For Black History Month, Celebrate Afro-Latino Music With Smithsonian Folkways

-images-uploads-gallery-sfw40574_cover_1500_wide-6da431eed4aef700e0da33a5441d4fc1185839e2-s800-c85.jpgvia NPR’s Alt.Latino‘s Felix Contreras:

As part of our celebration of Black History Month and Afro-Latino culture, we turn this week to how the influence of Africa has been interpreted in various Latin and Caribbean cultures. The music of West Africa, where a majority of those enslaved in the Americas came from, was diffused through both an indigenous and Spanish filter to become the distinct sounds and rhythms that we know today.

Cumbia, bachata, mambo and son jarocho are all quite distinct from each other and are still very vibrant expressions of tradition. But, more importantly, they also inform and influence a tidal wave of new expression, mixing with hip-hop, electronic, rock and jazz to form the musical bedrock of Alt.Latino.

In this week’s show, we dive into the vaults of Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label dedicated to American folk traditions of all kinds. Our guide is Folkways curator emeritus Dan Sheehy, who knows a thing or two about Afro-Latino music and culture: He has traveled extensively to produce many of the great recordings in the archive.

LISTEN HERE.

R&B heat you need to hear: ‘Doing the Most’ by Kirby Maurier

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.08.41 AM
Kirby Maurier

Most of my music writing centers around South American artists & you can find it over at the U.K. -based Sounds and Colours. (I’ve written about lots of recent hot, new music here!) But on the rare occasion I find myself having to rave about non -Latin or global sounds, I do that here.

Meet Kirby Maurier: an Arkansas-born R&B artist from the Miami area, who happens to be the highest selling independent R&B albums in the South Atlantic Region. Her album, Doing the Most (via Valholla Entertainment), debuting at #162 on Soundscan’s Current R&B charts (US) and I can’t recommend it enough.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.08.23 AMHere I go aging myself again (damn you, Internet!), but I went to college when hip-hop R&B / hip-hop soul was at it best. (Don’t we always remember it that way?)

I’m talking about the time of Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Faith Evans, TLC, SWV, Total, etc… Those were the divas we brown kids were drawn to at the time. It was their lyrics we sang to on repeat when were in love or licking our wounds over a broken heart.

Maurier reminds me of that. An EP of hers, “Class of ’96,” encapsulates that (as she sings over the beats to many of the R&B beats of that era).

You can hear a good interview about her origins, the new album, and more, over on the Red Light Special podcast. And grab that EP via Worldwide Mixtapes here.

Finally, cop her Doing the Most album over at iTunes, and follow this artist on Facebook. Let’s hope her star continues to rise and she keeps on the focus on good, old-fashioned R&B. Though her lyrics exude more stark confidence, rather than the “come back to me” romance of that 90s R&B (Times have changed; this fits in line with powerful black female being celebrated these days), Kirby Maurier is obviously one to keep you eye on.

Cuba’s MANANA festival: where Afro-Cuban folkloric sounds will mix with electronic sounds

Photo by me!
Photo by me!

By now, you should all know about MANANA, the music festival happening in Santiago de Cuba in May 2016, right? No! Well, head to Sounds and Colours to learn more.

Basically, it’s a non-profit festival connecting Afro-Cuban Folkloric music with the pioneers of the International Electronic music community. Its organizers are crowdfunding for the three-day event (May 4, 5, 6 2016) via Kickstarter.

If you’re thinking, oh no, the embargo getting lifted means a bunch of molly-popping, daisy crown-wearing millennials overdosing and passing out, fear not. While no one can prevent from those fitting that stereotype from attending if they buy a flight and ticket, that’s not what this festival is aiming to be.

Consider this rumba track by Manenaje Al Benni, which the folks behind Manana shared via their Kickstarter page. I went to Cuba in 2013 and can tell you talented musicians are ALL over that island, playing on the streets, in cafes, and restaurants. (Watch this short clip I shot there.) I am so excited for artists like the ones I saw to perform on a big stage, reach new audiences, and make connections from the electronic dance world for future collaborations.

The following artists have already agreed to play if this Kickstarter is a success. 

  • Dubstep pioneer, Mala (Read an interview with Red Bull here)
  • Puerto Rican electronic rumba act, Grupo ÌFÉ
  • Tropical DJ’s, Sofrito
  • “Godfather” of Cuban drumming, Galis
  • Santiago rumba masters, Obba Tuke
  • The legendary Compañía Ballet Folclórico de Oriente

By the way, I asked for clarification on travel permissions for those traveling from the United States, as the embargo isn’t fully lifted yet. The good news is a tourist card allows you to travel legally from the U.S. The cost of the visa/tourist card is £20 per person and the courier charges by DHL would be around £70. More info on that here.

So, please contribute to the Kickstarter if you can. Every little bit helps. And, if you’re able, make travel plans to attend! Cuba was one of the best places I’ve ever been to so far. The people are lovely and the architecture is beautiful. And the food is delicious.

There is so much culture, dance, music, and film, not to mention the country’s world class education. Don’t miss MANANA!

Photo by me from El Bodeguito del Medio, where I drank wonderful mojitos.
Photo by me from El Bodeguito del Medio, where I drank wonderful mojitos.

New hip hop from NYC’s Justin Bates

Justin Bates
Justin Bates

Brooklyn rapper, Justin Bates (a Chicago native), tells me he often gets “You remind me of someone,” in regards to his sound. YES. Is it Red Man? I’m not sure. But one thing is clear: He’s got a GREAT voice.

Obviously, he’s a great lyricist, too, or I wouldn’t be sharing his latest track, “All On We,” produced by Madwreck. I dig the soulful intro, and again, can’t say enough of Bates’ voice. This song is very reminiscent of 90s New York hip hop for me!

And check out this video for his track, “Turn The Music Up,” from 2012.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/20853720″>Justin Bates &quot;Turn The Music Up&quot;</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/javiergoin”>jG Films</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Meet (& support!) Norvis Jr.

A little over a year ago, Natalia Linares (the digi-femenista/music manager/publicist) behind conrazón invited a small group of people for a private concert at her Staten Island apartment featuring an independent artist, Norvis Jr.

I’d met him (real name Nelson-Mandela Nance) a couple of times prior to the performance, but I wasn’t familiar with his music. I had no idea what I was in for.

Norvis Jr. sings his types of soul.
Norvis Jr. sings his type of electro-soul in Staten Island.

Not only was I blown away by his unique brand of electro-soul, but the intimacy of the performance coupled with the ‘zone’ he was in signaled to me that I was witnessing something special.

Since then, Norvis Jr., a native of Dallas, TX. now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., has performed at a handful of New York City venues, but now he wants to take his show on the road with a spring 2015 tour. Listen to him here (he’s got a great speaking AND singing voice), and then support his Kickstarter (and its hilarious video displaying his healthy diet!) here.

Norvis Jr. surrounded by a diverse crew of music lovers!
Norvis Jr. surrounded by a diverse crew of music lovers!

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On Grammy Winners, La Santa Cecilia

On Grammy Winners, La Santa Cecilia
Sharing a photo I posted to Instagram on Halloween night. I can now say I saw the Grammy-winning La Santa Cecilia at the Lincoln Center Atrium that night! You must see this band live. A shame their performance occurred during the pre-telecast, (but not surprising). Latin music is more than the same tropical/urbano songs you hear over & over on the radio. I’m glad these artists are getting OUT THERE by collaborating with mainstream artists who “get it,” such as Elvis Costello, who has a song with La Santa Cecilia on their latest album. You should check out ALL the artists that fall under the somewhat strange category of: Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative. Learn more on La Santa Cecilia here: http://lat.ms/1lgGaxv

KC eighth-grader’s song about poverty holds message of hope

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 11.06.03 AMImage via Kansas City Star

*** I work with Making Movies, and when I see the fruits of their M.U.S.I.C.A. camp (in conjunction with Kansas City’s Mattie Rhodes Center), I can’t help but be amazed at the power of music.

BY MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star

Regina del Carmen Sanchez wants to someday make her living writing music, playing her guitar and singing songs that have a message about the world as she sees it.

At 14, Regina’s world is pretty small.

It revolves around the little house she shares with her mom and grandparents on the west side of Kansas City’s urban core. The women of the house spend weekends frying, baking and selling empañadas to supplement the income Regina’s mom brings home as an office assistant.

….

“It’s my dream to become a musician to change people’s lives, to help them understand in an easy way what is happening in the world,” Regina said.

So when she sat down to create her first song, she wrote about being poor, being afraid to open bills, worrying that one not-in-the-budget problem could mean the lights go out.

She was 12 when she wrote “Keep Your Head Up.” It took her several months, writing at home as she lay across her bed or sat at the kitchen table. Sometimes even during breaks in class a lyric would pop into her head and “I would have to write it down right then,” Regina said.

“At the time I was thinking, ‘Let me write a song about the real struggles in my family instead of a song that’s just about me, talking about me,’ ” she said.

My house is in shambles but it beats being homeless.

It’s hot in the summer time, but in the cold the heat’s hopeless.

The bills are coming in and I’m looking so nervous,

because any day now, they could disconnect my service.

The song goes on about needing money, crying and praying, and wondering how long one could endure.

Love yourself and never give up. You’ll see a better life if you keep your head up.

Hand me down clothes but I’ve never been shirtless. B een misunderstood but no I’m not worthless.

Labeled a misfit ’cause I’ve always been different. Don’t want to be a number or another statistic.

Keep your head up …

“When she sings this song, you can tell she’s gone through it,” said Juan Carlos Chaurand, who plays percussion and keyboard for Making Movies, a four-member band from Kansas City with an Afro-Cuban/indie rock vibe.

Making Movies hosted the summer M.U.S.I.C.A. camp for low-income urban youths at Kansas City’s Mattie Rhodes Center, where last summer Regina was a camper. The band charges families $15 for the weeklong camp.

Chaurand said that providing inexpensive lessons and a chance to make music to children who otherwise might not have the opportunity is the band’s contribution to efforts to break the cycle of poverty.

One day Regina sang her song for the band members. They helped her write the music and took her to a studio to record it.

“It’s a great song,” Chaurand said. “To see that come out of her is pretty amazing.”

Read the whole story here. Watch a video of Sanchez performing the song with Making Movies below.