Interview What’s Up: William Cepeda Afro-Rican Jazz Band performs a free concert in Providence on Sunday August 14

Another in a series of exceptional concerts will take place at Roger Williams Park in Providence on Sunday, August 14 at 6 p.m. when FirstWorks Summer Beats presents the Afro-Rican jazz of William Cepeda.

Cepeda, a cultural icon in Puerto Rico, was born and raised in Loiza, in the heart of San Juan’s “Little Africa”. The trombonist has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and is a four-time Grammy nominee. He is also a professor and artistic composer at the University of Puerto Rico.

Cepeda’s sound is rooted in what has become known as Afro-Rican jazz, an offshoot of more traditional Latin jazz. It incorporates elements of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms and genres, including folk, dance, progressive jazz, and world music. He is recognized as the artist who more or less created the genre.

“I did fusion between folk and traditional,” Cepeda explained in a recent phone interview. “People will hear the percussion and essence of Puerto Rican music mixed with jazz improvisation, Jibaro, Decima, Plena, Bomba, Taino and more. We will make a collage of the spirit of Puerto Rico, fused with modern jazz, popular music and world music.It will be a very interesting concert.

The music is fun, upbeat and uplifting, and for jazz purists it’s related to traditional, yet distinct, Latin jazz.

“Traditional Latin jazz is more inspired by Cuban culture…more salsa, more rumba, more cha-cha-cha,” Cepeda said. “It’s more dedicated to Puerto Rico, more bomba, it’s a different spice, different kind of rhythm, different shapes.”

“If you don’t know one or the other, we’re all from the Caribbean, it might sound a bit the same, it’s from the same family. You will hear the uniqueness of Puerto Rico with the bomba drum, with the traditional instruments of Puerto Rico, you will see history through music, the 50s and 60s,” Cepeda added.

You will also see a rare performance by Cepeda playing conch. “The Taino played the shells and on one of the tracks I’m going to feature the conch. It will be an experience of the rhythms of Puerto Rican music and more,” Cepeda said.

He brings the full seven-piece band to Providence along with a local dance troupe. Lydia Perez, an award-winning Afro-Taino artist from Rhode Island, will lead dancers from the Puerto Rican Institute of Arts and Advocacy. “We will collaborate with the traditional Providence troupe, and do more traditional bomba, with dancers, singers and drummers,” Cepeda added.

Guillaume Cepeda

So what can visitors expect at the show?

“We’re a mix of different things, some of the music is going to be very energetic, danceable, and some songs are more mystical, more organic. You will hear different vibrations. That’s how I interpret Puerto Rican jazz, you’ll see a lot of different influences in the music, urban, R&B and avant-garde.

FirstWorks’ free outdoor concerts are a wonderful opportunity for music lovers of all ages to discover new music. Click here for more details on the show.


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Henry R. Wright