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Transculturation

music AlfredoRodriguezBorder hopping to American jazz fame: the Alfredo Rodriguez story

After struggling for three years to leave Cuba and enter America legally, Alfredo Rodriguez found himself with only one option to pursue his dream of playing jazz in the U.S.: He had to cross the border. Driven by his passion for music and an offer to join legendary producer and music magnate Quincy Jones’ record label, Rodriguez knew that he had to try, even though it meant defecting from Cuba and leaving his friends and family behind.

But just as he was about to reach his goal, Rodriguez found himself in the hands of Mexican police. “They are really corrupt at the Mexican border and what they really want sometimes is just to stop you to get money,” he says, recalling the absurdity of the situation with a laugh. “After three or four hours of speaking with them they understood, or they realized that I didn’t have any money, and they let me go that day and I could cross the border in January of 2009.”

The Cuban native began his musical career at the age of 6. As a young man, he entered a conservatory and later studied music in college at Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte. He became influenced by several musical styles when he joined his father’s band. Performing daily on television and touring Cuba as well as Latin America, Rodriguez arranged and performed songs inspired by dance music and rock and roll—but it wasn’t until the age of 15 that he found his calling in jazz.

“I was given a CD of Keith Jarrett by my uncle,” explains Rodriguez, “and I was very impressed by the improvisation and I knew that was what I really wanted to do. [Jarrett] was just sitting at the piano and expressing who he was, you know, like completely open and free and I couldn’t do anything like that because I was playing Bach and Stravinsky and Beethoven. That really changed my point of view … and I became curious to see what I could do. I really loved that way to make music, so I started to find more and more about that.”

Just months after arriving in the U.S., he made his debut in front of an audience of 18,000 at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Hollywood—an accomplishment few performers can boast, especially at 23. “That was the first time that I played in front of 18,000 people,” says Rodriguez. “I’ve done bigger concerts after that … but for me, coming from Cuba, just my first concert in front of 18,000 people—that was something really.”

In his freshman effort, Sounds of Space, Rodriguez showcases his virtuosic approach to classical music—a percussive style combined with Cuban tonal inflections. “It is more of an interpretation of the sounds of my life and, of course the way I can translate those sounds is through my music,” says Rodriguez, “and so it is more of who I am, and the people and sounds that have surrounded me. Music for me is coming from every part, it’s coming from everything.”
From the mellow, honeyed “Sueno De Paseo” to the hectic freight train assault of “Crossing the Border”—written in the weeks following his journey to America—Sounds of Space covers a wide range of emotions. Rodriguez’s furious fingers  play both complex rhythms and melodic lines to create endless layers for the ear to pick apart.

Even though he has an incredible level of technical ability, Rodriguez is adamant about using his skills to create an emotional connection with his audience. “Sometimes we focus more on the technique or notes, or harmony or melody,” he says. “The message is more important. It’s important to speak, to make a conversation. To interact with the people … I am saying, like you should play for the people … They should be a part of what you are trying to say. Because why if you don’t want them to be part [of it], why are you playing for them?”

Alfredo Rodriguez plays at 7 p.m. Monday, April 30, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320 Cedar St. #2, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $22/adv, $25/door. For more info, call 427-2227.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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