Monday, March 25, 2013

Afro Cuban Fever Hits Pittsburgh, Afro Cuban All Stars

Afro Cuban Fever Hits Pittsburgh, 

Juan De Marcos & The Afro- Cuban All Stars

by Martin Thomas and Helene Vidovich

Is it possible to be cool and hot at the same time? Usually there is a fever involved. Last thursday night was no exception at the August Wilson Afro-American Cultural Center. We were all taken by a fever of music from the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Band leader, arranger and producer Juan de Marcos started the evening declaring, "this is the first Afro-American Cultural Center we've ever played." The crowd cheered with Pittsburgh pride.

The group stemmed from the Buena Vista Social Club recordings that Ry Cooder and de Marcos put together in the early nineties. The cultural stir that the album created caused a resurgence of interest around the world for Cuban folk music and world bookings for de Marcos and the All Stars. It was no surprise when the band chose selections from the BVSC album including the crowd pleaser, "Dos Gardenias." The lead was sometimes tossed from performer to performer like a hot potato and other times more like Franco, hanging on tight, running to the end-zone. 

The All Stars ensemble 15 member line-up included vocalists, keyboards, piano, bass, congas, timbale and timbale set, clarinets, trumpets, fugelhorns and they all moved or danced during the entire performance and two song encore. De Marcos's orchestra entertained the audience subdividing the beats in ways you do not usually hear this far north. They encouraged us to clap on 1-and-3 and it didn't sound square. Although Martin and the more timid throughout the audience were reluctant to clap on those beats, it is hereby confirmed that they did clap (and dance) after all. The enthusiasm was infectious; the band brought the audience to their feet several times. Toward the end, we no longer needed our seats. They pulled children out of the audience to the stage which symbolized passing the torch onto future generations. The children danced with abandon while more children rushed the stage to join in. The band members just smiled and seemed to enjoy the exuberance. Then, the singers left the stage to sing and dance among the audience. They were like Pied Pipers with the most enthusiastic following them back up onto the stage. At the end of the concert the players came forward toward the front edge of the stage. It made us feel we were important to them.

It is notable that the most oppressed cultures produce the most joyous music. It appears the human spirit refuses to be held down; it will rear from the depths of the worst and rocket skyward to fly free. On a blisteringly cold night, many Pittsburgher's came out and were rewarded with the heat of the Caribbean. The only things missing were the ocean and palm trees.

Not professional reviewers just everyday Pittsburghers availing themselves of Pittsburgh Cultural and Dance Events by as Mark Freeman says,  "Being a Tourist in their Hometown."

Helene Vidovich, Freelance Cultural Reporter
Martin Thomas, Videographer ~ Troubadour

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