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Slap Attack

In the world of innovative jazz guitar, Raul Midón reigns king

Raul Midón has collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Jason Mraz, and India Arie, but the classically trained guitarist, percussionist and pianist is quickly becoming nothing short of legendary in his own right.

His funkified, percussive guitar technique, and soulful vocals sell out shows from Paris to Tokyo to his home base in New York City, and Midón doesn’t play favorites. “I’ve always loved playing; I’ll play wherever they’ll have me,” he says. “I think in almost any city if you have fans in the audience, then you have a good audience.”

Midón’s gorgeous compositions are made up of constantly evolving, honest songwriting that is inspired by a variety of musical histories. A New Mexico native, who lost his eyesight as an infant, Midón studied music at the University of Miami, after which he worked in the city’s Latin-pop music scene as a background singer for artists like Julio and Enrique Iglesias and Shakira.

Despite his work in the Latin-pop scene, the glossy industry didn’t inspire his own music as much as some of the city’s other vibrant enclaves. “Living in Miami exposed me to Cuban music,” he recalls. “Particularly what caught my ear was sort of what I call ‘roots music’ from Cuba, Guaguancó, and things like that, as opposed to the pop stuff which I worked on, but really didn’t listen to.”

Still, his vocals reflect a sort of pop mentality in their emotive, lustful ability to mesmerize audiences. Combine that easy-listening quality with the complex rhythms of Cuban rumba music, Argentine folk music (his father hails from Argentina), flamenco, and his jazz guitar training, and you’ve got Midón’s signature slap-attack style in a nutshell—hypnotic strumming doused in funk flavor.

Midón attributes his love of blending musical genres and cultural influences to his family’s enthusiastic support for his craft ever since he was a child. “It all plays its part, it sort of makes me the non-catagorizable musician that I am,” he says.

Finding that Miami was “a place where people go to relax” and thus “unresponsive” to his solo work, Midón moved to New York in the early 2000s to push his career to the next level. In 2005, he released his first album, critically-acclaimed State of Mind, with the help of Manhattan Records and Grammy Award-winning producer Arif Mardin. Soon after, he released two more albums: 2007’s A World Within a World and 2009’s Synthesis.

In just four years, Midón’s sound and lyrical content greatly evolved. “I’ve found my voice in a sense as an artist,” he explains. “I think I have an identity, but it’s to do with the combination of the vocals and guitar together.” Midón says he has a natural desire to experiment with his songwriting. “You sort of start writing autobiographical songs and songs about how misunderstood you were or whatever, and then in the last album, particularly, I got into writing a little more fleshed-out characters and sort of writing more stories.” Tracks like “Bonnie’s Song” and “When You Call My Name” demonstrate his new narrative direction.

While itching to put out another record—“I’ve taken time, maybe too much time,” he admits—touring is his priority at the moment; he will stop by Kuumbwa Jazz on Monday, April 2. Once the tour is complete, he will return to New York to work on his next highly anticipated effort.

Though traveling can take a toll on Midón, he values the opportunity to hone his craft in front of a supportive crowd. “That’s the fortunate thing,” he says of this point in his career, “I play for my fans now.

Raul Midón plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320 Cedar St. #2, Santa Cruz.

Tickets are $25/adv, $28/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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