Wednesday September 12, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- "Indom itably charismatic." "Quick hands, a voice like lightning."

That's how The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour nal, respectively, describe Cu ban percussionist and singer Pedrito Martinez.

"If you are someone for whom music is an important part of life, then you might get a real lift from our music," said Martinez, the front man of the Pedrito Martinez Group, by email. "That is really what we are trying to do, to lift people's spirit."

The Afro-Cuba/Afro-Beat band, led by 39-year-old Ha vana, Cuba, native Martinez, will launch the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 2012-13 school year and celebrate Latino Heritage Month. The concert will begin Saturday at 3 p.m. on the MCLA quad.

The new season of MCLA Presents! will include performers from international and national bases, from Cuba, Haiti and Ireland to New Orleans and New York City. In recent years, MCLA Presents! has partnered with student clubs on campus to organize a homecoming party for its students and neighbors in the community.

"Think of it as a great big mixer for North Adams," said Jonathan Secor, MCLA's director of special programs, in an email.

Martinez describes his sound as Afro-Cuban music with deep roots in rumba and guaguanco, a sub-genre of Cuban rumba, and Yoruban chant, which comes from West Africa and later found a foothold in Cuba.

And while acknowledging the past, Martinez said the group's music is "very modern" as well.

Some of the more modern influences could be the result of Martinez's previous performance credits -- which include tours with the Dave Matthews Band, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles as well the upbeat and lively Yerba Buena.

Afro-Cuban music trends toward the rhythmic, percussive and resonant and typically gathers many musicians to generate such a sound. But the Pedrito Martinez Group is a quartet, with Lima, Peru's Jhair Sala, on percussion; electric bassist, Alvaro Benavides, from Car acas, Venezuela; and keyboard player/vocalist, Araicne Trujillo, who also comes from Mar tinez's native Havana.

The group has a standing gig at Guantanamera, an intimate Cuban restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Martinez explained the decision to form a quartet initially was dictated by the modest performance space and budget, but they soon found it worked.

"Since each of the four members is so deeply talented on their own, and also since we all sing -- which is a big element in our music -- we have wound up with a sound that is way bigger than just four musicians can usually produce," Martinez explained. "We all listen to each other and connect with one another in a way that is incredibly inspiring."

Watching YouTube videos of the quartet in performance is at once invigorating and mesmerizing. Martinez seems to drink in the work of his fellow band mates through his pores.

"Listening is the most important part of being a good musician. And what we have developed with one another is about as close a relationship as any three or four musicians can have," Martinez said regarding the group's on-stage dynamic. "It is what makes us who we are."

It also helps to be multitalented. For instance, Martinez plays conga, bongos, scrapers and two-headed bata drums -- four separate instruments often played by two to three percussionists.

In 2000, Martinez won the The lonious Monk International Jazz Competition for young artists, and NPR blogger Pat rick Jarenwattananon de scribed him as the "charismatic bandleader of a genre-mashing ensemble."

Secor said he was "blown away" when he first listened to Martinez's music.

"Yes, it will get you on your feet, but it will also get you listening to some really complex beats and melodies," Secor said. "It is an opportunity to share with our community some truly talented Latin performers, playing the recognizable as well as the new." Thursday September 13, 2012

What: Pedrito Martinez Group, an Afro-Cuba/Afro-Beat band

When: Saturday at 3 p.m.

Where: On the MCLA quad, Church Street, North Adams. (Rain location is Venable Gymnasium.)

Admission: $10

Information: (413) 664-8718, ww.mcla.edu/About_MCLA/bcrc/mclapresents