Orquesta Akokan

Orquesta Akokan


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  • country:Cuba
  • region:Cuba-Puerto Rico
  • style(s):Mambo, Son cubano
  • label:Daptone
  • type:Band, Large Ensemble
  • instrumentation:dance orchestra
  • artist posted by:Sasa Music Agency

Line up

  • Cesar Alejandro Lopez Martinez (Tenor sax / flute)
  • David Faya Cordova (Bass)
  • Evaristo Denis Bara (Baritone sax)
  • Harold Madrigal Frias (Trumpet)
  • Heikel Fabián Trimiño (Trombone)
  • Jacob Plasse (Tres / producer)
  • Jamil Schery Calderon (Tenor Saxophone)
  • Jose Gomez Martinez (Vocals)
  • Michael Eckroth (Piano / composer)
  • Reinaldo Orestes Melian Alvarez (Trumpet)
  • Reinier Mendoza Valdes (percussion)
  • Roberto Junior Vizcaino Torre (percussion)
  • Yoandy Argudin Ferrer (Trombone)


When Orquesta Akokán burst onto the global music scene a mere three years ago, their
no-holds-barred 21st century take on the venerable Cuban mambo lit up stages around the
world with a fierce and unremitting joy. Singer José "Pepito" Gómez, Chulo Records producer
and multi instrumentalist Jacob Plasse, and arranger Michael Eckroth joined forces with a
carefully curated selection of Havana’s most extraordinary musicians as Orquesta Akokán,
polishing Cuban mambo’s golden sound to a luminous, contemporary sheen. Along the way
Orquesta Akokán imbued these legendary Cuban grooves with a renewed vitality and powerful
sense of akokán ---the Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean “from the heart” or “soul.”
Following their debut recording on Daptone Records - the first ever Spanish-language album
released by the renowned label that shared Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley’s immortal voices
with us - Orquesta Akokán kicked off their U.S. debut in the summer of 2018, enthralling
audiences with a series of performances culminating in a sold-out show at Lincoln Center. This
was followed by international touring throughout 2019 and early 2020, nominations for a
Grammy, Billboard Latin Music Award, Telemundo Latin American Music Award, and critical
acclaim from press and media around the globe.
Fast forward to 2021 and Orquesta Akokán is ready to unleash 16 Rayos on the world's dance
floors, via Daptone Records. Recorded in Havana’s famed Egrem Studios, 16 Rayos ten original
compositions shine a light on the complimentary talents of its three leaders. Lead vocalist and
composer José "Pepito" Gómez brings a musical history that includes stints with Compay
Segundo of the Buena Vista Social Club and Pupy y Los Que Son Son. Chulo Record’s Jacob
Plasse culminates decades of exploring Latin music, expanding his work with Los Hacheros, a
band he founded to foreground the raw power of salsa de la vieja escuela. Michael Eckroth, an
accomplished pianist, composer and arranger, adds his profound knowledge of Cuban music
from the 40’s (and a Ph.D.) and a history of working with Latin music greats such as Andy
González and Pedrito Martinez.
On the Cuban side of the equation the Orquesta boasts some of the island’s greatest
instrumentalists culled from members of near-mythical groups such as Los Van Van, NG La
Banda, and Irakere (notably César Lopez, Orquesta Akokan’s point man in Havana). The
ensemble for 16 Rayos shines a light on Cuba’s musical families and multigenerational legacy
with the participation of two fabled Vizcainos on percussion - Roberto "Tato" Vizcaino Jr. and
his father Roberto Vizcaino Guillot, a member of Chucho Valdes’ seminal 90’s quartet. Another
family duo added their masterful legacy to the recording, with trumpeter Reinaldo “Molote”
Melián bringing in his son, Reinaldo Melián Zamora, to play trumpet on several tunes alongside
lead trumpet Harold Madrigal Frías. The winds and brass are rounded out with a rich
saxophone section made up of young lion Jamil Shery and Germán Velazco (musical director for
Pablo Milanés) on tenor, with Evaristo Denis on baritone and César López on alto, along with
Yoandy Argudin and Heikel Fabián Trimiño on trombone. Coros were sung by Eddie Venegas
and Luis Soto. Significantly, Orquesta Akokán added strings to the ensemble for the first time,
with the participation of violinists Amelia Febles Díaz, Jenny Peña and Anabel Estévez Acosta,
whose virtuosity stems from the classical training for which Cuban musicians are so renowned.
The power and grace of Pedro "Tata" Francisco Almeida Barriel’s vocals lead the way on “4 de
Octubre” and “Llegue con mi Rumba,” evincing why he is considered one of the Cuban rumba’s
premier exponents. Another highly recognized singer, legendary guarachera Xiomara Valdés -
who’s shared the stage with legends such as Beny Moré and Omara Portuondo and received the
Ministry of Culture’s Distinción por la Cultura Nacional de Cuba as a significant contributor to
Cuba’s musical legacy - is the featured guest on the title track.
On 16 Rayos Orquesta Akokán united in Havana once again to record, but not with the intention
of depending on the formulas that heaped laurels and accolades upon their first album. Instead
they brought a cohesion forged by an intense performing and touring cycle, and the musical
conversation that began in the Areito studios three years earlier blossomed into an easy,
intimate dialogue between good friends. Now in the Egrem Studios, this allowed full, fearless
musical expression and risk-taking outside of their comfort zones.
Suffused with this sense of possibility, the band continues to explore, develop and expand the
island’s rich rhythmic palette and repertoire - pushing the conventions of what is considered
“mambo” - and drawing deeply from folkloric and religious traditions seldom heard in popular
music. The Cuban musicians’ deep spiritual reservoir and knowledge of folklore informs the
Orquesta’s contemporary sensibilities, allowing the album to remain true and faithful to the
spirit of the music’s origins while pushing the grooves into previously uncharted vistas.
Building upon Perez Prado’s dissonant, near avant-garde vision of the mambo, and highlighting
the Lucumí subtext of Cuban rhythms and styles, 16 Rayos exudes a fierce spiritual and secular
ecstasy. Like the Yoruba story of the sixteen rays of sun gifted from Olofi (one of the supreme
manifestations of Divinity) to Obatalá (Sky Father and creator of human bodies) so that Obatalá
could take care of earth’s children, 16 Rayos is here to shine its musical rays on us, warm our
hearts, and irresistibly move our bodies.