New Cuban Sounds Rooted In Tradition From 'Global Village'

Apr 28, 2013
Originally published on April 28, 2013 3:38 pm

World music DJ Betto Arcos returns to weekends on All Things Considered to share what he's been spinning on Global Village, the show he hosts on KPFK in Los Angeles. This week, Arcos brings some of his favorite new Cuban music. His picks include Pedrito Martinez's convergence of Cuban and flamenco rumbas, an ancestral tale from The Creole Choir of Cuba, Tiempo Libre's amalgam of jazz, funk, and R&B and Yunior Terry's nod to salsa.

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And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.


LYDEN: And today, global music DJ Betto Arcos is back to play us some of his favorite new music from Cuba.


LYDEN: Betto is the host of "Global Village" on KPFK in Los Angeles, and he joins us from our studios today at NPR West. Betto, thanks for being here. I'm already entranced.

BETTO ARCOS: This is going to be great. I mean, I've selected some cool tunes from Cuba.

LYDEN: You did. But this sounds to me like the Spanish flamencos you brought us last time. So are they being performed in Cuba? What's going on?

ARCOS: You're right on the money. This is interesting because this is Pedrito Martinez, who's a fantastic Cuban singer and percussionist, but what he's doing here is he is reinterpreting flamenco tunes that were popularized by none other than the giant of flamenco, Camaron de la Isla.

LYDEN: Hmm. Camaron de la Isla.

ARCOS: That's right. This song is called "Dos Estrellas Relucientes/De La Alegre Primavera." These are two rumbas. Rumba, as you may know, is a type of music that originally comes from Cuba. Now, it went to Spain and became rumba as in flamenco rumba. Now, what he's doing here is he's sort of bringing it back to Cuba and reinventing it as a Cuban rumba with, of course, little flavors of flamenco in it.

LYDEN: Let's listen to it a little bit.


LYDEN: It's really, really sexy. Tell us a little bit about the percussion that we're hearing.

ARCOS: Well, what you're hearing is the traditional percussion played on the congas by Pedrito Martinez, which is the essential sound of a rumba in Cuba. It's very sexy. It's very sensual music. When you dance to it, it's this kind of beautiful, sensual dance that you do. And when you see the dancers on stage, it's infectious. You want to dance with them.

LYDEN: Yeah. I'll say I do. I'd really like to dance with them. So that's the percussionist Pedrito Martinez. Now, you've got more music from Cuba for us, the Creole Choir of Cuba.


LYDEN: They're luscious. What is this song called?

ARCOS: This is a song called "Fey Oh Di Nou." The group is the Sandan in Cuba. It's also known as the Cuban Creole Choir. But what it really means, the Sandan, is that they're descendants of Haitian immigrants who came to Cuba over the centuries, including in the last wave of immigrants that came during the dictatorship, the Duvaliers in Haiti.

They came to Cuba, many of them as slave labor to work in the fields of sugar cane. But, you know, the Sandan sing in Creole not in Spanish. Creole, of course, the language of Haiti, and the way they sing these songs is, oh, my gosh, a heavenly, sublime quality to them.

LYDEN: It's just haunting, and it really is a lamentation. Are you able to get a sense of what they're saying?

ARCOS: Yeah. This song is titled Oh Leaves Tell Us which is essentially a song that is trying to invoke the divine power of medicinal plants to heal a sick man. And this is the power of music here, that music can also heal.


LYDEN: That's the Creole Choir of Cuba, and my guest is Betto Arcos. And he, of course, is host of KPFK's "Global Village" in Los Angeles, and we're listening to some of his favorite new songs from Cuba. Betto, are these recent recordings?

ARCOS: Oh, yeah. All of them. In fact, the next tune hasn't even come out yet. It's going to be coming out in the next album.

LYDEN: Cool. What is it?

ARCOS: This is a band called Tiempo Libre which means free time, and they're based in Miami.


ARCOS: Tiempo Libre plays timba, which, you know, timba, of course, they may be based in Miami, but they play the kind of music that was, you know, born in Havana in the early 90's. It's like salsa to the whatever degree, you know, just one level up. It's high energy. I saw these guys a few weeks ago here in Los Angeles, and I can tell you, it's nonstop dance party.

LYDEN: Wow, I like that idea very, very much. How many band members are there?

ARCOS: There's about eight guys in the band. They really put on a fantastic show. But it's funny to see them in a performing arts center, the wrong place to see them. You want to see them in a club.


ARCOS: Although, you know, they put on a show, and everybody gets up from their chairs and dances because it's so infectious.


LYDEN: So that was Tiempo Libre?

ARCOS: Yes. And the song is called "Monta Que Te Quedas."

LYDEN: All right. I love it. So next, Betto, we have time for just one more song, and let's keep the spirit level high here. What else you got?

ARCOS: Oh, God. This is so cool.


ARCOS: This is Yunior Terry and his band Son de Altura. The tune is called "Son de Altura," just like the band, which means son of a high level or high-level son. What is son, you might wonder? Son is the foundation of all things Cuban. Cuban dancing is specifically what people know around the world as salsa. This is a really great sound, the classic sound of Cuban music.


LYDEN: And what do we know about Yunior Terry?

ARCOS: Well, he was born in Camaguey, a province in Cuba. He took classical training since the age of seven at the prestigious National School of Art in Havana with a double major in violin and bass which is really his main instrument, and he also lived in Los Angeles. He went here to CalArts.

He graduated in 2002. He now lives in New York, and this is his debut album, believe it or not, and he captures the essence of Cuban dance music in this whole record, and this song shows it quite well.

OMID MEMARIAN: Wow, it's great. Have you been playing it a lot on your own show?

ARCOS: Oh, yeah, this record is just full of really beautiful music, really high-energy music to just have a good time to listen to. When you're cooking, when you're driving in the car and, you know, pump up the volume.

LYDEN: Well, speaking of pumping up, summer's coming on. I want to get pumped, and boy, I think you've given us a great playlist for doing it.

ARCOS: Absolutely, my pleasure.


LYDEN: That's Cuban artist, Yunior Terry, and they're just one of the many artists that you can hear on Betto Arcos' show, "Global Village," on KPFK in Los Angeles. I really urge you to check it out. Betto, gracias. It's really been a pleasure.

ARCOS: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SON DE ALTURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.