Friday, February 22, 2008

Teo Macero, 82, Record Producer, Dies

February 22, 2008
Teo Macero, 82, Record Producer, Dies

Teo Macero, a record producer, composer and saxophonist most famous for his role in producing a series of albums by Miles Davis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including editing that almost amounted to creating compositions after the recordings, died on Tuesday in Riverhead, N.Y. He was 82 and lived in Quogue, N.Y.

His death followed a long illness, his stepdaughter, Suzie Lightbourn, said.

Helping to build Miles Davis albums like “Bitches Brew,” “In a Silent Way” and “Get Up With It,” Mr. Macero (pronounced TEE-oh mah-SEH-roh) used techniques partly inspired by composers like Edgard Varèse, who had been using tape-editing and electronic effects to help shape the music. Such techniques were then new to jazz and have largely remained separate from it since. But the electric-jazz albums he helped Davis create — especially “Bitches Brew,” which remains one of the best-selling albums by a jazz artist — have deeper echoes in almost 40 years of experimental pop, like work by Can, Brian Eno and Radiohead.

Davis’s routine in the late 1960s was to record a lot of music in the studio with a band, much of it improvised and based on themes and even mere chords that he would introduce on the spot. Later Mr. Macero, with Davis’s help, would splice together vamps and bits and pieces of improvisation.

For example, Mr. Macero isolated a little melodic improvisation Davis played on the trumpet for “Shhh/Peaceful” on “In a Silent Way” and used it as the theme, placing it at the beginning and the end of the piece. Even live recordings he sometimes treated as drafts; the first track of Davis’s “Live at Fillmore East,” from 1970, contains a snippet pasted in from a different song.

Mr. Macero strongly believed that the finished versions of Davis’s LPs, with all their intricate splices and sequencing — done on tape with a razor blade, in the days before digital editing — were the work of art, the entire point of the exercise. He opposed the current practice of releasing boxed sets that include all the material recorded in the studio, including alternate and unreleased takes. Mr. Macero was not involved in Columbia’s extensive reissuing of Davis’s work for the label, in lavish boxed sets from the mid-’90s until last year.

Attilio Joseph Macero was born and raised in Glens Falls, N.Y. He served in the Navy, then moved to New York in 1948 to attend the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied with the composer Henry Brant. In 1953 he became involved with Charles Mingus in the cooperative organization called the Jazz Composers Workshop; he played in Mingus’s other groups and put out his own records on Debut Records, the label founded by Mingus and Max Roach.

While simultaneously working as a tenor saxophonist — with Mingus, Teddy Charles and the Sandole Brothers, among others — and composing modern classical music as well as working in the classical-to-jazz idiom then called Third Stream, he joined Columbia Records in 1957. He was first hired as a music editor; in 1959 he became a staff producer.

At Columbia he worked with artists like J. J. Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Mathis, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck, for whom he produced the famous album “Time Out.” He also produced Broadway cast albums like “A Chorus Line” and film soundtracks.

Mr. Macero left Columbia in 1975. He later worked with the singer Robert Palmer, the Lounge Lizards, Vernon Reid, D.J. Logic and others.

Besides Ms. Lightbourn, of Morristown, N.J., he is survived by his wife, Jeanne, of Quogue, N.Y., and his sister, Lydia Edwards of Sarasota, Fla., and Queensbury, N.Y.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saudi Hip-Hop's Painful Birth

Washington Post

Saudi Hip-Hop's Painful Birth
Selection in MTV Contest Brings Joy and Misery for Group Defying Strictures of Muslim Kingdom

By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 22, 2008; A16

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- For many years, the members of the Saudi hip-hop group Dark2Men performed mostly in living rooms for their friends. They hid their pastime from relatives who view singing and dancing as shameful in this strict Muslim kingdom where concerts, theaters and movies are banned.

But that all changed last month after the group auditioned for a hip-hop competition on MTV Arabia -- launched in November as the latest addition to the MTV network -- and became one of eight finalists from the Middle East.

The channel produced a video clip of Dark2Men that aired in late January and flew the finalists to Dubai for the contest finale, which was taped Thursday and will be broadcast across the region next month.

"We used to sing about scratching our way to the surface," said lead rapper Hani Zain, 27, a gangly computer programmer at a bank. "We finally made it to the light."

In a kingdom where the Koran serves as the constitution, Dark2Men's rapid ascent from obscurity to the waiting room of pop fame has brought its three young members a mix of elation and misery.

Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest places, and the group's tenuous leap into the realm of MTV is in many ways the story of the kingdom's own struggle with the effects of intrusive Western-style modernity.

There are no nightclubs or concerts in Saudi Arabia because of social and religious codes that also ban alcohol and the mixing of unrelated men and women. Local radio and television stations play mainly Arabic pop music. With those limitations, the group's biggest ambition had been to cut a CD.

What they got instead was a television appearance viewed by thousands in the Arab world.

Their fathers, who had never seen them perform, were ashamed and angry as they watched them rapping and dancing in the video on television.

Their fiancees, in a country where women are not allowed to drive and must cover their hair and wear a cloak in public, were unhappy about the trip to Dubai, where men and women mix freely and alcohol is readily available.

The time they needed to spend on practicing and attending the competition put them at risk of losing raises and promotions.

"This should be the happiest time of my life, but it's really the most difficult," said Tamer Farhan, 24, a human resources assistant at a hospital who taught himself English by watching American movies and television shows.

The video, for their song "The Journey," was filmed in the studio and around Jiddah's landmarks, and in it, they rap about the group's rise:

"Hard life but I'll be sticking to it. Bad times but I'll be going through it. All I know is that I know I can do it. Be strong and never lean down to it."

Farhan seemed shy in front of the camera. Zain, sporting sunglasses, moved like he had been performing for the cameras for years. Maan Mansour, 25, looked straight into the camera and made the effusive hand gestures of Western rap stars.

"There are a lot of Saudi rappers, but they're underground because of the wrong impression people have of them," Farhan told MTV's "Hip HopNa" co-host Qusai Khidr, a Saudi rapper who has lived in Florida. "We would like people to hear our words and listen to our message before they judge us."

After the video aired, the group members met at a pizza place, and their moods shifted between excitement and despondency.

Farhan said that when hip-hop was just a hobby, his father was tolerant and his fiancee was confident that her parents would not discover he was part of the group. But now that the group has been on television and could win a recording contract, his father fears that his son will leave a steady job to become an entertainer. His fiancee said it was only a matter of time before her parents found out and ended the engagement.

Farhan, the eldest of four siblings who has worked since he was 13 to supplement the family income, said his father's disapproval was especially hard. "All my life, I've tried to make him proud," he said.

Mansour, who raps in English and Arabic, recounted how his father, a retired school principal, threatened to disown him a day after the video clip aired. "He said the whole neighborhood was talking about his son prancing around and dancing and singing like a jester on television," said Mansour, an equipment sterilization technician at a hospital.

Zain said he had agreed with his fiancee that if his music career started to hurt their relationship, he would cut down on performing and concentrate on writing lyrics and composing music. "I love this girl more than I love singing," he said.

The group's biggest challenge, Zain said, was to prove to their friends, families and fiancees that they are as serious about their religion and their culture as they are about hip-hop.

"If you're a rapper, people immediately assume that you are into the things they see on television. We don't want to be them, we want to create our own style. We rap about problems faced by young Saudis and we promote Islamic values," Mansour said.

Zain said the name Dark2Men was about shedding light on the hidden difficulties Saudi youths face. The "2" stood for the number of members in the group when it was founded in 1999. But Zain said the other founding member, a friend of his, left the group because he did not want to hurt his reputation and anger his family.

Zain met Mansour at a mosque, and Farhan joined them later.

The feeling of being under siege and misunderstood by society has turned the group's members into close friends, they said.

"People don't understand us here. They think being part of a rap group means you're less Arab or less Muslim or you want to imitate the West," Zain said.

A song written after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, which were carried out mainly by Saudis, focuses on how the group views faith:

"We're the ones who care about women and family, we're the ones who care about neighbors and community, and after all that how dare you people call us terrorist. I'm proud to be Muslim. Islam is the deepest peace. And no matter what they say or do, I am, I am, I'm Muslim."

At the airport in Jiddah before leaving for Dubai, Farhan said his father had given him a good-luck gift that morning. He stretched out his hand to show a watch with a black leather strap.

Zain, wearing his ubiquitous sunglasses and black hooded sweat shirt, said he had "never been so scared and so excited."

"All my dreams are now staring me in the face," he said before taking off. "Everything depends on what happens in Dubai."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Public singing in America


February 10, 2008
Shared Song, Communal Memory


THEY meet on the first Monday of the month at the Universalist Unitarian Church here, not to worship but to sing. Just to sing. There are song leaders, some with a guitar or a banjo or an autoharp, but this isn’t a class or a choir; the singers, not the leaders, choose the tunes. Most hold copies of a spiral-bound songbook of folk music called “Rise Up Singing.” They perform songs like “Keep On the Sunny Side” and “This Land Is Your Land.” No one minds a voice gone off-key.

From Hawaii to Santa Cruz to the Philadelphia suburbs, in living rooms, churches and festival tents, similar gatherings — called community sings, or singalongs — draw together the average-voiced and bring old songs into common memory.

If there is a natural opposite to gold-plated pop irony and faceless file sharing — music as the American majority knows it in 2008 — this is it. These meetings are earnest, participant directed and person to person: a slow-going, folkish appreciation of American vernacular culture.

Much of this impulse descends from Pete Seeger, who has championed the cause of group-singing for more than 60 years. “No one can prove a damn thing,” Mr. Seeger said in a recent interview, “but I think that singing together gives people some kind of a holy feeling. And it can happen whether they’re atheists, or whoever. You feel like, ‘Gee, we’re all together.’ ”

Amateur group-singing has been around forever, of course, at bars, churches, schools, camps and stadiums. Community sings like the one in East Lansing are pitched halfway between the ritual of the campfire singalong and the self-conscious American folk-music movement of the 20th century.

In 1945 Mr. Seeger founded the People’s Song collective, which disseminated its own songbooks, thereby helping to popularize songs like “We Shall Overcome.” The folk revival of the late 1950s and the subsequent rise of folk festivals, some of which included song-circles as special events, furthered the idea that singing together could reseed a homegrown culture and empower the ordinary citizen to change society.

In 1973 Peter Blood, a Quaker, political organizer, teacher and folk musician in Philadelphia, put together a homemade songbook called “Winds of the People,” which quickly took off in the group-sing scene. “There was a demand for it in the circles we ran in, which were religious and summer-camp circles,” said his wife, Annie Patterson. In time Movement for a New Society and other nonreligious activist organizations adopted it for singalong events.

A decade later Mr. Blood and Ms. Patterson were envisioning a more ambitious book. They compiled and cleared the rights to 1,200 songs for “Rise Up Singing,” which was published in 1988. Mark Moss, editor of Sing Out! magazine, the pre-eminent journal of the folk movement, and also the publisher of the songbook, said it has sold about 800,000 copies, at $17.95 each.

It’s hard to gauge the size of the community-sing movement because by its essentially casual nature it resists documenting. There is no central organization, no comprehensive Web site of regular events. Groups of the kind that use “Rise Up Singing” are not registered with the American Choral Directors Association and have no academic or institutional affiliation.

But Mr. Blood, who now lives in Amherst, Mass., said that by a conservative estimate at least 100 regular singalongs around the country use the book, in cities including Santa Cruz, Calif.; both Portlands; Rochester; Chicago; Milwaukee; and Atlanta. Some of these are easy to find in an online search; some are publicized through regional folk-music society newsletters, church bulletins or strictly by word of mouth.

In East Lansing, Sally Potter, 47, a frank, energetic presence, leads the monthly sing. In early December the event drew about 80 people. Everyone gathered in the rear of the chapel, where the ceiling is low, “so you can get the chills more easily,” as Ms. Potter explained.

The chairs were arranged around an open square, the better to hear the blend of voices. The singers ranged from teenagers to the elderly; some had strong, penetrating voices, some murmured with wobbly pitch. They sang about 20 songs, including “Star of the County Down” (18th-century traditional Irish), “The M.T.A. Song” (a 1948 update of the early 20th-century American ballad “The Wreck of the Old 97”) and “The Rose” (1979, soft-rock radio).

The force of their voices grew during 90 minutes, with harmony occurring in unexpected places. In between numbers Ms. Potter waited for people to raise hands and politely make suggestions.

“Page 117, ‘Julian of Norwich’?” someone offered, referring to a selection from “Rise Up Singing.”

“Great!” Ms. Potter responded quickly. “One of my favorite songs.”

“Is it ‘Nor-witch,’ ” another voice asked, “or ‘Nor-rich’?”

“I don’t know,” Ms. Potter said, shrugging, though she did. “It’s your song.”

Some sang the word one way, some the other. But Ms. Potter does have a few guidelines, including this: If someone picks a song, and it takes more than 45 seconds for everyone to learn it, let it go. There were no nonstarters on this particular Monday. In general, Ms. Potter said, she believes that people should get to sing what they came to sing.

The combined area of Lansing and East Lansing, which has a population of about 165,000 and is home to Michigan State University, has a perfect sense of scale for community projects: it’s not too small, not too big, and despite a perpetually slumped economy, it has a great deal of civic pride. It also has a famous guitar store, Elderly Instruments, a folk-music locus open since 1972; the Ten Pound Fiddle Coffeehouse, a folk-concert producer that has put on events for almost that long; and a popular local folk-music radio show on the NPR-affiliated WKAR.

Ms. Potter teaches high school history and economics in nearby Williamston. She has lived in Lansing for the last 23 years, during which time she has owned a restaurant, run the local farmers’ market and a used-sporting-goods store, and toured the Midwest in a folk trio, Second Opinion. Her interest in community sings goes back to the Hudson River Clearwater Festival in 1994, where Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, led a singalong group in a tent. Ms. Potter saw the same people returning day after day to sit cross-legged and sing, and she realized that participation was folk music’s core pleasure.

In 2003 she helped found the annual Mid Winter Singing Festival, a two-day event featuring community sings that tend to draw 400 to 500 people each night. This year’s festival, the sixth, was last weekend. There was a blizzard the first night, yet 340 people fought their way to the Hannah Community Center, a large building across the street from the Unitarian church.

In the evening events the singers sat in an auditorium and faced the stage, referring to set lists and lyric sheets. The song leaders were folk singers with longstanding local reputations: Claudia Schmidt, Joel Mabus and Frank Youngman.

“I’ve watched so many concerts, and I know what works,” Ms. Potter said. “When people are singing, you’re giving them the power, you’re giving them the music.”

Peter Blood agrees. “A lot of the experience of music in our culture is listening to someone else sing,” he said. “What I find exciting about community sings is that people feel they own the music.”

“Rise Up Singing” includes rudimentary chord notations but otherwise gives no indication how to sing a particular song; it is essentially used as a book of lyrics. It is not the only book used for participatory singalongs (shape-note singers tend toward “The Sacred Harp,” originally published in 1844), and some singalong groups bring their own songs. But it is the breakaway hit of its kind in recent decades.

Dan Zanes, the singer and popular children’s entertainer, used to sell “Rise Up Singing,” which he called “the ultimate songbook,” at his shows. “We don’t have that many songs rattling around in our heads anymore," he said, "so we need a guide of sorts.”

BookScan, which tracks sales back to 2000 through traditional bookstores, registers about 12,000 copies sold. But Mr. Moss said that most sales of the book have not come from bookstores. Song leaders order it by the boxful, directly from the publisher, or from the authors at

Mr. Moss said that although Sing Out! magazine did not map or facilitate the movement, he believed that it is “much broader than ‘Rise Up Singing.’ ”

“Often I hear from people that they hate the book for use in those settings because people keep their noses in it,” he said.

Mr. Blood and Ms. Patterson organized the songs in it by theme, including “Ecology,” “Sea,” “Faith,” “Hard Times & Blues,” “Men” and “Women.” (While the “Women” section is full of feminist vigor, the “Men” section is introspective, with songs like “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Let the Woman in You Come Through.”) The book includes traditional black American hymns; Cuban, Mexican, Irish and Hebrew songs; Stephen Foster; Jacques Brel; the Beatles; Phil Ochs; Bob Dylan; and Stevie Wonder. There are songs for specific holidays and songs from musicals.

With groovy spot-illustrations and hand-lettered calligraphy, “Rise Up Singing” has a 1970s liberal-progressive feel and an obvious bias toward group-singability, although Mr. Blood admitted that some of the songs were included more for lyrical content than for their significance or popularity. (The couple are at work on compiling a 1,200-song sequel that will include more selections from jazz, blues and rock.)

Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is its tacit proposal that there are many, many songs Americans should know by heart. In 1943, when he was in the Army, Mr. Seeger conducted an experiment on his fellow soldiers, asking them to write down the names of the songs whose words and tunes they really knew. In his own memory file he counted about 300, but he was impressed by the competition.

“I was surprised how many the average person knew back then,” he said. He supposed that the number of songs crossing lines of generation, class and sex would be much lower today, outside of “Over the Rainbow” and “Happy Birthday to You.”

At 88 Mr. Seeger is still a song leader, helping to run a singalong at the monthly meeting of a volunteer environmental organization near his home in Beacon, N.Y. “I like the sound of average voices more than trained voices,” he said. “Especially kids singing a little off pitch. They have a nice, rascally sound.”

After “Edelweiss,” and a beautiful run-through of “Song of Peace,” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia,” the session at the Universalist Unitarian Church wrapped up. It was almost 9 p.m., but nobody seemed in a rush to get home. A scattering of regulars stayed, packing up the cider and cookies.

One of them was Marcus Cheatham, 51, who works in public health. Earlier in the evening he introduced one of his own songs, picking a mandolin to teach the melody. Mr. Cheatham started singing about six years ago, when he joined a church choir and later a “diversity choir” at work, performing on Martin Luther King’s Birthday and other holidays. The next step, he reasoned, was attending a community sing.

Asked if his knowledge of songs had grown since then, he corrected the question. “My enjoyment of songs has grown,” he said. “I’m not much of a musician at all. If you enjoy it, you can jump in and do it.”

“In our little community,” he added, “the economy is horrible, and people are scared and sad. But you go to something like this, and you think, ‘Wow, our community is resilient.’ ”

Margaret Kingsbury, 67, a nurse who is involved with peace groups, sounded a similar note. “I honestly believe that this is one of the ways to create peace,” she said. “You go away from here, and you’re uplifted.”

Ms. Potter isn’t surprised by such reactions. “I think it’s all a result of people needing to come together and find some power somewhere,” she said. “It’s a political need and a spiritual need. How many people left early tonight? It’s a Monday night. They’re tired. But people didn’t leave. That’s how you know.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Juan Formell (Los Van Van) interview

Los Van Van have reached the 21st century

BY RAFAEL LAM —Special for Granma International

JUAN Formell, director of Los Van Van, gives us a recount of his band on the 38th anniversary of its debut on December 4, 1969. The most famous salsa group in the world has filled a rich career for years with creations and joy.

Formell, how was the start to Los Van Van’s career?

Los Van Van have reached the 21st centurySince 1967, I had been a member of the Revé group; I did it as a kind of transition, I wasn’t that interested in playing in a charanga. But I started to experiment and things turned out well, we had some hits. But by the summer of 1969 things weren’t working out; problems started and I decided to form my own band. The majority of Revé’s members came with me. The battle was on to get hold of instruments and making the new group official.

How did you solve those problems?

We had the support of Julio Bidopia, who is still working alongside us today, and who heads the Musical Clave Enterprise. He went off, getting hold of the instruments in Panama and Japan. For the debut show, we asked for some audio equipment from the Los Dada group, which was really popular at the time.

How was Los Van’s debut?

It took place on a very significant day, December 4, 1969, on Rampa St. It was fantastic. The press talked about a "new kind of music", a renovation of charanga.

What did this renovation consist of?

We used rock drums in the charanga, electric bass, and organ. We had arrangements that had a touch of pop, modern, and a bit of Yoruba. The rhythmic structure changed, plus the tone and concept; it was a total revolution.

Let’s talk about some of the members from those days…

Of the musicians, you have to always bear in mind César Pedroso, who was able to understand my technical changes. José Luis Quintana (Changuito) carried the weight of the rhythm base, he’s a star of Cuban and world percussion. The vocals were also decisive: the first lead was Lele (Miguel Angel Rasalp), who was a popularity phenomenon. He had a rock-ish swing, mixed it with son and, in the second stage, with rumba. He’s a born rumbero. He was followed by the voices of Armandito Cuervo, a son singer from Havana; Lázaro Morúa who created songo with a touch of gospel and jazz. Pedrito Calvo, another hugely popular artist. Israel Sardiñas gave a new boost to Los Van Van. Mario Luis Valdés replaced Sardiñas and filled a vacuum at that time. Angelito Bonne, who sang the hit song "Azucar". Mayito Rivera, an excellent rumbero. Robertón a timbale player who is unequalled. Jenny Valdés, the only female singer in the group.

There were misunderstandings when Los Van Van started…

Many people opened fire: critics, journalists, certain people who always show up as detractors of dance music, always a negative view from certain slack people.

Did you think that you would last 38 years?

I never thought we would get this far. It was quite simply our goal to make music for us to enjoy and for the people to enjoy. We worked for dancers, for the joy of Cuba; and we were ahead of our time. We went on a world tour; we stopped where we had to, in the skyscrapers and theaters of New York to demonstrate that Cuban music is immortal, indisputable. We won at the Grammys in the Salsa category in 1999 with our album Llegó Van Van. You start off doing what you have to do and as time passes, you realize that you’re writing part of the musical history of your country.

How have you been able to keep up with the times?

Times change very quickly in music; staying behind is the easiest thing in the world. If you don’t renew yourself, you die, and if you change the concept, you also die. You have to change the tones, but never the concept, the essential objective. We maintain the rhythmic base but the instruments can change, the vocals, the styles, the tones. But you always have to have an identifiable base. On the contrary, if you’re a weather vane that goes where the wind takes you, then that’s musical opportunism.

You had a reshuffle…

At a specific moment, I changed the lineup, I renovated it. My son joined with new ideas and plans. Boris Luna on keyboards. Violinists with young blood. Vocals with more "swing"; Mayito is very young, a rumbero and expert on musical percussion. Robertón has an amazing voice. Jenny provides the feminine touch. At certain times, my son takes over the musical direction and I feel renewed and go to almost all the shows. On the bass, I’ve got a youngster called Roberto Carlos and I sing and encourage the band. As you can see, there is both youth and experience.

Los Van Van’s latest album?

It’s called Arrasando and it’s got all the contemporary sound and strength of Los Van Van.

What’s the most important thing for Juan Formell?

I was always a dancer; that’s the essence and the principal objective. Without that, we wouldn’t exist. When I started out, I never thought that we would get so far and for so long. It’s the public who have brought us this far.

Will Van Van be around for a while?

As Revé used to say, hasta que ñangue (till who knows when).

Tata Guines (1930-2008)

February 7, 2008
Tata Güines, 77, Cuban Master of the Congas, Is Dead

Tata Güines, one of the most important percussionists on the tumbadora, or conga drum, in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz and son montuno, died on Monday in Havana, where he lived. He was 77.

The cause was a kidney infection, according to Cuban state media.

Known for drawing a great range of sounds from his drums, with his fingernails as well as his hands, he was highly imitated, one of the best tumbadora soloists of his time, along with Chano Pozo and Patato Valdés.

Born Federico Arístides Soto in Güines, southeast of Havana, the son of a musician who played the six-string instrument called the tres, Mr. Güines moved to Havana in 1946. By the 1950s he was working with major Cuban bandleaders, including Peruchín, Bebo Valdés, José Fajardo and Chico O’Farrill. In the late 1950s he played as a soloist on the enormously influential recordings made for the Panart label of Cuban jam sessions led by Israel (Cachao) López, originally released as “Descargas en Miniatura.”

Also by the late 1950s he had joined forces with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, forming a new band, Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, later known as Los Amigos. But with the rise of the nueva canción singer-songwriter movement in Cuba, instrumentalists like Mr. Güines were falling out of favor. His second wind came with his participation in the “Estrellas de Areito” sessions in 1979, recordings made for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the descarga style from 20 years before.

By the ’90s, even before the waves of recognition for older Cuban musicians started by the “Buena Vista Social Club” film and record, Mr. Güines was recognized as an old master, and toured often. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel (Angá) Díaz, his greatest stylistic descendant, on the 1995 record “Pasaporte,” which won the Egrem album of the year award, Cuba’s equivalent of a Grammy.

He worked with other young bands, including Orlando Valle’s, and Jesús Alemañy’s band Cubanismo; he also recorded “Chamalongo,” with the Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett, and played on the title track of Bebo Valdés and Diego el Cigala’s popular 2003 album, “Lágrimas Negras.”

Cubans mourn 'King of the Congas'

By JAVIER GALEANO, Associated Press WriterTue Feb 5, 8:08 PM ET

Cuban musicians, family and friends remembered the island's most famous conga drummer, Tata Guines, as he was buried outside Havana on Tuesday after a six decade career that helped popularize Afro-Cuban rhythms worldwide.

Known as the "King of the Congas" and "Golden Hands," the 77-year-old Guines died Monday after being hospitalized for hypertension and kidney problems.

"There's no one in Cuba, if not the world, better at making percussion an art," Cuban music critic Jose Luis Estrada wrote Tuesday in the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

Mourners sang, clapped and swayed at a ceremony in his hometown of Guines — which he took as his stage name at the start of his career.

Born Federico Aristides Soto on June 30, 1930, Guines was best known for playing the conga, a tall, barrel-like drum central to Rumba and Afro-Cuban music and culture.

He took the stage in Havana in the early 1940s with the Partagas Sextet and moved to the United States in 1957, where he performed with jazz greats Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Though he enjoyed success in the U.S., Guines was upset by the racial segregation he experienced there and returned to Cuba after Fidel Castro's rebels toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Guines won a Latin Grammy in 2004 for "Lagrimas Negras," or "Black Tears," a collaboration with legendary exiled Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdes and Spanish singer Diego La Cigala. He also worked with the Rumba Cubana All-Stars on "La Rumba Soy Yo," or "I Am the Rumba," which won a Latin Grammy in 2001.

He received Cuba's National Music Award in 2006.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Recife's 'frevo' rhythms fuel its intimate carnival

Miami Herald

Posted on Mon, Feb. 04, 2008
Recife's 'frevo' rhythms fuel its intimate carnival
Jelly-limbed dancers with tiny multicolored umbrellas, frolicking to frenetic frevo rhythms, make carnival in this Brazilian coastal city unique and for residents second to none.

Recife's frevo music -- which is accompanied by a frantic tip-toe dance in which participants leap into midair splits and fold themselves like contortionists as they land -- forms a carnival tradition distinct from the better-known samba.

While Rio de Janeiro's famed Samba parade, which takes place Sunday and Monday nights, is broadcast to millions of adoring fans, Recife's bash is perhaps Brazil's best kept secret. Late Sunday, the two traditions met in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome stadium where Mangueira, one of Brazil's best loved samba groups, sang Recife's praises.

''By paying for Mangueira's parade we are bringing national and international media attention for our carnival, which is the most democratic in Brazil and free to all,'' said Recife Mayor Joao Paulo Lima Silva, explaining the $1.7 million expense to the city's coffers.

In recent years, revelers turned off by Rio's commercialism and tired of being confined to the stands have begun looking elsewhere to cities like Salvador da Bahia -- where supermodel Naomi Campbell and music producer Quincy Jones are celebrating this year.

Those in search of a more intimate carnival have been heading to Recife and the neighboring colonial hilltop town of Olinda. Here, the vibrantly colored costumes and huge puppets may be dwarfed by the Rio's gargantuan floats and armies of uniformed dancers, but the lack of pomp is compensated for by the proximity.

Recife also offers up a potpourri of rhythms with names that seem to flow from poetry, like maracatu, caboclo, coco and ciranda.

''Mangueira has knelt before a carnival that is totally original and chocked full of culture. In Rio's there's just one, Samba,'' explains Alceu Valenca, a popular Brazilian musician.

That may be so, but in Recife one carnival rhythm stands above all the others and that is frevo.

Frevo is celebrating its centenary this year and Mangueira's theme samba this year is fittingly titled, 100 Years of Frevo, It's Enough to Lose Your Shoe.

''Frevo is the maximum expression of carnival, there's nothing like frevo and if we can put a minuet into our samba, we can certainly incorporate frevo,'' said Mangueira's carnival designer, Max Lopes.

Sunday, February 03, 2008