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Los Munequitos de Matanzas



For people who hear the word "rumba" and think of Ricky Ricardo leading his dinner-jacketed orchestra at the Copacabana on I Love Lucy, the music of Los Munequitos de Matanzas is likely to be either a disappointment or a wake-up call, if not both at once. Los Munequitos play the original rumba, an Afro-Cuban roots music for voice and percussion--no horn or guitar or piano--that in one form or another has accompanied the folk dance of the same name since the 16th century. At first, the instrumentation can prove daunting to listeners weaned on subsequent forms of Cuban music, from son to mambo to explosive fusions of Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz, rock, and even rap. In a traditional rumba concert, the brief songs all begin the same way: the five-note clave--a sort of rhythmic "key" for each piece, around which the band's interlocking patterns coalesce--is rapped out by the claves, those short hardwood dowels with a distinctive sweet sound. Because of this relative lack of structural and timbral variety, enjoying true rumba means appreciating the rhythmic nuances that underlie the powerful singing; a good band can coax almost endless subtleties from this inner world of the music. And you can't find a better rumba band than Los Munequitos, whose active lineup now spans three generations. According to legend, the group was born in 1952 in the town of Matanzas, on Cuba's north coast, when a group of young men began playing along to a song on a bar's Victrola, using the dishes and bottles on the counter as percussion instruments. Passersby stopped to applaud, and the musicians decided on the spot to form a band to play for dances and celebrations in the barrio. Under their original name, Guaguanc-- Matancero, in 1953 they recorded "Los munequitos en la calle," which was such a hit that audiences started to refer to the band as "Los Munequitos de Matanzas" (roughly translated, the word means "little lads"). Fifty years later, they remain a powerful force in Cuba, tending the roots of the nation's thriving musical tree; for this golden anniversary tour, their lineup includes 14 singers, dancers, and drummers. Sunday, March 17, 7 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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