San Jose Mercury News
CÉSPEDES KICKS OFF FESTIVAL AT SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY
By Richard Scheinin
Article Launched: 02/09/2008 01:32:26 AM PST
"We're going to serenade you this afternoon," Bobi Céspedes promised her audience Wednesday at Santa Clara University. Then the Cuban-born singer and her band launched into the tune "Rezos (Prayers)," which immediately boiled up into something very different from a serenade, with its funky ostinato bass line, its modal jazz vibe, its insistent piano montuno and its intimation of ritual rhythms.
Céspedes, whose voice pours like warm honey, was opening the university's eight-day Festival de Música Cubana, an ambitious celebration of the rich history of music on the island. A folklorist, she enjoys playing with tradition, mixing things up as she and her combustive six-piece band did Wednesday for close to a full house at the university's Recital Hall.
She serenaded, too. Céspedes loves boleros, and she sang several of these ballads, with aching drama. She equally loves son, the Cuban form that helped set the foundation for so much music that followed, including salsa.
The band achieved liftoff several times on the son numbers during this hourlong concert. In fact, the sextet was close in instrumentation - including multiple percussion, bass, guitar and trumpet - to a classic son ensemble. Pianist Marco Diaz kept his trumpet in his lap, lifting it up for the occasional, soaring declamation, then setting it back down to join in group chants with bassist Saul Sierra, guitarist Jose Roberto Hernandez,
and Sandy Perez on congas and Julio Perez on bongos.
Born on the outskirts of Havana, Céspedes immigrated to the United States in 1959 and lived for a while in New York. She has spent most of the past few decades in the Bay Area, where her résumé includes working with Mickey Hart's Planet Drum. Céspedes is best known for her singing and percussion work with the group Conjunto Céspedes, widely proclaimed for its authentic approach to Cuban forms.
But as she kept showing Wednesday, she isn't afraid to spice the tradition with modern rhythms. A Yoruba-Lucumi priestess, she also calls on the vast complex of Afro-Cuban rhythms that have ritual functions. "Awoyo," a song from her new CD (titled "Rezos"), was filled with son-influenced rhythms on Wednesday, but it also moved to a place of incantation and trance.
As you read this, the festival is in full swing, with a host of events that are free or offered at bargain prices.
Tonight at the de Saisset Museum on campus, there's dancing to Orquesta La Moderna Tradición. Sunday morning at Mission Santa Clara, a traditional Mass will feature liturgical works by Cuban composer Esteban Salas (1725-1803). The festival runs through Wednesday. Information: www.scu.edu/music/wmf2008.