Jazz Notes: Virtuoso Conguero Pedrito Martinez Opens the 3rd Edition of BRIC JazzFest With a Free Show
300 Ashland Corner of Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues, Brooklyn, NY 11217
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, October 9, 2017
The ambitious and creative BRIC JazzFest (October 14-21) kicks off its third annual festival with a free outdoor concert featuring Cuban virtuoso conguero Pedrito Martinez and his blazing band. The show hits on October 14 at The Steps at 300 Ashland in Brooklyn. Martinez’s resume runs wide, from collaborating with Wynton Marsalis to supporting Lady Gaga. This summer he was the featured percussionist in Angelique Kidjo’s tribute to Cuban icon Celia Cruz at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy, and this fall he seemed omnipresent at the Monterey Jazz Festival where he joined Kidjo again for a night of salsa and with pianist Kenny Barron in his tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, both on the main arena stage. To top it off, Martinez performed in a smaller venue with his group—a show that truly opened the ears of the West Coast crowd that was largely unfamiliar with his prowess developed both in his homeland Cuban and now his New Jersey home.
In a conversation at Umbria, Martinez said about his upcoming show with Kidjo: “Celia Cruz is one of our icons. She’s was one of those Cuban people who represented Cuban music for decades in the U.S. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to perform with her, but I love her music and I respect what she did. This tribute to her is a dream come true, especially because Angelique is someone who can really represent her. She’s not from Cuba, but she is from Africa….We represent Africa and Cuba…and she’s the best person who can do it. It’s a honor.”
He added, “Growing up because of the political situation, the Cuban government didn’t want us to listen to any music coming out of the U.S. So it was illegal. I listened to some of her music, but I was putting my ear to my radio very low.”
In regards to Kidjo, Martinez said he’s known her for a long time. “She’s been following my career and vice versa because we have common roots,” he said. “She’s from Benin. One of the major groups that came to Cuba during the slave trade was from Benin…Angelique really inspired me. She has beautiful energy. She can dance, play and show you a rhythmic idea. She’s unique. Playing with her, hanging out with her, talking with her is a journey. [The music] is very new. She’s interpreting Celia’s songs with her own feelings and patterns and ideas. It sounds great—a mix of Cuban salsa but played with an African feeling. It’s very different and powerful.”
As for Kidjo, she has nothing but praise for the conguero. “I met Pedrito through Claude Nobs of the Montreux Jazz Festival on his last visit before he passed away,” she said before her Umbria set. “He gathered me and a lot of musicians to the club Guantanamero on 8th Avenue [in New York]. I saw people dancing. That’s how he and I met, and we clicked like that because he was singing in Yoruba so I understood what he was saying. For me it was a no-brainer when I decided to pay tribute to Celia Cruz. Somebody from Cuba needed to be on board to share the love for Celia with me.”