Roberto Juan Rodriguez.
(photo credit: Valerie Trucchia)
As the hybrid world music genre spread its tentacles across the globe, and drew
in countless cultures, new artistic synergies sprung up almost overnight. But,
before 50-year-old Cuban-born Miami USA-bred percussionist Roberto Juan
Rodriguez came along, no one had conjured up the idea of mixing Klezmer and
Cuban music. Rodriguez will be in town later this week, to show us just how
seamlessly the two genres flow together, under his guidance, when he heads a
seven-piece ensemble at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.) as part
of the Tzadik series which will take place over the coming months.
Rodriguez-led show will focus on material from his most recent release for the
New York-based Tzadik record label, Timba Talmud. Tzadik was founded by John
Zorn and puts out countless albums culled from all sorts of areas of musical
endeavor, including jazz, avant garde and what it terms as “radical Jewish
music.” In fact Rodriguez’s foray into the klezmer-Cuban mix was prompted by
“One day, John asked me if I had a Jewish record for him, and I
thought, what is this guy talking about?” recalls the percussionist.
I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I sat down and worked really
hard at it. I’d sit up all night just working on a two bars.”
of that hard graft was that Rodriquez had a demo ready for Zorn just a couple of
weeks later, which Zorn liked, and that evolved into Rodriquez’s first release
on Tzadik, El Danzon de Moises
, which came out in 2001.
wonderful for me because I got to write my own music for the first time, and I
was already 40 years old, says Rodriguez.
Three years after that
Rodriguez put out Baila! Gitano Baila!
, which also blends Latin and Jewish
“I think the blending of the genres which, as far as I know,
had never been done before, was the result of a process. I had to craft the
blend to make the mix feel right and honest. I have classical training and jazz
training, but I learned a lot from the process of bringing to the two genres
In truth, though, all three CDs are a natural expression of
some of the percussionist’s musical upbringing. He moved with his family to
Miami when he was a young boy, and it was there that he came across the local
Jewish community and its traditional music.
“I remember I used to go
Miami Beach with my grandfather at two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, and I’d
see all these old Jews having a great time listening to the mambo and cha-cha
and all that Cuban music. That was great and a real revelation for
By the time he was in his teens Rodriguez got in on the act
“I used to play Yiddish music at the Miami Beach Yiddish
Theater, and at bar mitzvas and weddings. We were all in bands back then. I grew
up with a lot of Jewish music in Miami so it was all quite familiar to me. I was
moved by these sounds and by the cultural experiences.
That gave me the
impetus to put pen paper and try to figure out this concoction.”
certainly did figure it out and this week’s concert in Jerusalem will not only
marry klezmer and Cuban musical vibes, it will also, by dint of the other
players on the stage with Rodriguez, draw on a wide swath of musical energies.
The percussionist will be joined by the likes of US-based violinist Jonathan
Keren, who is classically trained and has some Celtic musical ventures in his
CV, as does accordionist Vitaly Podolsky who has also played his fair share of
klezmer and rock music.
Rodriguez says that this week’s concert will be
very much a sum of the participant parts.
“I am the leader, and it is my
music, but the different musicians will take things in their own direction too.
I am perfectly happy to listen to what they have to say and offer, and go with
it. I am fortunate to play with these musicians.”
The percussionist also
says the two genres have a lot in common in an emotional sense.
both Cuban music and Jewish music have joy and also sadness in
Somebody once told me that he feels that both kinds of music are
music you can dance too and cry too. I think it’s a natural process, in which I
brought them together. I think back, again, to those old Jews in Miami. They
were celebrating with Cuban music, and they had all come from Easter Europe and
had been through a lot of hardships before they came to the States. So the mix
of joy and sadness is perfectly natural.”
Presumably that emotional
encounter will come across loud and clear on Thursday, and seems a suitable
sensorial mix for this part of the world.Roberto Juan Rodriguez and his
band will perform at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. For
tickets and more information call (02) 621-5300 or visit www.bac.org.il