When I was preparing to write the review of Two Beats, One Soul, a project featuring various artists all exploring the intersection of Cuban music, R&B, jazz and hip-hop, I decided to listen to the Afro-Cuban songs made by Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie was the South Carolina born trumpeter who was there at the creation of be-bop. He also became an early advocate of the fusion of Afro-Cuban music and be-bop jazz.
Gillespie recruited Cuban musicians such as Havana born percussionist Chano Pozo for his band. Pozo co-wrote “Manteca,” which is one of the earliest Afro-Cuban/jazz songs. Later, Gillespie befriended, mentored and helped fellow trumpeter Arturo Sandoval defect from Cuba in 1990.
The importance of percussion – drums, congas, maracas and the like – are key elements in the Afro-Cuban music, as well as American blues, soul and jazz. This should not be surprising as the Africans brought to the western hemisphere through the trans-Atlantic slave trade viewed the drum as more than simply a musical instrument. And if there is one strand that runs through “Manteca,” “Cubano Be Cubano Bop,” and the 13 tracks produced by Ray and Vivian Scott Chew along with Mark and Kathy Grier for Two Beats, One Soul, it is how the percussive quality of every instrument is deployed to maximum effect. That churning, forward moving percussion that insisted that people move appealed to Gillespie, who had a mission to prove that modern jazz could be dance music. The hip-hop, jazz, soul and R&B infused tracks on Two Beats, One Soul also showcase what makes Afro-Cuban music so danceable regardless of genre or whether the listener speaks the same language as the vocalist.