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02/18/2018
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Afro-Latino Musical Traditions

(SOUNDBITE OF HECTOR COCO BAREZ SONG, "BOMBULERIA")

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

You can hear it there. African culture is embedded in the beats and rhythms of Latin America. And this is Black History Month. Our Felix Contreras of Alt.Latino is going to dig into some Afro-Latino musical traditions. Welcome.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do we got?

CONTRERAS: OK. So what we're listening to is a record by Hector Coco Barez. He's a percussionist from Puerto Rico, and he plays with these bands - Bio Ritmo and Miramar. He's got a solo album called "Laberinto del Coco." And this track is really cool. It's called "Bombuleria."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Say that three times fast.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) I'm only going to try it once. It's a combination of bomba, which is a Puerto Rican rhythm and buleria, which is a staple of flamenco which has Moorish or African roots. So let's break down the DNA on this one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

CONTRERAS: OK. So here's the bomba rhythm...

(SOUNDBITE OF HECTOR COCO BAREZ SONG, "BOMBULERIA")

CONTRERAS: ...And now here's the buleria...

(SOUNDBITE OF HECTOR COCO BAREZ SONG, "BOMBULERIA")

CONTRERAS: ...One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two. One, two. One, two. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two. One, two.

So it's a combination of buleria and bomba. It's something I've never heard done before but so effectively - and then there's funk, cool vocals on top. It's a really great record.

(SOUNDBITE OF HECTOR COCO BAREZ SONG, "BOMBULERIA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Next, you have, I think, some Afro-Cuban music. I always want to hear stuff from the island. What you got?

CONTRERAS: OK. This is very traditional Afro-Cuban music not from Cuba but from California.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You tricked me. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO QUE ME DIJO CHANGO")

LOS RUMBEROS DE LA BAHIA: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ah, this is great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO QUE ME DIJO CHANGO")

LOS RUMBEROS DE LA BAHIA: (Singing in foreign language).

CONTRERAS: So this is Afro-Cuban rumba. In particular, this is guaguanco. As we said, this is from the San Francisco Bay area. And, you know, it has a long history of Cuban musicians making their home there - Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza - all great Cuban percussionists. They influenced a whole younger set of musicians who are now, like, our age, OK? And what they've done is they have created this tradition and created this hotbed of Afro-Cuban folklore in the Bay Area that's respected and well-known even on the island, OK?

And in particular, this guy named Michael Spiro, who's a renowned folklorist and percussionist - he's put out a number of records. He put out an album with the group they call Los Rumberos de la Bahia. The album's called "Mabagwe," and it's a tribute to los marielitos - or the people who came after Mariel boatlift in the 1980 and made the scene explode. But watch what they do because they switch the rhythm in the middle and then switch back. You don't even notice. And it's really difficult to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO QUE ME DIJO CHANGO")

LOS RUMBEROS DE LA BAHIA: (Singing in foreign language).

CONTRERAS: And then they go back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO QUE ME DIJO CHANGO")

LOS RUMBEROS DE LA BAHIA: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I can hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LO QUE ME DIJO CHANGO")

LOS RUMBEROS DE LA BAHIA: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, the African influences is so obvious when you talk about these tracks. But what about things like popular dance music of Afro-Latino cultures? I mean, what we just heard isn't exactly dance music.

CONTRERAS: That's right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do we have to listen for there?

CONTRERAS: It's a very stylized dance music. But for, like, regular walking around people who just want to have a house party and not have to do the folkloric thing, I have cha-cha-cha.

(SOUNDBITE OF OMAR SOSA'S "CHA CHA NU NORD")

CONTRERAS: Right. You recognize this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is another Cuban, I think.

CONTRERAS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF OMAR SOSA'S "CHA CHA NU NORD")

CONTRERAS: This is pianist Omar Sosa. And I brought this one in because all of the things that we talked about before - this combination of cultures and in particularly the Afro-Cuban rumba, it's all synthesized and in this music. In particular, the rhythm, the beat, the cha-cha-cha rhythm - one, two, cha-cha-cha. One, two. It's cyclical just like African music or West African music. And that's what makes this music so groovy. That's what makes your hip sway and your foot tap. That's what makes it so intriguing - is that cyclical nature, which is itself African.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I think what's so interesting is just how deep it penetrates all the different musical traditions in Latin America, right? So we're listening to all these different musical traditions and that African beat, you know, that came, obviously, from the slave ships.

CONTRERAS: Yeah - the Dominican, all of the Caribbean, Brazil. And what's fascinating these days is that there's more and more places like Venezuela. Right here at NPR Music, we just had a woman named Betsayda Machado come in - Afro-Venezuelan music, which - most people don't even know what it sounds like. But she's got a whole folkloric group that's now celebrating that. So, yeah, the slave trade left a really dark shadow, but it also left this musical imprint all over the Americas that we're able to take in and absorb now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's good to be reminded.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, it's good to be reminded, and it's also good to pull it all together in this track that I brought in that is a perfect Sunday morning track. Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S “THE LITTLE DREAM")

CONTRERAS: We're heavy on Cuban music this week, Afro-Cuban.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) I'm not going to complain.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) This is Alfredo Rodriguez, a young Cuban pianist who has been taken under the wing by none other than Quincy Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S “THE LITTLE DREAM")

CONTRERAS: His new album's called "The Little Dream." And I brought this in because it pulls all of those elements together. Deep within this music, you can hear these things - the cyclical nature, the African culture, the African references. But he adds in all this other contemporary stuff like these great vocals, modern instruments. And it's a nice way to put all this stuff together for Black History Month.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, feels like I'm floating. Love it.

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felix Contreras of Alt.Latino thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Always a pleasure, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S "THE LITTLE DREAM")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you can find a whole show from Felix about African musical influence in Latin culture on our website npr.org/altlatino. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, and I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S “THE LITTLE DREAM")