The Afro-Cuban All Stars is a unique big band devoted to promoting the story of Cuba’s rich musical history and the spectrum of Latin dance music, including mambo, cha cha, salsa, rumba, son montuno, timba, guajira, danzón, abakuá and bolero. Led by ex-Sierra Maestra drummer Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, the multi-generational Afro-Cuban All Stars have been essential to the growing worldwide popularity of Afro-Cuban music.
While long revered in Latin America and Europe as a founding member of Cuba’s great son revival band Sierra Maestra, de Marcos first gained notice in the U.S. as founder of the Buena Vista Social Club. It was de Marcos who assembled Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa, Ruben Gonzalez and the rest of the crew for Ry Cooder when he came to Havana looking for illustrious old timers.
Juan de Marcos was born in Havana in 1954 and grew up surrounded by music. At university he studied hydraulic engineering and Russian before working as a consultant at the Agronomic Science Institute, gaining his doctorate in 1989. While at university he co-founded the group Sierra Maestra in 1978. Styled as a traditional Cuban septeto group, the dynamic young band’s aim was to bring about an appreciation of Cuban son by the youth of the island. The band achieved great success, recording fourteen albums in Cuba, touring Africa and Europe and receiving various awards.
In 1994, Juan de Marcos began his association with the London-based record label World Circuit, when the band recorded the album ¡Dundunbanza! Having found success and a common ground, de Marcos and World Circuit’s Nick Gold looked to develop this understanding further with a big band recording in Havana, featuring the neglected stars of this ‘golden age’ of Cuban music.
Juan de Marcos had long harbored a dream to put together a band combining the ‘old masters’ and the new generation of Cuban musicians. He went in search of his heroes and found many of them ‘retired’ from music, forgotten figures delighted that someone was showing faith in them. He recruited the singers Manuel ‘Puntillita’ Licea Lamoth, Pío Leyva and Raúl Planas, all in their seventies. Despite the doubts of others in his ability to still reach the heights, he approached the legendary pianist Rubén González. Rubén did not own a piano, so Juan found him a place to practice and encouraged him to rehearse with his chosen bass player, Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López. Juan continued to assemble his dream band and the Afro-Cuban All Stars was born.
Juan de Marcos and Gold planned to record two albums in Havana’s EGREM studios in 1997: the debut from the All Stars and a collaboration between West African and Eastern Cuban musicians for which Gold had invited Ry Cooder as producer. Due to passport complications, the African musicians were unable to travel however, the two-weeks of recording still yielded an extraordinary trio of albums: the All Stars’ A Toda Cuba le Gusta, Ruben Gonzalez’ Introducing… and the Buena Vista Social Club.
Following the albums’ release Juan de Marcos led the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Rubén González on their debut European and U.S. tours and directed the only ever two Buena Vista Social Club concerts in Amsterdam and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Cuban music then experienced a new-found international success that further fueled the music industry in Cuba by launching the careers of up-and-coming artists as well as resurrecting the careers of several ‘forgotten’ legends. It also left the record buying public worldwide with an appetite for Cuban music and a receptiveness to new recordings that previously didn’t exist.
As for the Afro-Cuban All Stars, they evolved from being a musical dream to the formation of a full-time touring and recording group. What direction the All Stars go in next remains to be seen, but with Juan de Marcos at the helm, one can be sure it is in safe hands.
Pre-Show Member Reception
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