Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava Put on a Colombian Beach Party in Their New York Debut

by delarue

The cumbia party at Lincoln Center last night started at about nine. For the better part of the previous ninety minutes, a vast expanse of bodies had been bouncing and swaying to the thunderous beats of Colombian gaita negra band Paíto y los Gaiteros de Punta Brava, who were making their New York debut. Introducing the group, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez kept her cool, but she couldn’t hide how psyched she was to have booked them, current political climate be damned. “The music is deep, and goes way back,” she told an energized, sold-out crowd, and then let the music speak for itself.

Bandleader and wood flute player Sixto Delgado a.k.a. Paito hails not from the mainland but from Rosario Island off the coast of Cartagena. He’s one of very few remaining practitioners of gaita negra, a style that originated hundreds of years ago when slaves kidnaped from Africa began playing music with native Colombians. The result turned out to be as rhythmically sophisticated and eclectic as it is otherworldly. And as the group made clear, among the many grooves in their repertoire is the original cumbia. Even though they’re Colombian rather than Peruvian, if there’s ever a third volume of the Roots of Chicha compilation albums (which, if you love cumbia, you have to own), Paito needs to be on it.

It was a beach party night, and if there’s anybody who knows how to do it, it’s this group. The torrents of beats started very direct and matter-of-fact, then grew more complex and dynamic as the night went on, hitting a mighty peak, then down again and finally out with a lickety-split cumbia celebrating Colombian pride. Over the course of the party, the slinky, booming rhythms, played by two men and a woman on standup bass drum, conga and a surprisingly resounding hand drum, blended and alternated elements that can be heard in African Nyabinghi drumming, roots reggae, Cuban son montuno and Puerto Rican salsa, among other flavors.

Likewise, the fervent call-and-response of the vocals echoed African sounds that have spread around the globe, from American gospel and field hollers to the magical, ritualistic Moroccan trance music of Innov Gnawa. On their wood flutes, Paita and his counterpart played emphatic, gritty riffs based on the blues scale, the younger man keeping time all the while with a pair of shakers. The segues were clever, almost imperceptible, as the group would gallop along a triplet groove and then subtly make their way into straight-up 4/4, whether with a proto-reggae bounce, a slithery clave or the irresistible pendulum motion of cumbia.

One especially tasty subtlety turned out to be that the drums were tuned to a fourth interval, which enabled the drummers to interchange riffs with each other as well as with the flutes. By the end of the night, even the oldsters in the back were on their feet. The next dance party/global music event at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just south of 63rd St. is June 22 at 7:30 PM with South African guitarist Derek Gripper, who plays his own intricately virtuosic arrangements of ancient Malian music. 

And Paito and the band play a rare Brooklyn date on June 19 at 9:30 PM at Barbes; cover is $15.

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