State College will host a little slice of Havana on March 19, when the Afro-Cuban All Stars perform selections from their extensive catalogue in a concert at the State Theatre. After a string of 12 performances in six days in New York City, band leader Juan de Marcos González and the All Stars are set bring the sound, spirit and flavor of the Caribbean Islands to our landlocked little valley.
“We want to bring a piece of Cuba to the States, and what we’re trying to do is to communicate with the audience and to try to create a kind of response between the audience and the performers,” González said. “Our goal is to make the people want the music even more than they did before, and so far we’ve done that. This is what I’ve been doing for all of my life, creating a bridge between the audience and the performers.”
While many bridges are paved with either stone or concrete, the structures that form between the All Stars and the audience are constructed strictly with the vivacious and high-spirited pitter-patter of dancing feet. This expertise didn’t come overnight; González has clocked in close to four decades practicing and performing his musical product.
“In the beginning, I used to work with people of the older generation of musicians, so the repertoire was more in the way of the music of the 1950s,” González said of his music’s evolution. “Then I started to change the music to a more contemporary sound using elements of international music but still staying with our roots. It’s a kind of Afro-Cuban funk, sort of like Earth Wind and Fire, or Kool and the Gang or any of those funk bands, but the most important thing is that we get people to dance.”
Proficient in the studio and culminating with a Grammy Award nomination in 1998 for the release of the album “A Toda Cuba le Gusta,” the Afro-Cuban All Stars enjoy time spent recording in the booth, but it’s the band’s live show where they are able to fully display their peacock pageantry in its purest form.
“In the studio you can do more things and plan what you’re going to do, you can make over-dubs, but that screens what’s really going on with the band,” González said, “When you play live, there are no tricks and there is no way to make tricks, and I think that this is what the people are looking for.”
Although he considers himself to be a sort of elder statesman, González is still one of the most respected and influential musicians to ever come from Cuba, earning the accolades and admiration of his peers and his family, who have taken after this patriarch and joined him on his musical odyssey.
“Of course we’re getting older and more tired than before, but we have no choice. We are musicians and we have to be on the road,” González said. “Actually, my daughters who are now performing in the band have given us some fresh blood and are now together with the older people with years of experience.”