Afro-Cuban All Stars
|The Afro-Cuban All Stars is a unique orchestra that has always been devoted to promoting the full range of Cuban music, one that embraces several generations and all musical styles. Over the years many of the band’s musicians have become international stars, including brilliant performers such as Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Guillermo Rubalcava, and Manuel "The Guajiro" Mirabal. |
The genesis of the Afro-Cuban All Stars has its roots early in the 1990s. At this time the son ensemble Sierra Maestra, headed by Juan de Marcos, received a lot of international exposure. As a consequence, de Marcos was introduced to Nick Gold, president of World Music Records (at that time a small independent world music label). That encounter led to a couple of very successful tours in Europe. Later the group went to London and recorded Dundumbanza, considered one of the jewels of the world music scene of the early ‘90s. (In retrospect, this recording opened the doors to the further incredible boom of the traditional Cuban music of the period.) Months later, de Marcos got the go-ahead to do an album celebrating the classic Cuban sound of the ‘50s – a recording whose personnel would feature many great musicians that de Marcos knew. An agreement reached, the plan was to prepare two projects: one featuring a Cuban big band, the other record favouring a more traditional sound reminiscent of the acoustic style of Nico Saquito or Portabales.
In March of 1996 they recorded the album A toda Cuba le Gusta, featuring nearly 60 performers. Then, with the addition of celebrated artists such as Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, and legendary American guitarist Ry Cooder, what became the legendary Buena Vista Social Club CD was recorded. Finally, with low budget and only during two live sessions and with simple orchestrations carried out at the studio by de Marcos, they also recorded the first solo album of Rubén González, Introducing Ruben Gonzalez. This was destined to be one of the most successful of the “Buena Vista” series of recordings. During the spring of 1997 and along with the release in Europe of the three albums, de Marcos and a select group of stellar musicians started touring all over the continent under the banner of a band christened the "Afro-Cuban All Stars." The original line up, familiar from the records, included Ruben González and Guillermo Rubalcava (piano), Orlando López (bass), Amadito Valdés (timbale), Carlos González and Roberto Valdés (bongos), Ángel Terry (congas), Daniel Ramos, Alejandro Pichardo y “Guajiro” Mirabal (trumpets), Alberto “Molote” Martínez and Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos (trombones) and, Raúl Planas, Manuel Licea, Pío Leiva, Ibrahim Ferrer and Félix Baloy (lead singers). After several years of tremendous and unexpected success – including four Grammy nominations, being the subject of several documentaries and films, and being recipients of many other distinctions – the All Stars are certainly the best-known and successful Cuban orchestra after Los Van Van and Irakere. The Afro-Cuban All Stars has also opened the doors to a new generation by incorporating young musicians into the band.
With The Afro-Cuban All Stars, de Marcos has developed a concept moreso than simply creating a band. His approach has allowed him to expand its creative range by incorporating contemporary styles of Cuban music; as well, a fluid approach to adjusting the orchestra’s line-up by changing or adding musicians as appropriate has made it easier to best reflect the different styles of music from the various periods that the band features. The Afro-Cubans are the same orchestra that can be seen in those distinct performances captured in the famous Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club documentary by Wim Wenders, the Tony Knox documentary Salon of Dreams, or the DVDs Live in Japan or Live in The Hague. In 2002, de Marcos founded his own independent label, DM Ahora! Records, with which he has released the Afro-Cuban All Stars’ albums Live in Japan and Step Forward (which was Grammy nominated in 2006). He also released A Diario (Telmary) and Goza Pepillo (Interactivo), projects that represent a new generation of Cuban music, one that fuses hip-hop with contemporary Cuban genres. More recently de Marcos, along with his wife Gliceria Abreu, has founded, GG and LL, a musical production company based in Mexico City that aims to create a space for the new Latin American Music, especially that interpreted by songwriters.
The recent plans for the Afro-Cuban All Stars include the recording this year of the album Breaking the Rules. This documents de Marcos’ latest project, where he has gathered the most remarkable expatriate Cuban musicians from around the world. This new version of the Afro-Cuban All Stars will tour internationally, starting in the United States from February 2009.
Thirty-five-year-old trumpet master Igort Rivas started playing the trumpet when he was eight and never stopped. This prodigy toured extensively in Europe and Central and South America while in his early teens, and later joined the orchestra at the world famous Tropicana nightclub. During the ‘90s he was also performing with several of Cuba’s top bands and artists such as Bamboleo, Isaac Delgado, German Velazco, and Omara Portuondo. For the last decade this trumpet virtuoso has lived in Curacao, where he runs his own studio, Eros Records. An accomplished and in-demand musician, Rivas has recorded on more than 75 albums and performed at premier jazz, Latin and world music festivals around the globe.
Alberto ‘Molote’ Martinez
Gifted trombone player Alberto “Molote” Muñoz started his career at 14, playing with renowned pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. His international career followed soon after; and he was performing with stars such as Chucho Valdes and Pello el Afrocan, as well as securing a spot with the Cuban National Radio & Television Orchestra. Then in 1997 Molote became involved with the now-legendary Buena Vista Social Club project when he performed as part of the world-conquering tour of Juan de Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars and the Buena Vista Social Club. This brought Molote to Europe, where he savoured the multicultural ambiance as he created new sounds with musicians from all over the world. And after forming two bands, initiating a world-music project, and releasing two impressive CDs, Molote has unequivocally established himself as solo artist of global stature.
Renowned percussionist Calixto Oviedo was born to play the drums. This musical prodigy first experimented with drumsticks when he was two years old, and at the tender age of four had started to perform with the Parisien Cabaret Orchestra at Havana’s Hotel Nacional. Throughout his career Oviedo has played with many important Cuban and international artists: Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Sting, Luciano Pavarotti, James Brown, and Manhattan Transfer. Oviedo’s discography is equally prolific and diverse. Based in Sweden and Spain since 2000, Oviedo currently teaches widely and leads his own jazz quartet.
Considered by many as one of the finest Cuban singers, Evelio Galan has been performing for over 45 years and represents the classic “soneros” generation, yet with a new flavour. Born in Havana, Galan started his career early, soon performing in Cuba’s top cabarets and alongside Cuba’s greatest soloists and orchestras of the 1970s and ‘80s. Galan eventually earned an international reputation, playing at many festivals around the world where he shared the stage with superstars such as Jose Feliciano, Grupo Niche, Alfredo de la Fe and Manhattan Transfer. One of the truest voices of Afro-Cuban jazz, Galan is based in Dublin, Ireland and is the principal singer with the Cuban Orishas Orchestra as well as performing regularly with Habana Son, Impacto Cubano, and Hatuey.
Jose ‘Pepito’ Espinosa
Considered one of the most important Cuban percussionists of his generation, Jose “Pepito” Espinosa was born in Havana in 1974. He began his musical studies at the age of four with his father, a great Cuban percussionist. Being an infant prodigy, Espinosa started his career when he was only 12 years old as the bongo player of the renowned Conjunto Saratoga. Within a few years Espinosa was considered one of the most important players of the newest Cuban generation, a promise he has fulfilled. Throughout a rich career, Espinosa has played with some of the Latin world’s top musicians and bands, including Ana Belen and Cubanismo. Based in Spain and Sweden for the last five years, Espinosa currently leads his own band. He has performed on more than 40 CDs in Cuba and abroad.
Ivan ‘Melón’ Gonzalez Lewis
Born in Cuba, Ivan "Melón" Lewis received extensive training in classical music and graduated from the prestigious National School of Art. His professional career began at the age of 20 when he began playing piano in the band of well-known Cuban salsa singer Isaac Delgado, making several international tours. Based in Madrid for the last decade, Gonzalez been a featured performer at important jazz festivals around the world, sharing the stage with stars like Mulgrew Miller, Bill Mobley, John Hicks, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Wynton Marsalis, among others. Since 2003, this dazzling and versatile pianist has led his own jazz quintet, which has performed all across Europe. He currently has several recording projects underway.
Singer, guitarist and composer Emilio Suárez was born into one of Havana’s most musical families and it was natural that he receive an outstanding musical education. After making some important professional appearances at Cuban festivals, was soon backing great singers like Elsita Rivero, Aldo Lamas, and jazz singer Mayra Caridad Valdes (Chucho’s sister) and was also sharing the stage with musicians of the calibre of his uncle Luis Ortega, Elena Bourke, and Felipe Dulzaides. Long acknowledged as one of the best of Cuba’s expatriate musicians, Suárez has, for more than fifteen years, lived in Mexico City. This much sought-after musician performs at the major Mexican festival events and the best clubs. Suárez also remains an incredibly prolific and successful composer with more than 70 great songs to his credit.
Miguelito Valdés Aballi
Havana-born Miguelito Valdés comes from a highly musical family, including a father who one of the top percussionists of the esteemed Conjunto Folklorico Nacional. That influence doubtless helped Valdés to become a conga drummer with consummate skill. After extensive training, Valdés soon found himself with a flourishing career, and was performing all over Cuba with many great musicians of different styles. Since moving to Mexico 15 years ago, Valdés has continued to be busy indeed, collaborating with many highly talented musicians and groups, including Orquesta Filarmonica de Mexico, Gonzalo Romeu, Grupo Bandula, Elvis Crespo, Celia Cruz, and Albita. He also works regularly with the Mexican pop superstar of the 1980s, Enmanuel.
José Gil Pinera
A singer and composer, José Gil Pinera was born in Havana, Cuba. Pinera’s first professional job was with Salsa de Esquina, one of Cuba’s most important “Timba Bands” of the early 1990s. During this time Pinera was also making extensive tours of Europe and South America. Aside from performing at numerous jazz and Latin festivals, this talented vocalist was also busy appearing on several albums. In 1993 he moved to Sweden, wasting no time before creating his own band, Gilito y su Clave. Pinera has now released four solo albums and participated in more than 70 recordings for different bands. Pinera’s latest CD, Al Cesar lo que es del Cesar, is the best-selling “world music” recording in Sweden these days.
Alberto Pantaleon Hernandez
Multi-instrumentalist Alberto Pantaleon Hernandez was born in Havana in 1966. His first teacher was his father, the great composer, arranger, and songwriter Alberto Hernandez. Pantaleon studied classical guitar at the National School of Arts and Bass and Double Bass at the Conservatory Ignacio Cervantes. Later, he learned the secrets of the tenor trombone, the tuba and the bombardon. The prodigiously talented Pantaleon plays 12 different instruments at a professional level and has performed with the best bands in Cuba. Fifteen years ago he moved to Mexico City, where he’s performed, and recorded with great artists such as Armando Manzanero, Eugenia Leon, Celio Gonzalez, Diego El Cigala, Manuel Mijares, Orlando “Maraca” Valle, Willie Colon, and Chucho Valdes.
Havana-born Gliceria Abreu graduated as an agronomic engineer at the Universidad Agricola de La Habana in 1980; later she gained new degrees in marketing, promotion and business administration. After marrying Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, she shifted her focus to music and became his general manager and project supervisor, starting in 1990 with the remarkable son band, Sierra Maestra. Abreu has been the executive producer of several Grammy-nominated albums by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, including A Toda Cuba le Gusta and Step Forward. Her work was also decisive for the production of other important albums of the late ‘90s such as the seminal Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer, and Introducing Ruben Gonzalez. She runs her own production company and recording studio in Mexico City.
A gifted trombone player, Raul Ardiles began his professional career in his native Ciego de Avila, leading several different bands. In 1989 he went to Havana to join the great orchestra, Rumbavana. A year later he moved on to Elio Reve’s Charangon. Both of these ensembles are considered among the top Cuban bands of the last century. Working with Reve, Ardiles developed his orchestration skills and wrote more than 20 hits. During this phase of his career, Ardiles toured internationally and delved ever-deeper into the subtleties of Cuban music. Since 1996 has Ardiles lived in Germany and spread his talent all over Europe and Asia. Considered a leading ambassador of Cuban music – as well as a “first-call” trombonist – Ardiles performs throughout the world at numerous festivals and records with many well-known names such as Seis del Son, Macondito, Felipe Rengifo’s Mandingo, El Indio, Soul Family, and Cubanisimo. Aside from doing session work for many European recording studios, Ardiles leads his own band, The Heritage.
Miguelito Valdes is considered one of the best Cuban trumpet players of his generation. Valdes has played with many of Cuba's top performers, including the Cabaret Tropicana Orchestra, Chucho Valdes, and Havana Ensemble. For six years he toured internationally with renowned vocalist Omara Portuondo, and has also performed extensively with Ibrahim Ferrer and The Buena Vista Social Club. Aside from Cuban music, Valdes has also developed a serious jazz career – he has played with important jazz musicians such as Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, Danilo Perez, and Wallace Roney. Valdes has also appeared on more than 50 CDs, in Cuba and abroad. Some of the highlights of his award-winning discography include: Flor de Amor, Omara Portuondo, 2004; Impacto Cubano, Carlos Del Puerto, 2005; Chucho Valdes y la Sinfonica Nacional, Chucho Valdes, 2005; and Prohibido, Isaac Delgado, 2005. Since 2005 Valdes has lived in Vancouver, Canada where he is very involved in the local music scene and runs his own jazz club.
Yaure Muniz was born in 1973 in Havana, where he grew up in an artistic family. His musician-father was long associated with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and often took his son to rehearsals, sitting and playing beside some of Cuba’s best musicians. After many years of study on trumpet and flugelhorn, Muniz became a regular member of the Tropicana Orchestra. During this time, Muniz also toured with the salsa and Latin jazz band, Klimax. This launched him on an international performance career with Latin superstars such as the Afro-Cuban All Stars under the direction of Juan de Marcos, followed by Cubanismo led by Jesus Alemany. He also played with the Buena Vista Social Club featuring Cachaito, then Ibrahim Ferrer, and finally Anga Diaz. Muniz has been a recording artist on both the trumpet and flugelhorn inside and outside of Cuba since 1997. He continues to perform and record in Boston where he has lived for the last three years.
Juan de Marcos Gonzalez
Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, a central figure in Cuban music for three decades, has set himself a lifetime mission: to show the wealth, diversity and vitality of Cuban music to the world. His work with supergroups and incredible artists such as the Afro-Cuban All Stars, the Buena Vista Social Club, Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Sierra Maestra and others has had extraordinary success in introducing the whole range of Cuban music around the globe. Juan de Marcos was born in Havana in 1954 and grew up surrounded by music. In the mid-‘70s he co-founded the group Sierra Maestra. Styled as a traditional Cuban septeto group, the band achieved great success, recording 14 albums in Cuba, Africa, and Europe, touring many countries, and receiving various awards. In the ‘90s, de Marcos continued to delve into the now-neglected “golden age” of Cuban music. Things really took off a few years later when de Marco’s signature group, The Afro-Cuban All Stars, released A toda Cuba le gusta (which was Grammy-nominated in 1998). This was the first album to be recorded during the now-legendary Buena Vista Social Club sessions, and de Marcos' band proved to be a springboard for the success that followed. Following the album’s release, Juan de Marcos led the Afro-Cuban All Stars and The Ruben Gonzalez Ensemble on their debut European and U.S. tours.
Never content to take things easy, de Marcos continues to develop promising new ideas for Cuban music, which is evolving in exciting ways. In 2005, he inaugurated two innovative new labels: DM Ahora! Records, and GG and LL Records. This is typical of de Marcos who, during his career, has arranged, conducted, produced or co-produced more than 25 albums. His work with the Afro-Cuban All Stars has been nominated for four Grammies, and the band is hailed by jazz bible Downbeat Magazine for its continued excellence. De Marcos has been responsible for creating and producing some of the most important and seminal recordings of 20th century Cuban music. No one has done more to invigorate the revival and growth of Cuban music than the incomparable Juan de Marcos.