The latest in BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn’s stellar summer lineup of African and Latin musicians was a vibrant collaboration between renowned Beninese diva Angelique Kidjo and virtuosic Cuban conguero Pedrito Martinez. On July 29, the two stars shared the stage with a host of other musicians from both Martinez’s and Kidjo’s bands in tribute to the late, great Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz.
The group opened the set with the old Celia Cruz classic, “Quimbara,” with Kidjo stepping into Cruz’s shoes like it was meant to be. She spoke of growing up in Cotonou, Benin, loving the music of two musicians in particular: James Brown and Celia Cruz. Cruz, she said, inspired her as a strong woman, an incredible performer and big, bright personality to become the singer that she is today. Having given tribute to the influence of James Brown in her music, Kidjo wanted to honor the woman who was very much her shining star and inspiration.
Bringing along New York-based, Cuban-born conga master Pedrito Martinez was an excellent choice–Martinez’s group brought the real deal Havana sound that Kidjo needed to support her magnificent voice. Kidjo’s interpretation of Cruz’s voice and music was beautiful and faithful, even peppering every song with Cruz’s signature exclamation, “Azucar!” She alternated salsa tunes with songs of her own, choosing those that she wrote with Cruz’s inspiration. The group found a dynamic harmony of Cuba and West Africa in those songs, bringing together conga and djembe. Martinez’s group also had a few songs of their own, paring down to just congas, bell, bass and keyboards for some delicious rumba.
Cuban saxophonist and percussionist Yosvany Terry also joined the throng on stage, after having opened the night with his own quintet. Terry is a masterful player of both saxophone and shekere and an innovator in the world of Latin jazz. His group presented some stunning, passionate music, rooted in Cuban musical ideas but transcending boundaries into a next-level musical world. Drummer Obed Calvaire was particularly remarkable in his technical ability and fluency in making a drum set sing.
The bandshell was brimming with optimism and excitement that night–we hope this won’t be the last time we’ll get to hear Angelique Kidjo sing Celia Cruz.