at the Official Cultural Olympiad. The girls continue to blaze forward and continue to enchant audiences worldwide.
Born in London, raised in Queens and Westbury, Long Island, Rekha Malhotra (aka DJ Rekha) is one of the pioneers of New York’s South Asian music scene. As founder of Basement Bhangra, Bollywood Disco, Beat Bazaar, and co-founder of Mutiny club nights, she has been instrumental in introducing the sounds of Bhangra and British Asian music to North America.
Beginning in her DJ career while still a student at Queens College, Rekha was drawn to radio through an interest in community activism. In 1994 she made an appearance on the Radio Bandung newszine, became a regular guest and eventually produced segments for the show. Community radio introduced her to filmmaker Vivek Bald who shared an appreciation for music coming out of the UK on National records (i.e. Fun da mental, Asian Dub Foundation). In November of 1997 she co-organized a fundraising event for a documentary Bald was assembling on the Asian presence in UK dance music which grew into a monthly event named for the film: Mutiny.
By that time, however, Rekha was already well known for her involvement in another monthly event. In November of 1996, a “Dance India” showcase organized by the Ethnic Folk Arts Center paired her with Toronto’s Punjabi By Nature, and in February of the following year she opened for the group at SOBs nightclub in Manhattan. The club was so impressed by the hundreds who turned out on a Tuesday night that Rekha and her partner DJ Joy were asked to develop a concept for a regular night. One month later Basement Bhangra (named with respect for the basement parties where she got her start) was launched, with Bally Sagoo headlining.
For her role in creating Basement Bhangra, Rekha has been featured in the Village Voice, the New York Times, the Times of India and the Daily News, in addition to magazines like Billboard, New York, and Stress. Basement Bhangra and its founder have also attracted extensive TV coverage, appearing on Good Day New York, Shift TV and a PBS documentary entitled DESI: South in New York—as well as TV shows in Japan and Denmark and on Ciao, an international program aired in 60 markets worldwide as well as by National Public Radio network’s 5 million listeners as part of a segment on Bhangra. Having celebrated 5 years of Basement Bhangra in April 2002, the capcit full show at the Roxy with Bhangra legends Balwinder Safri and Dhol Foundation attested to the staying power and still growing popularity of the landmark New York club night.
Considered by Jane magazine to be “among the genre’s most important players in the United States” Rekha has also been pivotal in forging the international network that sustains Bhangra and other contemporary South Asian music. Accordingly her DJ itinerary includes not only New York and numerous cities across the US but also Bombay, New Delhi, Montego Bay, Toronto and London. Most recently, she traveled to Sweden to participate in the 5th anniversary celebrations of the Fargfabriken Museum in Stockholm.
At home in NY she’s brought her distinct style of DJing to events like Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays, Bronx Museum’s Bounce Nights, Soundlab, P.S. 1’s Warm Up and Central Park’s Summerstage concert series and played alongside artists as diverse as the Roots, Rah Digga, and Duran Duran. But her musical influence in the city extends far beyond records she breaks as DJ. Through her production company Sangament (sangam is Hindi for confluence, a place where two rivers flow together) she has brought artists like Panjabi MC, Andy Smith, Bally Sagoo, Apache Indian and Asian Dub Foundation to some of the city’s best known live venues (including Irving Plaza, SOB’s and the Brooklyn Anchorage).
Having always viewed her involvement with music as inseparable from community activism, Rekha lectures extensively at colleges and institutions about Bhangra and South Asian cultural production. In May of 2000 she spoke about the evolution of Bhangra music for the Smithsonian Institute’s first ever South Asian public program. She has also given a talk and demo at the Museum of Natural History on hip-hop and the South Asian music scene and has given numerous DJ workshops to youth nationwide, including the well-known Take Back the Decks. Your Attention Please, is her fundraising project that partners with organizations addressing such issues as human rights, domestic abuse and police brutality and gives her a chance to bring classical, non-dance oriented South Asian music into a club setting.
Suspenso del Norte
Suspenso del Norte is a popular norteño group led by Pablo Javier (bajo sexto) and his son Oscar Javier (accordion). Originally from a rural village in the state of Puebla (Santa Ines Ahuatempan), Pablo settled in New York 15 years ago. His first teacher was his father, whose family members were all norteño musicians. Musica norteña , also known as “conjunto,” originated in the Northern part of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca and the city of Monterrey in the state of Nuevo Leon. And though it has its origins in rural communities, musica norteña is now popular in urban and rural areas alike all over Mexico, including the southern state of Puebla, where Pablo’s family comes from. Two of his brothers and two cousins also play with him and the group is engaged frequently for private functions, including weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms, anniversaries and house parties, and other family and community celebrations.