Afro-Cuban All Stars celebrate 20 years in the spotlight with stop in Hollywood

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A report by Sandra Barrera for the Whittier Daily News

It’s been two decades since Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars first toured Europe and the United States, unleashing a repertoire of boleros, guajiras and sones.

The traditional Cuban music took the world by storm.

“It was completely unexpected,” remembers de Marcos, who leads the Afro-Cuban All Stars to Hollywood for a four-night run at the Catalina Bar and Grill, beginning Wednesday.

Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Where: Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Tickets: $30-$45.

Information: 323-466-2210. www.catalinajazzclub.com.

 

The series of shows are part of a tour commemorating the 20th anniversary of the project, which was presented by the original Afro-Cuban All Stars – a rotating group of previously unknown elderly Cuban musicians some of whom took park in the Buena Vista Social Club sessions.

Speaking by phone from his home in Mexico, De Marcos still champions the golden era of Cuban music, which he says was the point of the sessionsthat he helped assemble.

At the time, he was working in A&R for the London-based label World Circuit.

“I had the idea of making an album as a tribute to the golden era of Cuban music using the old guys because my daddy used to be a singer for Arsenio Rodriguez’s first band in Havana,” he says. “I told Nick Gold, who is the owner of the label, about my idea and he went for it.”

Gold invited Ry Cooder to produce the sessions with a group of pre-Cuban Revolutionary musicians long forgotten.

“Buena Vista Social Club,” which won a Grammy in 1998, was one of three albums produced by the small indie label in Havana over the course of two weeks in spring 1996. The punchy big band sounds of “A Toda Cuba Le Gusta” by the Afro-Cuban All Stars under the direction of De Marcos and the instrumental set “Introducing … Ruben Gonzalez” featuring the pianist were the other two.

The success of the “Buena Vista Social Club” album inspired Win Wenders’ documentary.

“In 1997, we created the band to present the music to audiences worldwide,” he says. “World music is not commercial music where you have a marketing structure that you can use to promote your releases. In world music you have to go out to the streets to promote your music or nobody will hear it.”

The band, which has been touring ever since rotates multi-generational musicians in and out depending on the desired sound.

“If I want a more traditional sound, I look for older guys,” De Marcos says. “If I want a more jazzy style, then I look for jazz musicians.”

Afro-Cuban All Stars is now in its 12th incarnation as it heads out on the road. For the tour, the band has digitally released a double album and Blu-ray video that captures live performances at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico and Strathmore Center for the Arts in Bethesda, Maryland.

A limited number of CDs will be available at the shows.

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