Dan Ouellette


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Dan Ouellette on Pedrito Martinez:

The Cuba-born, New Jersey-based percussion super hero Pedrito Martinez delivers a mélange of music, ranging from standard Afro-Cuban rumbas to grooved jazz to percussive pop. His unconventional approach (rhythmic stops/starts and acceleration within songs, synth voicings, rapping, four voices singing, no horn sections) and the spiritual rush for discovering new sounds has made him a mighty force to break out from the steadfast boundaries of the genre’s tradition.

He learned Afro-Cuban music deeply through his Yoruba-based santería religious life. Cayo Hueso is recognized as a neighborhood that served as one of the important birthplaces for the connection between religion and music—where African religious practices led to conga-charged music. Music and dance played a critical role in the ceremonial life of the Yoruban religious practice with the batá, imported to Cuba along with slaves from Nigeria, serving as the primary ceremonial drum.

In 2000, he received an email about the Thelonious Monk International Afro-Latin Jazz Hand Drum Competition. Martinez performed in the contest and won, with a prize of $20,000. Also in 2000, Spanish film director Fernando Trueba featured him in his Latin jazz documentary, Calle 54.

He was discovered in the pop world by Sting who with his wife Trudie Styler threw benefits that featured all-stars of the pop and rock worlds. In his first year Martinez met and played with Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige and Lady Gaga. “It was magical,” says Martinez. “I was so excited. They had a big set up of percussion for me and they let me play whatever I wanted. They let me be myself.”

The word quickly spread as different stars made their way to the Cuban bar on Broadway Guantanamera where the and his band would jam. Stars started to arrive and watched in wonder as his group tore down the house. Martinez linked up with Eric Clapton and James Taylor, performed a concert with Paul Simon at Jazz at Lincoln Center and worked on a project with Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa. “That Carnegie Hall show opened so many more doors for me,” Martinez says, noting that he has since appeared on more than 100 albums.

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