Marvin Gaye went to Cuba and got it on with Ibrahim Ferrer’s Afro-Cuban All Star daughter, Celia del Sol. The happy couple eloped to Detroit. When Celia was six months pregnant, she ran off with Carlos Santana. One trimester later, Celia del Sol’s daughter was born. They named her Juana, and she and Carlos Santana raised Juana in Carlos Santana’s villa outside of San Diego.
When Juana was fourteen, she ran away from home, possibly to join a travelling Rumba troupe. She has been missing ever since.
Until now, true believers. The CD that I have in hand, by San Diego septet Agua Dulce, contains the secret. Juana is alive and, well, driving a ’64 Impala through the heart of groove.
Dig these Agua Dulce main ingredients: Afro-Cuban, Nuyorican salsa, samba, Bossa nova, Latin-jazz, cumbia, reggae, funk, hip-hop, and soul. I think we should kidnap these guys. Seriously. Missoula is too flavor-starved for us to afford missing an opportunity to posses the keepers of Juana. Our one and only chance to pull it off is this Monday at the Blue Heron.
Agua Dulce’s music is a slow and seamless donkey cart ride through the corazon of what is cool in Afro/Latin/Caribbean music. You feel slick just listening to it, because clearly, you are in the place to be. Your head is bobbing. You’re looking hungrily at the dance floor. You feel underdressed without your white pants, but go for it anyway.
Agua Dulce (Sweet Water) came together at an African Drumming class in Chula Vista, Calif. in 1997. In a few short years, they spread their guacamole on chips in France, Hungary, the Balkans, Iceland, and all over the Americas, including a performance with James Brown. They have matured very quickly as a group; their sound is rich and exciting and polished—without that embalmy clockwork feel of bands who practice their music to death and then play it the same way every time. There is Juana’s improvisational flavor lurking between the notes of Agua Dulce tunes.
I’ve listened to their new CD, Searching for Juana, almost ten times. Their complex instrumentation is a multidimensional tapestry of horns, bass, drums, percussion, strings, keyboards, vibes and vocals, and it is as smooth as flan, tight as fired clay, and not at all busy. The music fits together like its own authentic flavor, rather than fusion.
To get a sense of the variety of elements that we are talking about, allow me to unpack the aforementioned reference to the element of “strings” present in their music. By strings, I mean conventional six-stringed guitar, from time to time, as well as tres (Cuban guitar), quarto (Puerto Rican guitar), and my own personal wet dream of stringed instruments, the cavaquinho, a little four-stringed Brazilian deal, slightly bigger than a ukulele, whose percussive strum is behind the lilting heart of samba melody. Look for me to be shamelessly following Israel Maldonado, Agua Dulce’s cavaquinho player, around like a puppy, hoping for scraps of wisdom on how to play the cavaquinho that I picked up last August in San Francisco. I Juana know, man, how do ju play dat thing, man?
The rhythmic foundation upon which the Agua Dulce sound is built was poured by the Hernandez Brothers, Tizoc on bass and Joaquim on drums. These two have been playing together for 15 years, and can allegedly finish each other’s sentences with their respective instruments—truly a psychic connection bordering on wu-wu. But don’t take my word for it. Bring your white pants, your Ouija board, and a change of underwear, and forget about winter in Montana for a while.