Singing drums from Cuba

Percussionist and vocalist Igor Arias Baro will add spicy Latin flavor to the Hot Jazz series.

Igor Arias Baro 390 (photo credit: courtesy)
Igor Arias Baro 390
(photo credit: courtesy)
To say that Igor Arias Baro is happy to be coming to Israel would be a gross understatement.
The Cuban-born New York City resident percussionist and vocalist is more than delighted to be heading this way next week to perform seven salsa concerts up and down the country in the next installment of this year’s Hot Jazz series.
“There is something that draws me to Israel,” declares Baro. “One of my best friends in Cuba was Jewish, and I played with a musician called Nick Herman, who is Jewish and we have a really strong connection. For some reason, there is a strong bond between your country and me, which I don’t always understand. I sometimes feel more connected with people from your country than with my own country. I think something really good is going to happen when I get to Israel.”
That is a sentiment with which audiences at Baro’s concerts over the next week will probably strongly identify. Baro gives off a suitably sunny vibe in his recorded work and live performances, and he seems to draw on a range of artistic sources.
“I am mostly influenced by African and Cuban styles. My mother’s family came from Africa, and my father’s side came from Spain. My parents met in Cuba. I grew up in Cuba, which was an island from which I had no way of escaping,” he says But Baro did eventually manage to get out of Cuba and move to New York, where he began to take all sorts of musical strains on board. “I listen to a lot of jazz musicians and also rock music, so I’m sure that it all comes into some of the things I do.”
Baro’s first name, Igor, isn’t typically Cuban, and there is a musical reason for that. “My mother has been a musician for the past 50 years and has a great love for all sorts of great musicians, like [20th-century classical composer] Igor Stravinsky from Russia, so that’s the name she chose for me,” explains the 35-year-old.
Considering his familial musical substratum, that makes perfect sense.
“My aunt is also a musician, and I have a brother and a cousin who play music, and my late grandmother was also a musician.”
There was evidently never any doubt about Baro’s eventual career path.
“There was always music around me,” the percussionist continues. “I have been into music since I was three years old. I was born into it. Music is part of my blood.”
Mind you, as a youngster, Baro did try to explore other avenues of pursuit.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to play baseball and do other things, but there was never anything else that came to me as easily as music. I can never let go of music,” he says.
Drums and percussion provided Baro with his initial hands-on entry into music, but he eventually began developing his vocal abilities, albeit not through any premeditated career choice.
Latin jazz
“At some point, people starting asking me if I wanted to do singing, and they started pushing me more and more and saying I had to do it.
Then I’d get a call from someone saying he didn’t have a singer for his gig that night, so I would go along.”
Eventually Baro got the message that he had a vocal calling as well.
“Now I love it, and I can’t imagine myself playing percussion without singing.”
And a lovely voice he has, too. That comes across loud and clear on such insouciantly frolicking numbers as “Que Me Importa a Mi” and the ballad “Para Barbara.”
Baro also takes something of a spiritual approach to his craft.
“I enjoy giving back to the world that has been given to me as a gift,” he says, adding that, at least to begin with, audiences used to his scintillating percussion work were somewhat surprised by his newfound vocal input.
“Yeah, people would say to me things like, ‘Wow! Your voice sounds so good, I couldn’t believe your voice,’ but I wasn’t really sure if they meant that in a good way. I’d say, ‘What’s wrong with my voice?’ People would listen to one of my records and say, ‘Is that really you singing there?’ So I am grateful that people like my singing, as well as what I do with percussion.”
The latter also underwent something of a transformation.
“I started just on congas, but I began moving more into Cuban percussion, and people started saying, ‘Wait a minute! What’s going on with you?’ But that’s really taken off.”
Baro says things just get better and better for him, and new professional vistas are constantly opening up for him.
“I’m having a blast right now, and I am more excited than ever to go around the world to show people that whatever you have in your blood is part of who you are, and this is a part of me.”
For his Israeli gigs, Baro will be joined by five Israeli musicians, including New York-based flutist Itai Kriss, who was instrumental in getting Baro over here.
“I have played with Itai many times, and he is one of the best musicians I have ever worked with,” says the Cuban. “It is thanks to him that I am coming to Israel, and I really appreciate that.”
Baro and Kriss will also play here with drummer Shai Zelman, Argentinean-born bassist Fernando Knopf, pianist Gil Zohar and young trumpeter Arad Yeini.
Igor Arias Baro will perform on March 10 at 9 p.m. at Mercaz Habama in Ganei Tikva. On March 13 at 9 p.m at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem. On March 13 (doors open at 8:15 p.m.) at Zappa Club in Herzliya. On March 14 at 9 p.m. at Einan Hall in Modi’in. On March 15 at 9 p.m. and March 16 at 9:30 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum. And on March 17 at 9 p.m at Abba Hushi House in Haifa.