Kickin’ It—Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars @ SFJAZZ

Posted on in Art + Soul by Roy Strassman

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Juan De Marcos and his exciting Afro-Cuban All Stars graced the Bay Area with a four-night stint at the SFJazz Miner Auditorium, their first in 16 months.

The story begins with 66-year-old bandleader Juan De Marcos-González himself, who, as a young man in his thirties, returned to his fulltime musical career after having already had a successful career in academia—he holds degrees in engineering (with a focus on hydraulics) and Russian and English languages, along with a doctorate in Agronomical Science.

Preferring solid white or dark suits, De Marcos lets his long dreads dangle like string theories below his signature matching beret. He looks like a Beatnik Cuban dandy and jazz hipster rolled into a giant—and lit—doobie.

He is quite the character. So as you might expect, it was a direct-to-the-heart joy to be regaled with fascinating stories of Cuban music by such an eloquently spoken, refined-yet-raw gentleman. When the audience wasn’t busy being astonished, it was roaring with delighted laughter. Some consider Mr. De Marcos to be the Quincy Jones of Cuba—for having modernized the lambent concept of the Cuban son septet with his late-’90s incarnation of Sierra Maestra, in which he played the traditional Cuban six-stringed Tres guitar; for his role as producer for under-recognized Cuban piano legend Rubén González’s first album; and finally for his seminal role in assembling the largely unrecognized aging musical treasures that would soon come to be known as the Buena Vista Social Club—a phenomenon of its time. De Marcos actually had this mission underway independently just weeks before American guitarist/producer Ry Cooder came to Cuba with just such a project in mind.

Turning to the music, the All Stars number 13, and but for his wife, singer Gliciera Abreu, are about half his age. They include his daughters Gliciera Marcos on electric vibes and Lidia Marcos on B-flat and bass clarinets. Lead singer Emilio Suarez is a Latin Fred Astaire who made the ladies swoon with his striking good looks and graceful dance moves. The other musicians were all Cubans, which should say all you need to hear about their musicianship—that is, they were kickin’ it and killin’ it.

They sailed expertly through many genres of Cuban music, including son, danzón, mambo, bolero, rumba, salsa, and even timba. When they began the son classic, “Lagrimas Negras” (Black Tears), with a salsa feel, the crowd instantly leapt to its mambo feet, and remained there while Messrs. De Marcos and Suarez danced suavely with female patrons, not only on the floor but even well up into the amphitheater’s aisles.

The show continued and finally concluded after more than two hours with the BV Social Club hit “Chan Chan.” These Cuban masters certainly know how to whip up a crowd, bringing the audience into paroxysms of joy, unity, camaraderie, and love. This audience turned out to be one of the most wildly enthusiastic that this reviewer has ever had the great pleasure to join.


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.