Cuban-born percussionist Pedrito Martinez is no stranger to high levels of musicianship and diversity, whether performing as a sideman or bandleader. He began performing in the mid-80s, at the age of 11, with legendary Cuban rumba groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas from the age of 11. In 1998, he came to Canada to perform with Canadian jazz saxophonist Jane Bunnett, then headed to New York City. Since then, he performed on stage and in film with myriad high-caliber ensembles from New York City to Spain from the 90s onward, and made a huge impact on the international music scene.
His most recent project, The Pedrito Martinez Group, brings the timba genre of Cuban music to the forefront, and all within a quartet setting of piano, bass, congas/cajón/batá, and bongo/campana. Each musician also sings and they sing exceptionally well. Together they manage to achieve a big band sound, but without the brass instruments that are usually part of the mix. (They cleverly call their music tim-brassless—basically timba without the brass section!)
Timba music starts from the base of Cuban son (aka salsa), and super-infuses it with rumba, funk, toques de bata (rhythms from the batá instruments in Cuban folkloric religious music), jazz, pop, R&B and blues. By virtue of the genres that create it, timba has an improvisational quality, but improvisation in timba doesn’t remain the soloist’s responsibility—the form can completely change from one performance to another as well. On any two different nights, you might hear a completely different version of the same tune, as the singers/musicians react to the listeners and dancers. They can deliver a new coro (chorus) on the spot, and improvise over it as a way to interact with the crowd and have fun.
Pedrito Martinez’s music, in my opinion, resonates with the three centres of the human spirit: the intellectual, the emotional, and the physical. If you crave music that makes you feel on all levels, pick up their self-titled, Grammy-nominated album: The Pedrito Martinez Group. If you’re lucky enough to see them live, do yourself that favour too. If you’re one to make your own luck, get on a plane and see the magic happen!