THE AFRO CUBAN ALL STARS BRINGS THE CROWD TO ITS FEET (Photo by Erin Perry)
Juan De Marcos promised a fiesta on stage and that’s exactly what he and the Afro Cuban All Stars delivered when they graced the stage of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on March 21.
“Tonight we will travel to Cuba,” said Juan De Marcos, bandleader, arranger, conductor and Tres player for the group. The one-night-only performance was presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Dressed to the hilt in suits and ties, the 15-member group took the audience on a journey through decades of Cuban music that had observers mambo and salsa dancing in the aisles.
“It’s important to perform in America and keep showing the diversity of the Cuban music,” said Juan De Marcos, who is also is the founder and band leader of Sierra Maestra and the man behind the Buena Vista Social Club recordings.
Although the Afro Cuban All Stars have performed in the Steel City before, this time they brought a new group of musicians—many of which are De Marcos family members— and a new repertoire that effortlessly married Cuban music and Jazz.
“The people in the band are from four generations and range in age from 19 to 60. I am one of the oldest,” De Marcos said. “It is great to have the exuberance of the youth and the experience of the seasoned performers on stage. My daughters are professional musicians who perform and it’s nice to have them on stage and my wife of 36 years, I can do nothing without my wife. We’ve done everything together.”
De Marcos said his wife was the one who brought the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club to his attention. She also made business decisions for the group, which won a Grammy Award for its self-titled album in 1998.
The band, which was De Marcos successful attempt to rediscover the neglected stars of Cuba’s Golden Age of Music—the 1940s and 1950s—the first Buena Vista Social Club recording was put together by De Marcos and Ry Cooder and was made into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Germany’s Wim Wenders.
The project lead world interest in traditional Cuban music and reintroduced the next generation to Cuban Son, Rumba, Bolero and Cancion music.
“With that band I was able to give musicians that were older a chance to perform and show the world that they are alive. I was a vehicle for them to get back to the stage. The Buena Vista Social Club is the most important thing I’ve done in my life,” De Marcos said. “Conducting the band was a dream. I tried to show that Cuban music is really important.”
De Marcos is continuing to show the importance of the Cuban sound on the musical landscape through the Afro Cuban All Stars.
“Our goal is to show people the spirit of the nation of Cuba. I will perform until the last minute. Music is an international language and that creates a bond,” he said citing American singing greats Marvin Gaye and Whitney Houston as some of his favorite singers.
That goal was proven by the audience’s reaction to the Afro Cuban All Stars.
Although all of the music was sung in Cuban Spanish, the audience still bobbed its head and tapped its feet to the music. When band members gestured for the audience to repeat after them, the audience did so willingly.
Members were even asked to come on stage during one of the numbers and dance a choreographed step with the singers.
“We’re having fun, but we’re a little tired. We’ve been performing all over the U.S. (39 performances in 25 states, most of which were sold out) and it’s a pleasure to be performing here,” De Marcos said.