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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Obbini Tumbao shakes up Brandeis with Latin grooves

Published: October 30, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

As I walked out of Slosberg last Saturday night, one distinct impression surfaced my mind: “Damn, Brandeis can dance.”

For those of you who weren’t showing off your salsa skills that evening, you missed out on Obbini Tumbao, a wildly envigorating Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble. This concert was part of the World Music Series in conjunction with the Music Unites Us program, one of the crowning jewels of the Brandeis Music department.

The program includes an Intercultural Residency series, which brings musicians to campus for several days of engaging academic and cross-cultural interaction. Students and professors from across disciplines are invited to experience the music and spark dialogue about the role of music in our artistically globalized world.

Music Unites Us also includes a Public School Education Program that brings over 1,000 Waltham public school students to Brandeis. One faculty member confided that she loves to stick her head into Slosberg when the undeniably cute kids are there, reacting to the power of music. After watching dozens of these students dash across the lawn in front of the music building, I can see why.

But audience members on Saturday weren’t pondering the anthropological or historical questions of hybrid musical culture. They weren’t even thinking about the importance of transmitting artistic appreciation to the next generation.

In fact, if they were thinking at all, it was either about the infections rhythms that were pulsing through their veins or the delicious smell of Cuban food wafting in from the lobby.

Obbini Tumbao is a nonet established by pianist Rebecca Cline and percussionist Anita Quinto. It shouldn’t be surprising that a band led by two percussion-based instrumentalists would explode with such rhythmic intensity, but for people like me who had never heard the band before, it was exhilarating. To say that Cline and Quinto were the band leaders obscures the cooperative ensemble dynamic of the group. These were world- class musicians, and they possessed intuitive powers of musical communication such that the whole band coalesced as one living organism.

My personal favorite number was “Que Cosa Tan Linda,” by Venezuela salsa maestro Oscar de León. OT’s interpretation featured a rousing conga beat and a repeated vocal hook from Quinto and Cline that had me whistling for days. Upbeat and life-affirming, this showed the band at the height of its powers.

On the other side of the spectrum was the slow, heart-wrenching ballad, “Dos Gardenias,” by bolero Isolina Carillo and recently popularized by the Buena Vista Social Club. It begins with a haunting, legato trumpet solo followed by a flowing vocal interpretation amidst tumultuous piano chords. It was a testament to the band’s dexterity that it can go from one style to another in the blink of an eye while infusing each with soul.

An orignal Anita Quinto composition, Parece Pero No Lo Es” also integrated nicely into the set. Borrowing from mainstream Latin pop conventions and their characteristic rhythmic interplay, the song incorporated some of the band’s disparate influences.

About half way through the set, Quinto acknowledged, “The applause is nice, but we’re a dance band!” A few dozen brave souls took the hint and jumped into aisles, shaking their hips ecstatically. Let me just say that any band capable of bringing out the inner salsa-dancing party animal from the average Brandeisian is worth my money.