Afrocubism at Town Hall, NYC


Town Hall, NYC – November 9, 2010


When the world discovered Buena Vista Social Club, very few folks realized it was a fairly happy circumstance occasioned by passport snafus. (Few folks realized years later the US government chased down organizer Ry Cooder for financial penalties).  The band that was supposed to gather in Havana over a dozen years ago was finally able to record a fine new album and engage in a brief world tour.  Afrocubism is a fine blending of Cuban and Malian musicians, and their performance in NYC left folks seeking more.

Song after song featured Latin trumpets over rippling Malian rhythms, with a sparkling electric Gibson. The ostensible leaders of the group were Eliades Ochoa (guitar and voice) and Toumani Diabate (kora).  They were joined by ten other master musicians, who collectively laid down 90 minutes of splendid music.  Most of the songs were from the eponymous album which was released exactly a week earlier. The set opener “Mali Cuba” set the stage, and the remainder of the setlist alternated between the two hemispheres, but the underlying rhythms were consistently addictive.  Junior Terry’s bass and the percussion of Jorge Maturell laid a solid foundation for the musical textures explored by the group.

About halfway through the set many of the bandmembers left the stage, leaving the trio of Ochoa and the cousins Kassemady and Lassana Diabate. They assayed the Cuban chestnut “Guantanamera” which almost went off the rails until an audience sing along got it back on track.

I had several thoughts during the concert. If David Byrne, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel can meld world music, why not two 3rd world countries directly? As a kid my ethnocentrism was challenged when I discovered that Finland and Malaysisa could have diplomatic relations, I had thought all international relations went through the USA. And so it seemed for years that all blends of world music seemed to require an Anglo-Saxon nexus.  Afrocubism proves the exception.

My second thought was the hidden benefit of technology. Undoubtedly the internet played a huge role in linking the evening’s musicians…how would they have found each other even a decade ago?

Hemingway never saw this kind of activity sipping his mojitos in old Havana.

In a sad testament to lingering passport issues, one Malian (lute/ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate) was denied entry for the US leg of the tour. He was the same musician who was similarly unable to join the musicians in Havana all those years ago.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.