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Afro-Cuban group bringing Latin magic to Tucson

Citizen Staff Writer


Tucson Citizen

The brain’s pineal gland and President Obama’s foreign policy figure
large in the future of the Afro-Cuban All Stars, an exceptionally
lively big band now on tour in the United States.

That’s how Juan de Marcos figures it. He’s the Cuban founder,
promoter and leader of this proud group of musicians whose roots reach
down through the Buena Vista Social Club and deep into the
multinational culture of Cuba itself.

But first the Afro-Cuban All Stars will stop in Tucson on Monday to
cast their rhythmic Latin spell over the audience in Centennial Hall on
the University of Arizona campus.

De Marcos was in Havana in the late 1990s when American musicologist
Ry Cooder visited Cuba to record a CD and help film director Wim
Wenders come away with the enchanted soft-shoe sound and documentary of
the island nation’s traditional dance music. A sound so supple that
smiling listeners all over the world were charmed by its old school

When the album and supporting film “Buena Vista Social Club” were
released in 1999 they became a showcase trampoline that vaulted some of
Cuba’s retired and forgotten treasures into beloved elderly figures
performing on an international stage for the first time in their lives.

Now de Marcos figures he can take some of that seductively aged
artistry and mix it with the vigorous Cuban youth of select players
whose vision of the future would respect and energize the past. Getting
the right mental energy was important to the founder, who also has a
doctorate in engineering.

“The energy that moves around the band is very important because you
physically transmit it to the audience,” he explained, describing the
special dynamics of his vision. “This isn’t some mystical force; it’s
all about the electromagnetic waves that the brain transmits and
receives through the pineal gland. When you have really good positive
energy, the audience gets it.”

From 1994 through 2002 de Marcos had been bringing some of Latin
America’s most dazzling artists to the U.S. Then Cuban-American
relations slammed to a halt. Nobody with an instrument case was going
in or out.

“We used to perform in the U.S. every year,” de Marcos remembered.
“We toured the whole country. Musicians from Buena Vista started to
tour with great success. But in 2003, everything stopped.”

Passports didn’t get stamped. Shoes didn’t need to get shined.
Stacks of sheet music stayed packed for safekeeping. Facing a sea of
red tape in the 90 miles of ocean between Florida and Cuba, de Marcos
stopped touring and started hunting around for Cuban musicians already
living in the States. The new version of his Afro-Cuban All Stars began
to take shape.

Players who once backed such Buena Vista stars as pianist Rubén
González, singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo were available.
Young talents such as percussionist Calixto Oviedo, who backed all
sorts of touring stars from James Brown to Sting, wanted to sign on.

That pineal gland was starting to throb a little bit. A two-month
tour started early this month, with Tucson on tap as the band’s concert
dates move from the West Coast toward the East Coast.

“It won’t be long before the new U.S. administration allows for more
cultural exchange,” de Marco optimistically predicted. “This tour
stands to be the first in a new period of openness and appreciation for
Cuban music and perhaps the beginning of the end of the embargo

With such political euphoria also spinning its own energy around de
Marcos’ band, Obama’s international message of hope takes on additional
meaning. De Marcos wants those Cuban passports to be getting stamped
with an Afro-Cuban beat.


What: Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars in concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.

Price: $17-$40

Info: 621-3341, uapresents.org

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