You are invited to an Afro-Peruvian Music, Dance and Cajon Workshops

Chicago has given me the opportunity to experience art in so many different ways.  One of them has been becoming a member of  a Peruvian folk dance group led by a very talented artist and dance teacher. His name is Ruben Pachas. I first met him at a dance workshop and was very impressed by the quality of his work. His classes are fun, energetic, and enriching.  He knows how to deconstruct dance steps and makes them easy to learn. I want to share this experience with you and invite you to a couple of Afro Peruvian Music and Dance Workshops that he will be offering. These workshops cover the history of the arrival of African culture to Peru, musical samples of three traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments, sample popular dances, and full-class participation in a percussion session and dance routine. The goal is to actively involve the participants in learning Afro-Peruvian instruments, rhythms, and dances. Below are the details for this event:
BA Studio

2846 W North Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago IL 60647
(Meet at side entrance on FRANCISCO AVE)

See map here

$20 per workshop ($25 without RSVP)
Please RSVP via Facebook as attending
Or via (Subject: “Workshop”)


 Everyone has to get here early because it’s a locked building so I have to let you in when you get here. We will start on time! 🙂
-Wear work out clothes
-If possible, don’t wear shoes in studio unless they are indoor shoes

Feb 25th  2012
3pm -4pm
Cost:  $20 ($25 without RSVP)
Please RSVP via Facebook as attending
Or via (Subject: “Workshop”)
Join Ruben Pachas for a hands-on workshop on the diversity of Afro-Peruvian folk dance. He will focus  on the Festejo, a music and dance form developed in the plantation fields during the 18th century. The word Festejo, comes from the Spanish word festejar (to celebrate) .  True to its name, the music and dance of the Afro-Peruvian genre is joyous and vibrant but its traditional lyrics usually narrate the hardships of enslaved life. Participation will be encouraged. The class will last about one  hour and you will learn other Afro-Peruvian dances such as Zamacueca, Lando, Marinera & Vals.
Feb 25th  2012
Cost:  $20 ($25 without RSVP)
Please RSVP via Facebook as attending
Or via (Subject: “Workshop”)
Join us for another special workshop with Ruben Pachas and discover the Cajon (Box) drum. This class is an introduction to the Cajon drum & Afro-Peruvian rhythms – Festejo, Zamacueca, Lando, Marinera & Vals.
Students will learn how to play basic patterns and explore different rhythms and stroke combinations on the cajon drum.
(Beginners always welcome/Advanced students learn new techniques and refresh your Cajon skills)
(We recommend that you bring your own)
The Cajon drum (pronounced cahon)is the Spanish word for “box”. The idea of using a simple wooden box as a drum is believed to have originated in colonial Peru where Africans displaced from their homeland substituted cod shipping crates for their native drums. As a result, Afro-Peruvian music is a unique blend of Spanish, Andean, and African traditions. Today, this versatile drum is steadily gaining popularity and recognition and can be heard in many different styles of music worldwide.
RUBEN PACHAS has a solid background in artistic performance and as a dance teacher with a strong emphasis in field research and dance techniques. He is a graduate of  the prestigious Escuela Nacional Superior de Folklore  Jose Maria Arguedas and has an extensive experience as a professional Folk dance teacher. He is the Founder and Director of Peruvian Folk Dance Center, a Chicago dance group whose mission is to promote Peruvian culture through the teaching and performance of Peruvian folk dances.  
Here is video with a sample of Afro-Peruvian dances performed by the Afro-Peruvian musical ensemble Peru Negro:

2/10: Party in a serious way

Soulphonetic’s Christian Vera is turning 30 this month.  Soulphonetics is a DJ collective that spins the soulful sounds of House, Jazz and all forms of Afro-Latin and Electronic rhythms.   I have been to some of their Dance Syndrome parties and have always had a blast. Christian will be celebrating with some of Chicago’s best DJs such as Sound Culture and DJ New Life, up and coming hip-hop crew PRESTON & JOEY PURPS, and international carioca bass queen Zuzuka Poderosa.
Zuzuka Poderosa drops Brazilian bred, BK-based swagger like no other. A stylistic blend of Funk Carioca Bass and NYC rumble add a breath of fresh air to today’s international music scene.


Friday, February 10, 2012
9:00 pm – 2:00 am


1444 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642
Get Directions


$5 cover (21+)

Tonight: Please join me at an Improvised Music Series

Who wants to try something new tonight? I do! For the first time, I will be playing gong  percussion in an orchestra inspired by traditional Japanese Folk with Nakatani Gong Orchestra.  This event is part of a series of concerts organized by Umbrella Music, a Chicago-based collective dedicated to presenting jazz and improvised music. Since its inception the group has pooled resources to promote Chicago as an international hub for cutting-edge improvised music. Please join me at this Improvised Music Series concert tonight at

2830 N Milwaukee Ave
10PM – $10 cover charge

Hope to see you there!

When the Desert meets the Blues: Tinariwen in Concert

What do you get when you mix electric guitars with the sound of indigenous Touareg music made by guitar poets and soul rebels from the Sahara desert? The answer is Tinariwen, a band that was founded in the 1980s by nomadic Touareg musicians/rebel fighters from the Southern Sahara Desert in Mali. Yes, at one point in their lives, some of the band members used firearms to defend their people, but these days they use guitars to express their aspirations, and they do it superbly. The band stopped by in Chicago last Friday for a live performance at Metro and to promote their fifth album titled Tassili. A musician friend of mine told me about their music and how great they were, so I knew they were going to be good, but I did not expect them to be amazing.These guys are super talented. Friday concert was my first encounter with their music but it certainly won’t be the last: I am hooked.

The guys from Tinariwen took the stage wearing clothes “à la Touareg”: loose-fitting robes and except for Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the lead guitar and founder of the band, they had veils covering their heads and hair, some even with their faces covered. Tinariwen means “the Deserts” in Tamashek (the language of the Touareg), and like their name, their music has some of the qualities associated with a dessert: it is mysterious, hypnotic, undulating, inviting you to fall into a trance-like state. Their psychedelic sound is dominated by electric guitar and bass playing mixed with traditional percussion instruments. Some people call it Desert Blues. For their new album though, they opted for acoustic sounds, so an acoustic guitar was also part of the mix. The guitars played a preponderant role during the concert, but the bass and the percussion players stole the show at many points. Those guys are monsters! Complementing the talent of the guitar, bass, and percussion players was the singing in Tamashek that felt at times like mantras for meditation, and the undulating dance movements of one of the band members. His movements reminded me of the movements of the sand dunes in a desert. The crowd (including myself) could not help but fall under their spell.

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The use of modern electric guitars to play traditional Tuareg music along with their enormous talent are probably the reasons why Tinariwen’s music resonates so well with Western audiences. But seeing them perform live, I can also say that part of their success is due to how well they connect with their audience during live shows.The way they do it is elegant. The band members established musical dialogues with each other and with the audience so effortlessly and smoothly, that it gave the impression that they were jamming among friends instead of being on stage. This was coolness at its best.   And people responded to this. The crowd that came to see them at Metro was very enthusiastic. I saw a young woman moving frenetically to the rhythm of their music throughout the entire concert. On the other side of the theater, and probably two generations apart, an older lady in her sixties was stomping and screaming, asking for the band to do a third encore, which they generously did. There was also a three-year old boy being carried by her young dad saying enthusiastically: Tinariwen is playing! The band has definitely crossed generational and cultural barriers with their music.

This was the second time they performed in Chicago this year, and after attending their concert this last Friday, I can understand why they would come two times the same year: it is a love relationship. The crowd fed the band with an incredible energy, and in return, they played three encores and shouted “I love Chicago!” in various occasions during the show. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to hear their music, you should fix that a.s.a.p. Here is a sample of it:

Me gustas tu, Manu Chao

An electrifying energy was felt last night at Congress Theater. The reason? Franco-Spanish world musician Manu Chao performed in Chicago as part of his US Tour titled “La Ventura”. “La Ventura” has several meanings in Spanish. It could mean happiness, luck, fortune, risk or danger. The combination of all these meanings sums up very well what many felt at Manu’s concert: an overwhelming feeling of happiness for having the good fortune of being there at the risk of ending up hyperventilated after 2 hours of non-stop jumping and screaming. It was a dangerous but very lucky affair being at the Congress last night.

The house was full for Manu, and the crowd that came to see him was – like his lyrics – diverse and multilingual.  A big Mexican flag dominated the sea of people located in front of the stage, which was acknowledged by the singer in multiple occasions by screaming “Viva la Raza!”( which literally means “long live the race,” a phrase used mostly by Mexicans to show pride in their race).  But not only Mexicans attended the concert . The place was packed with people from Central and South America, Europe, and of course, the United States. This was a very receptive audience who got turned on very easily by anything that Manu played, which was a continuous output of reggae and ska rhythms. The connection between the singer and the crowd was intensely ecstatic, and together they created an unforgettable show of pure raw energy.

Wearing his trademark green hat, Manu faced the audience “descamisado” (shirtless), maybe because he knew it was going to get really hot or maybe because he was subliminally expressing his identification with the poor and underprivileged which are the theme of many of his songs such as “Clandestino”. The stage also followed this theme: it did not have big screens, special props or flashing lights. It was very simple, showing just Manu, his band members, and the musical instruments. But he did not need anything else to turn the crowd into its frenetic state.Manu was a passionate performer throughout the two hours of his show, pounding the mic against his bare chest, making monkey noises, screaming “You are crazy Chicago!” and letting fans get on the stage with him. The audience became a mirror of the man. One local musician mentioned that before coming to the show he had felt depressed, but after attending the concert he felt pumped up and ready to roll. Another audience member said that “the show felt like it was always ending,” because on four occasions the band left the stage only to return and do encores, making the crowd go crazier and only deepen its euphoric trance.

Manu Chao’s concert in Chicago proved to be entertaining and highly energetic. It also showed that  there is no need to have an expensive production to  have a successful concert. Instead, it is important to know how to connect with the audience. And Manu certainly knows how to do it. He made the audience  feel as an active participant of the show: he was the lead singer and them his back-up singers and dancers. He made them love him. As his song goes, everyone who attended this concert can joyfully say:  Me gustas tu, Manu Chao!



La Ventura Tour

La Ventura Tour

Photos by Mark Hetzel

The Afrodiaspora of Susana Baca

A delightful musical journey through the diaspora of the African community in the Americas was experienced last Saturday evening at Susana Baca’s concert at Mayne Stage. The celebrated Afro-Peruvian music singer came to Chicago to present her latest album titled Afrodiaspora. This album celebrates the African presence in the Americas through a compilation of songs that go from New Orleans to Peru. This compilation is the result of Susana’s numerous trips to different parts of this continent. During these trips, she found that the music of these countries had something in common: the sound of African rhythms.A barefooted Susana in a long flowing white dress took the stage and got our entire attention with her soft movements and ethereal voice. She was the perfect guide to embark us on this musical journey in time and space. What a wonderful journey we had! We heard from Colombian Cumbia, to Flamenco mixed with Tango and Panalivio, and Funk from New Orleans mixed with Peruvian Festejo. My favorite song from this album is Yana Runa, a beautiful mix of Afro Peruvian and Andean rhythms. Susana, as a good travel guide, took the time to explain the story behind each of the songs she interpreted. She explained, for example, that the song titled Ay mi Palomita (which actually belongs to a previous album), is a song that the Black Slaves and Peruvian Indians used to sing during the sugar cane harvest in the Northern Coast Region of Peru.Susana has recently been named the Minister of Culture of Peru. She is the first Afro-Peruvian woman appointed to that post. Fernando Hoyle, her tour manager, says that she is trying to be “una ministra cantante” (a singer minister), and hopefully keep touring while she is fulfilling her government duties. I hope she is able to do it. Susana radiates so much light and soul during her live performances that I never get tired to go to her concerts. It is always a pleasure to see her perform. If you have not had the chance to see her live, here is a sample of her performance at Mayne Stage:
To listen to the songs of Susana Baca’s new album Afrodiaspora, and to buy the CD, visit

The Gipsy Kings Experience at Ravinia


An enthusiastic crowd welcomed the Gipsy Kings last Thursday at Ravinia, a place that has become their second home in Chicago. Although the concert felt somewhat short, they pleased the audience by playing many of their popular songs such as Djobi Djoba, Un Amor, A Tu Vera, Caramelo, Volare and Bamboleo. The Kings also played some songs with a strong Latino influence such as Samba Samba, Sabroso, and the solo of cajon and congas. The highlight of the show happened at the end of the concert, when the band allowed the ladies in the audience to get on the stage and dance with them. Many of these ladies were dancing around them seductively. The Kings, as good professionals, were able to keep playing without missing a single beat.


Chicago was the last city of their American Tour this year. Fortunately, it was a  perfect evening to close the tour with an outdoors concert. The lawn at Ravinia was packed with fans from around the world. Walking through it,  you could hear a multitude of foreign languages being spoken. One of the people sitting at the lawn was Natasha Boyderman, who came to Ravinia from Sauganash, a neighborhood located in the Northwest side of Chicago. In her group alone there were people from Cuba, China, Chile, Germany, Italy,Macedonia, Mexico,  Russia, Syria, and the United States. Natasha mentioned that she likes the diversity of people that go to Ravinia to see the Gipsy Kings. She considers that it is very important for Chicago and for all ethnic groups to gather together in one place and that a Gipsy Kings concert is the perfect opportunity for this to happen. “Diversity – she stated-  is definitely what makes us unified and stronger”.


After the concert, I was able to talk to a charming Andre Reyes, who plays the guitar and does back up vocals in the band. Andre told me that he loves Chicago food and that he enjoys the atmosphere and the crowd at  Ravinia.  He also explained that the band is a family affair. They are all cousins from two related gypsy families with roots in Barcelona, Spain: the Reyes and the Balliardos. The cousins met by chance at Montpellier, France, more than two decades ago.  After jamming together on that occasion, they decided to start the group. Despite being so famous, Andre is a very approachable artist. Nicolas Reyes, his brother and the lead singer of the band, has the same charismatic demeanor. Maybe this is part of the secret for their sustained success. The Gipsy Kings are still going strong and are able to move our souls (and feet) with their wonderful music.