Program: Juan De Marcos & The Afro-Cuban All Stars

Juan De Marcos & The Afro-Cuban All Stars
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Berklee Performance Center

Emilio Suarez – Lead Singer
(Cachao Lopez, Willie Colon, Ibrahim Ferrer)

Alberto Alberto  – Lead Singer
(Hilario Duran, Irakere, Danilo Perez, Jane Bonnet)

Barbarito PerezBass
(40 grados, Yuri, Mijares, Buena Vista Social Club)

Orlando CardosoPiano
(Angel Bonne, Rojitas, Yaguarimu, Albita Rodriguez)

Tany Allende  – Congas
(Yaguarimu, Quijano, Lola Flores, Buena Vista Social Club)

Caleb MichelTimbale Set
(Omara Portuondo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ismael Quintana)

Asley RosellBongo & Cowbell
(Pacho Alonso, Manolito Simonet)

Orlando FragaTrumpet & Flugelhorn
(Mijares, Ricardo Montaner, Saratoga)

Carlos Frank IraolaTrumpet y Flugelhorn
(Barbarito Torres, Gente de Zona, Jacob Forever)

Tony PerigoTrumpet & Flugelhorn
(Omara Portuondo, Mijares, Yuri, Montaner)

Tony Garcia Baritone Sax & Flute
(Buena Vista Social Club, Mijares, Montaner, Ibrahim Ferrer)

Juan de MarcosBandleader, Arrangements and Percussion
(Buena Vista Social Club, Sierra Maestra, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo)

Roly GarciaSound Engineer
(Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Tropicana, Pablo Milanes)

Juan de Marcos González is a Cuban musician, producer, actor, and bandleader best known for his work with Afro-Cuban All Stars, Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Sierra Maestra, and the films Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios, Afro-Cuban All Stars at the Salon of Dreams, Mambo Man, Cuban Fire, and Vivo (as the voice of Vivo's mentor, Andrés). 

Juan de Marcos was born in Havana in 1954 and grew up surrounded by music (his father was a singer and played with the great Arsenio Rodríguez, among others). He studied classical guitar at the Havana Conservatory and privately with the great teachers Vicente González and Leopoldina Núñez, tres guitar at the Ignacio Cervantes Conservatory, and contemporary harmony and orchestral conducting at Goldsmith College in London. In addition, at the University of Havana he studied hydraulic engineering, Russian, and English before becoming an assistant professor at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, where he obtained his PhD in 1989. Academically, he has also been an occasional professor at such prestigious universities as University of Wisconsin–Madison, Dartmouth College (as a Montgomery Fellow), Gaucher College, Oxford University (UK), Sorbonne (France), and Cambridge University (UK). 

In 1976, while in college, he cofounded the group Sierra Maestra. Styled as a traditional Cuban septeto group (tres, Spanish guitar, trumpet, bass, Afro-Cuban percussion, and vocals), the dynamic young band’s aim was to bring about an appreciation of traditional Cuban music on the part of the youth of the island. The band achieved enormous success, recording 14 albums in Cuba, Africa, and Europe; touring many countries; and receiving various awards.     

In 1994, Juan de Marcos began his association with the London-based record label World Circuit when Sierra Maestra recorded the album Dundumbanza. For this production, World Circuit’s Nick Gold encouraged the group to expand its lineup to include piano, congas, and a trumpet section in tribute to the ’40s and ’50s styles of Arsenio Rodríguez. Having found both success and a common ground, Juan de Marcos and Gold looked to build on them with a big-band recording in Havana, featuring the neglected stars of the golden age of Cuban music (the 1950s). 

The Afro-Cuban All Stars album A Toda Cuba Le Gusta (a 1998 Grammy nominee) was the first to be recorded in the now famous Buena Vista Social Club sessions, and Juan de Marcos proved to be a springboard for the success that followed. After the release of the Buena Vista Social Club albums, Juan de Marcos led Afro-Cuban All Stars and Rubén González’s ensemble on their debut European and US tours and directed the Buena Vista Social Club in the only concerts that featured the original lineup (at Le Carre in Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall in New York City, and Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City). He kept working as bandleader, arranger, and musical director of both Afro-Cuban All Stars and Buena Vista Social Club until 2000, when he decided to dedicate himself to the Afro-Cuban All Stars. 

Having been instrumental in these various projects, Juan de Marcos is set to move into the limelight with new projects and ambitious, innovative ideas. “We have to use all the heritage of Cuban music to create a sound of the future,” says Juan de Marcos. “It’s important to have that continuity and fight for our identity.” 

So in 2004 he founded his production companies DM AHORA LTD (London) and GG&LL (Mexico) to record and promote albums created by musicians of the young generation (Telmary Díaz, Interactivo, and many more), and in 2014, in the United States, he started DM Ahora! Productions just for his Afro-Cuban All Stars. 

In addition to his Grammy award with the Buena Vista Social Club, Juan de Marcos's work with Afro-Cuban All Stars has been nominated three more times for Grammys and once for a Latin Billboard. Throughout his career, Juan de Marcos has arranged, directed, produced, or coproduced more than 25 albums, some of which, such as Dundumbanza (Sierra Maestra, 1994), A Toda Cuba Le Gusta (Afro-Cuban All Stars, 1997), Distinto, diferente (Afro-Cuban All Stars, 1999), Introducing . . . Rubén González (Rubén González, 1997), Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer (Ibrahim Ferrer, 1999), Buena Vista Social Club (1997), Bajando Gervasio (with Amadito Valdés, 2002), and Baila Mi Son (with Félix Baloy) have been hailed as seminal Cuban productions of the 20th century. Considered by many specialists as the head of the Cuban musical revival of the 1990s, Juan de Marcos shared with his friend Nick Gold the first WOMEX Award in 2000. 

The Afro-Cuban All Stars is a unique orchestra that has always been devoted to promoting the full range of Cuban music, embracing several generations and all musical styles. Over the years, many of the band’s musicians have become international stars, including such brilliant performers as Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Guillermo Rubalcaba, Amadito Valdés, and Manuel “Guajiro” Mirbal. 

The genesis of the Afro-Cuban All Stars traces to the 1990s. At this time the son ensemble Sierra Maestra, headed by Juan de Marcos, received a lot of international exposure. As a consequence, de Marcos was introduced to Nick Gold, president of World Circuit Records (at that time a small, independent world music label). The encounter led to a couple of quite successful tours in Europe. Later the group went to London and recorded Dundumbanza, one of the jewels of the world music scene of the early 1990s. (In retrospect, this recording opened the way for the incredible boom of traditional Cuban music of the period.) 

Months later, de Marcos got the go-ahead to do an album celebrating the classic Cuban sound of the 1950s—a recording that would feature many great musicians that de Marcos knew. The plan was to prepare two projects: one featuring a Cuban big band, the other favoring a more traditional sound reminiscent of the acoustic style of Ñico Saquito or Portabales. 

In March of 1996, they recorded the album A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, featuring nearly 60 performers. Then, with the addition of celebrated artists such as Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, and legendary American guitarist Ry Cooder, what became the legendary Buena Vista Social Club CD was recorded. Finally, with a low budget, during only two live sessions, with simple orchestrations devised at the studio by de Marcos, they also recorded the first solo album of Rubén González, Introducing . . . Rubén González, which was destined to be one of the most successful of the Buena Vista series of recordings. 

During the spring of 1997 and along with the release in Europe of the three albums, de Marcos and a select group of stellar musicians started touring all over the continent under the banner of a band christened the Afro-Cuban All Stars. The original lineup, familiar from the records, included Rubén González and Guillermo Rubalcava (piano); Orlando López (bass); Amadito Valdés (timbale); Carlos González and Roberto Valdés (bongos and Cuban percussion); Ángel Terry (congas); Daniel Ramos, Alejandro Pichardo, and “Guajiro” Mirabal (trumpets); Alberto “Molote” Martínez and Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos (trombones); and Raúl Planas, Manuel Licea, Pío Leyva, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Félix Baloy (lead singers). 

After several years of tremendous and unexpected success—including four Grammy nominations, being the subject of several documentaries and films, and receiving many other distinctions—the All Stars are certainly among the best-known and most successful Cuban orchestra along with Los Van Van and Grupo Irakere. The Afro-Cuban All Stars has also opened itself to a new generation by incorporating young musicians into the band. With The Afro-Cuban All Stars, de Marcos has developed a concept: to build a future that draws on the strength of the music’s roots. The Afro-Cuban All Stars is the same orchestra that can be seen in the distinct performances captured in the famous Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club documentary by Wim Wenders, the Tony Knox documentary Afro-Cuban All Stars at the Salon of Dreams, and the Afro-Cuban All Stars DVDs Live in Japan and Absolutely Live

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