November 2006

Afro Cuban All Stars
November 4, 2006 Massey HallToronto
Report by Paul J. Youngman
Under the leadership of Juan de Marcos Gonzalez the Afro Cuban All Stars shared the heritage of Cuban music and the Son tradition with the packed house at Massey Hall. Tres player Juan De Marcos Gonzalez, is considered by many to be the head of the Cuban musical revival. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1954, Juan de Marcos studied guitar at the Havana Music Academy. While attending university, he formed the band Sierra Maestra. Juan de Marcos is also the founder of the Buena Vista Social Club and is co-producer of the albums Buena Vista Social Club and Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer.

The opening song started with a driving rhythm, a Latin pulse with big band swing from the solid bass playing to the fantastic piano playing of David Alfaro. A first rate horn section comprised of three trumpets, saxophone and two trombones added to the dance band feel. The percussion section lacked a kit drummer but was impressive. It consisted of a conguero, playing three congas in the style of Candido Camero, a timbale player who also played kick drum (bass drum) as well as other percussion accoutrements attached to the drum stands, a bongo player and two back up singers who danced and played percussion instruments like cowbells and gourds.

Juan de Marcos played the perfect host, in excellent English (university trained in English & Russian) tinged with a Spanish accent he introduced the singers and some of the soloists, told humorous stories and became an endearing entertainer for the audience. The band is multi-generational, ranging from grandfathers to grandkids. Juan de Marcos introduced one energetic eighty-three-year-old to the stage, a famous singer in the timba tradition whose name I didn’t catch. After that song finished he introduced that gentleman’s grandson who also sang timba and was on stage for most of the show. The grandson, a twenty-five-year-old with a commanding stage presence, serenaded the audience with upbeat tunes. A slick performer in hip clothing, a nice suit with the shirt untucked, a cool golf style cap and plenty of charisma, he had the audience obeying his every wish. From hand waving to singing harmony, you would have thought we were at a hotel resort in the Caribbean.
Juan de Marcos Gonzalez
The band would play six songs before they took an intermission; most of the songs were up-tempo, energetic and joyful. The song that opened the second set featured two singers, the tempo was moderato and at the midway point, the lead trumpeter came forward to perform a solo that was very good, hitting stratospheric high notes and prompting the audience to applaud energetically. Juan de Marcos would strap on the guitar for the final tune, a Cuban standard “Dun Dun Bossa”. Energy flowed in all directions and it was a very delighted Cuban band that came to the front of the stage to take their bow.

The encore number was the highlight of the concert, the three main percussionists came out on stage, wished each other well with handshakes all around and got down to some serious drumming. The bongo player soloed and performed some funky syncopated rhythms, with timbale and conga accompaniment for the first few minutes and solo for a few minutes. The wonderful solo was tapped out in double and triple metre. The timbale player was next off the line; he put heart and soul into it, slowly and meticulously including his full arsenal of percussive equipment into the mix. He did not go for speed; he was more into intricate patterns and polyrhythmic drumming. All three joined in to a big finish. The crowd was delighted and applause erupted once more.

The timbale and bongo players shook hands with the conguero and abandoned him. Dressed in his conservative suit and with his baby face, (he looks to be in his early twenties) he looked lonely on that huge stage. He slowly tapped out the rhythm of his heartbeat. The patterns he laid down were complex; they would gradually build in tempo and dynamics. When he reached the top of his form, hands blazing away in triple time with sounds beginning to overlap he would drop a beat, pause roll, roll, roll, pause, ba, da, da te, te, te. Thinking he was finished the audience would hoot, holler and clap, he would respond with another salvo of beats that worked the three congas and their rims, producing many sounds and tones. As fast as he was in the first part of the solo, he somehow became even faster in the second part. This is the best solo on conga I have ever witnessed. The audience loved it, and gave him a standing ovation, his band mates came back out on stage, and led by Juan de Marcos, congratulated him for a job well done.

The full band was back at it for another 10 minutes, with the audience on its feet for the rest of the show. The band put on a great show, creating a party atmosphere. The Afro Cuban All Stars are a polished unit; they have a loose feel — laid back and easy going. The musicians are all very good, the singers whether rapping or crooning have so much spirit and the songs are a joy to listen to. This is music of the past that is brought back to life with youthful enthusiasm and an eye to the future.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
• • • • • •
The Live Music Report
• •

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2006