The sounds of Afro-Cuban soul hit the Spoleto Festival USA 2017 stage last Saturday night with the appearance of the Pedrito Martinez Group. This dynamic quartet brought traditional and soulful rhythms, mixed with other musical vibrations, to the Spoleto audience with a soulful exuberance that hasn’t been seen nor heard for a while here in the Lowcountry.
This band is an embodiment of respect for the original Afro-Cuban folkloric flavor that was evident in the earlier sounds of past Cuban greats like Francesca Aquabella, Carlos “Patato” Valdez, Luis Conte and one of my personal favorites, the late great Mongo Santamaria. Pedrito Martinez, as leader of this entourage, is a wonderful and tremendously skilled percussionist who’s definitely carrying on the legacy established by those aforementioned musical greats and others from Cuba.
Mr. Martinez and fellow band mates are excitement personified. Backed by the dynamic Edgar Pantoja-Aleman on keyboards, percussionist Jhair Sala, and bassist Yunior Terry, Pedrito Martinez, a dynamic singer in his own right, began to show early on in the concert I observed on May 27, 2017, at the College of Charleston’s Cistern that they came to have pure fun.
To say that explosive musical energy was on display in the house on that night was like calling a hurricane an earthquake. This group thumps, rocks and grooves like very few Latin based groups can.
Using the influences of timba, guaguanco, jazz, gospel and the blues, all meshed together in an intense collaboration of Afro-Latin funk, the band was in groove mode from the very start of the concert. As a straightforward cultural critic, I have to give special props to the keyboardist Panto-Aleman because this dude is “baaad” in his own personage, sounding a lot like early Herbie Hancock in my unbiased view.
The entire group is tight and, you see, the one sure way to describe Perdrito Martinez and his entourage’s sound would be to say that they are all musically gifted. Their passionate, infectious Afro-Cuban rhythmic sound is a refreshingly vibrant interpretation of the group’s ardent Latino based sound, and it’s a totally modern combination of get up and dance Afro-Latin based drumming and rhythmic music and so much more.
In an exclusive interview with Mr. Martinez, 43, on the following day (Sunday) after I saw the the group’s initial concert, and before the last of his two Spoleto scheduled shows, he related to me in our interview some things about his background that influences his musical outlook and approach to life in general.
He hails originally from Havana, Cuba, and the roots of his youth and the effects of the drums run through him till this very day. “It’s an honor to be Cuban” is how he expressed his love of his native land.
Pedrito related, “I grew up in a little neighborhood in the middle of Havana and was raised in a section of Havana where music was a constant. It was amazing. I didn’t have a lot of food, clothes, etc., but thank God we had the music. The situation was tough.
“It was (still) beautiful. I learned a lot from the streets, and I never went to music school. All I learned was from the streets. It was amazing. I had to be given permission to be taught this music by the religious elders in my community, which is a direct offshoot of what the enslaved Africans left us musically.”
Mr. Martinez has been living in America for eighteen years now, and he’s been happily married for nineteen. He and his wife have a beautiful 15-year-old daughter, a point of reference that brought a proud smile on Mr. Martinez’ handsome and youthful looking face when he expressed love of his family.
Pedro Pablo “Pedrito” Martinez, with the affectionate nickname, which in Spanish literally means “Little Pedro,” is a much admired musician who has performed with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Bruce Springsteen, Wynton Marsalis and Paul Simon. He has an enormously admiring fan in none other than the great Quincy Jones.
The young percussionist extraordinaire is a serious proponent of the Afro-Cuban and other Latino influenced musical concepts that is delighting people from Japan to South America and everywhere that’s in between. He’s put out two CDs to date, including the sizzler “Habana’Dreams, released in June 2016, and his first album in 2013 was chosen among NPR’s favorite albums for that year.
It’s important to never forget that Mr. Martinez’ drumming technique is definitely intense, which is also reflective in his singing and overall musical presentations. It’s also contagiously spontaneous to the atmosphere of having a grand time and celebrating a good mood to be in.
There’s something very genuine about this young brother that exudes a sweet flow of respect. In fact, this young and gifted performer, a Yoruba priest, explained to me about how much he values and has respect for other religious traditions.
“Pedrito” Martinez was a genuinely unique and polite interviewee, but this energetic percussionist is very wise beyond his years, and I offer that with the greatest of respect to his age. He’s also youthfully cool and very hip.
There’s more to this guy than music. I sensed that during our forty-minutes interview. He possesses exuberant class, charm and respect, and I must say that his love of his
Afro-Cuban musical ancestry is electric in so many ways.
You can’t help but like him on an individual level, but you appreciate him more as the leader of one of the world’s uniquely dynamic Afro-Cuban/Afro-Beat based ensemble. If that ever was in doubt, all you needed for further verification was to have heard (and witnessed) the Pedrito Martinez Group last Saturday and Sunday nights at Spoleto Festival USA 2017 proving to one and all in attendance how truly dynamic that they are. They simply “wowed” everyone.