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Jose Fajardo, Jr. y Sus Estrellas Give a Hot Kickoff to This Year’s Monthly Latin Dance Party Series at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez didn’t waste any words introducing Jose Fajardo, Jr. y Sus Estrellas to inaugurate this year’s edition of the monthly Vaya 63 dance party series this past evening. The eleven-piece oldschool Cuban-style charanga also let the music do the talking, sending more than one shout-out to Puerto Rico throughout two tirelessly undulating sets. Now based in Florida, the bandleader continues a tradition that his famous dad began about seventy years ago. With a mix of familiar and often iconic material, they turned the atrium dancefloor into a Cuba, or a Spanish Harlem, of the mind, four decades ago, sounding as fresh as you possibly want on a January night.

The eleven-piece, oldschool Cuban-style charanga had the dancers out in full force with the first tumbling chords of the piano. They began with a brief bounce through his famous dad’s theme song. Transcending the deep-freeze outside, they followed with a long romp through Muñequita, first recorded by the senior Fajardo in Cuba and re-recorded for Fania in the 60s. Trills and flutters from the flute and violin and no-nonsense guy/girl vocals from Fajardo and his sister Ines pulsed hypnotically, working the crowd with a catchy Guantanera style hook and a final trick ending.

They broke down the indomitably, clave-fueled minor-key anthem after that with a lushy, swoony interlude where the pianist suddenly hit his string synth patch in tandem with the violins before leaping back in, Fajardo taking a long, serpentine break on timbales. His sister brought a simmering intensity to a moody, wounded, bolero-tinged ballad – nobody would have known this was the first time she ever sang it live if she hadn’t told the crowd that afterward.

“An oldie but a goodie,” said Fajardo Jr. as the band launched into a singalong Guantanamo, whose hints of Veracruz folk wafting across the water to Cuba gave way to an expansive, emphatic, leaping violin solo midway through and then a big timbales/cowbell break that was just as epic. The clave got more intense behind the moody flute and edgy flamenco-flavored violin break on the next number.

And that was just the first set. Anchored by fat bass and the incisive piano over a mesmerizing percussive groove, the band wound their way through slinky cha-cha and more hyper, leaping rhythms as the crowd twirled and shot video. If you’d been there, you probably would have done the same. 

The next dance party at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway is Jan 26 at 7:30 PM with Burnt Sugar playing a tribute to the livewire 70s Dayton, Ohio funk scene, featuring songs by the Ohio Players, Lakeside and more. Admission is free; get there early if you’re going.

An Ecstatic North American Debut By Colombian Legend Emilsen Pacheco with Bulla En El Barrio at Lincoln Center

In his North American debut at Lincoln Center last night, legendary Colombian bullerengue bandleader Emilsen Pacheco – the guy who wrote the Ibuprofen Fandango  brought his relentlessly energetic personality and wry sense of humor to a sold-out audience of expats from his native Colombia along with many cognoscenti from the New York music scene (Innov Gnawa’s Samir LanGus and saxophonist Aakash Mittal were both spotted in the crowd). Backed by Bulla En El Barrio, New York’s only bullerengue group, Pacheco validated the herculean effort it took to get him here. Lincoln Center impresario Viviana Benitez explained that a grant from APAP and a Colombian record label, among others, were involved.

It was definitely a painkilling show. The men and women of the group took turns twirling in front of the band over hypnotic, echoing handmade drums (tambor alegre and tambor llamador) and handclaps, and quickly got the audience involved. Isn’t it funny how in this age of corporate hail-mary passes at monopolizing live music, it’s the most interactive, ancient styles that always draw the biggest audience response?

Bullerengue is the oldest African style of music in Colombia. Like its distant cousin gnawa, it’s a hypnotically pulsing call-and-response style with origins in sub-Saharan Africa. At this show, that meant an ever-increasing choir responding to Pacheco’s vocal riffs, demands, implorations and exaltations – and eventually, his masterful, hard-hitting beats on the drums. After he’d highfived the crowd on the way in, he held down the left side of the stage, swaying and half-crouching, decked out in a colorful print shirt and straw hat. It was a deliriously inspired collaboration, party music reflecting transcendence over the rigors of coastal working-class life and through centuries before, on another continent.

“I’m the guy for you,” was the message Pacheco used to get the party started. As the show built steam, the rhythms shifted through brisk triplets to a trance-inducing four-on-the-floor, to trickier polyrhythms from the group’s percussionists. Love, seduction, drinking and the precarious state of Colombian coastal family life were common themes: Pacheco and the group seem to love all of them equally.

Eventually, Bulla En El Barrio leader Carolina Oliveros  – a protege of Pacheco during her time in Colombia – took over the mic and led the choir, which by now seemed to be half the audience. Once Pacheco had taken a seat behind the drums, it seemed that the giant wave of swaying bodies in front of the stage knew all the words by heart – and they responded just as feverishly to Oliveros’ originals. She explained that Pacheco is one of the few remaining keepers of the bullerengue flame – this was “A dream come true,” she said, thanking Benitez for believing in the craziness of staging a show like this in New York in 2017.

If you missed this party, Pacheco and the band are at C’Mon Everybody this Saturday, August 26 at 9ish; cover is $12. Then they’re at Barbes at around 9:30 PM on the 28th and on the 29th they’ll be at Terrazza 7 in Queens at 8 for $20. 

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

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.