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“The touring show is very different from the TV show,” says Slater says. “There’s a lot of humor in it. You really get to see a lot of our personalities when you come to the live show. We have sections that highlight each and every one of us, and it’s very high-energy and really full-on. Of course there are no celebrities, so it’s not structured as a competition. We’re all dancing with each other, which is exactly what we’ve been trained to do, so we feel like we have the power and the energy to really let loose.”.
As a music-obsessed girl growing up in the West African nation of Benin, Angélique Kidjo will never forget the electrifying feeling of seeing Celia Cruz for the first time, Cruz performed as part of a talent-laden tour with the pioneering salsa collective known as essie ballet slippers gel the Fania All-Stars, who went to the continent in 1974 for a concert held in conjunction with the Muhammad Ali/George Foreman heavyweight bout (a performance released as an album and DVD), With incandescent artists like Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Ismael Quintana and Johnny Pacheco, there was no lack of star power, but it was Cruz who made a dazzling impression on the 14-year-old Kidjo..
“When she walked in with the Fania All Stars, I was thinking who is this lady?!,” says Kidjo, 57, from her home in Brooklyn. “She’s so flamboyant, and makes everything seem effortless. I was thinking, this cannot be that easy.”. The three-time Grammy Award-winner presents the Bay Area premiere of her tribute to Cruz on Saturday as part of San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest. The project is a collaboration with Cuban conga master Pedrito Martinez (who performs with his own band earlier in the day at the Hammer Theatre).
Kidjo is hardly the first essie ballet slippers gel African-born musician to find inspiration in Afro-Cuban music, Rhythms, religious rituals and instrumental practices have flowed back and forth between the old and new worlds for centuries, but Cuban son found particularly fertile soil in Africa in the 1940s, followed by the styles son gave birth to, like salsa, Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Kidjo recalls that “there was no party without salsa, Salsa and rumba was always part of our musical background, When Celia started singing with that 6/8 feel, that’s West African music, too — that’s the basis of salsa, I’m recording an album to bring salsa back to its origins in Africa.”..
It’s hard to think of a non-Latin American artist better equipped to summon Cruz’s spirit than Kidjo. Like Cruz she’s a fireball, a barely contained force of nature on the bandstand. And also like Cruz, who fled to the United State in 1961 to avoid increasing political repression following the Cuban revolution, Kidjo was forced to leave her homeland in 1983 when the Communist government made it impossible to pursue a recording career. Kidjo moved to Paris, planning to study law and become a human rights lawyer. But instead she got swept up in the city’s vibrant jazz scene, a pursuit that made it all but inevitable for the creatively ambitious singer to try her luck in New York City.
“The funny thing is when I arrived in America I lived on 50th Street in Hell’s Kitchen,” Kidjo says, “I found out later that’s the same block where Celia lived when she arrived in America, Singing her songs, what’s really fantastic is that we have the same range, I don’t change a key.”, Kidjo credits jazz singers Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright with encouraging her to pursue the Cruz essie ballet slippers gel tribute, The three women spent a good deal of time on the road together, first in “Sing the Truth,” a project celebrating three prophetic, recently departed women (Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Odetta), and later celebrating the legacy of Nina Simone..
“We talked a lot about music, and when we had time, we’d dance in one person’s room,” Kidjo says. “They’d teach me how to do the ‘Soul Train’ stuff. One night we were speaking about Celia Cruz, and I was saying has the energy I love, and Dianne says, now that you’re saying that, you have the same kind of energy. Nah! Yeah, think about it. You’re both in the moment, and you love seeing people joyful.”. She connected with Pedrito Martinez several years ago when Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs invited her to an evening at Guantanamera, the Midtown nightspot that the conga maestro turned into a rumba hothouse. He didn’t really prepare her for the evening. He just said “I want to introduce you to somebody,” Kidjo says. “He was always doing things like that. I arrived and saw that he’d also invited Brian Eno and Gilberto Gil. Things can’t get better than that!”.
Well, at least until the music started, when Martinez’s blazing neo-rumba quartet shifted into high gear, “I was supposed to sit down quietly and listen, but I had to get up and dance,” essie ballet slippers gel she says, I was moving around like crazy, From that time on, I really followed him, and then he asked me to play on this latest album,” last year’s “Habana Dreams” (Motéma), Now Martinez is helping Kidjo take salsa back to the source, When: 6 p.m, Aug, 12, Where: Main Stage, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest..