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    Mo' Guajiro

    Guajiro worship

    Mo' Guajiro plays songs based on traditional Cuban son music, sometimes as a passionate foursome and sometimes as a crackling eight-piece dance band.


    Tony De Vivo, the Venezuelan-born percussionist in the New York band Mo' Guajiro, still remembers how he was first seduced by the passion of the Cuban music called son.

    Jainardo Batista Sterling (vocals, percussion)
    Tony De Vivo (percussion, vocals)
    Aaron Halva (tres, guitar, vocals)
    Pedro Giraudo (bass, vocals)
    Jose Angel Scringer (percussion, vocals)
    Jude Duverger (guitar)
    Jennifer Vincent (bass)
    Naomi Bloch-Schartz (piano)
    Guido Gonzalez (trumpet)
    Ken Fradley (trumpet)
    Rafi Malkiel (trombone).

    Related links: Official site
    Available from

     Pueblo Alegre
    Caballo   RA  MP3
    La Moľa   RA  MP3
    Percusion   RA  MP3
    Pueblo Alegre   RA  MP3
    © 1999 Mo' Guajiro. Used by permission.
    "It was in a TV commercial — it was a band from my country. They sang, 'Carmelinda! Carmelinda!' " he recalls. "I had this girl that I was in love with whose name was Carmelinda, so I used to call her — 'Carmelinda! Carmelinda!' "

    Although he went on to play rock and roll ("Yeah, we all had those rock and roll days," bandmate Jainardo Batista notes) and Carmelinda's whereabouts are unrecorded, he has followed the sound of son to Mo' Guajiro, a collection of musicians from all over Latin America and the U.S. who share that passion. Americans have just recently become acquainted with Cuba's traditional music through the "Buena Vista Social Club" phenomenon, but Mo' Guajiro has been playing it for most of a decade and can be heard regularly in the city as an acoustic four-piece and a dance-oriented eight-piece.

    The band has its unlikely origins in a health-food store where employees Aaron Halva, Nicolas Woloschuk and Jainardo Batista — an Iowan, an Oregonian and a Puerto Rican — discovered their common love of son and decided to play it together. (Nick has since moved away.) They were soon joined by De Vivo, and as they played on the streets, in the subway and in Central Park, they began to meet other like-minded musicians.

    "Say a bass player came by," says Aaron. "He would say, 'Hey, I like this,' and we would say, 'Well, you've got a bass. What's your number?' "

    Although son led to the birth of salsa, its string-based sound makes it more folk-like than salsa's big-band-like sound. When Mo' Guajiro plays as a quartet, there's still a gentle energy but the emphasis is on the earnest vocals of frontman Jainardo, the three-man chorus, and the complex rhythm behind them. Aaron plays the "tres," a guitar with three pairs of strings like the top half of a 12-string. Jainardo and De Vivo share percussion and Pedro Giraudo keeps the beat on bass. With the possible addition of a trumpet, this would be the traditional son lineup from the music's heyday in the 1920s and '30s.

    Mo' Guajiro  
    To hear the band's small-group sound, listen to "Caballo" (on RealAudio or MP3) or "La Moña" (RealAudio or MP3).

    Old-timers sometimes marvel at hearing a modern band play the musical style of their youth, but the band would sometimes get a puzzled reaction from younger or non-Spanish listeners — until "Buena Vista Social Club" came out.

    "We were playing the music for years. People would tell us, 'You need horns, you need trumpets,' " Aaron says. "Then the movie came out and people said, 'Oh, that's what you're playing! It's not that you're playing salsa and you're not playing loud enough — you're playing son!' "

    The group even got a moment's hesitation from the audience when it played the Caribbean, De Vivo recalls. "We were playing in Puerto Rico and people wouldn't start to dance, and Jainardo told the people, 'Okay, people, stop studying us — it's time to dance.' "

    The eight-piece band — looking sharp and performing with obvious joy — plays music that's rooted in the same tradition but at least 30 years more modern with piano and horns. These shows crackle with electricity as dance-class beginners try out their new moves, young couples in their Saturday-night sexiest show off their talents and old-timers who grew up on this stuff burn up the floor with the best of them.

    For a taste of the big band's sound, check out "Pueblo Alegre" (RealAudio or MP3), whose title translates to "Happy City" and which celebrates New York and its multitude of people.

    To De Vivo, the diversity of the city is like the diversity of the band, and that's one of the things that set it apart from other bands that might play son in Latin American countries.

    "I don't know if it's because of the years we've been playing together or the different backgrounds of the band members, but this band has a special sound," he says. "That doesn't mean it's better — it doesn't have to be compared to anything."

    APRIL 15, 2002

    Reader comments on Mo' Guajiro:

  • Rock On   from Jenny Halva, Jan 22, 2003
  • Re: Rock On   from Karen Halva, Sep 12, 2003
  • felicitaciones   from Alfredo Arbe, Sep 28, 2003
  • MANY THANKS   from AMARO SISTERS, Nov 3, 2003
  • Keeping the Cuban Tradition Alive   from Michele Luc, Mar 20, 2004
  • The best of music   from Luis Eduardo Araujo, Aug 27, 2004
  • Band was boring   from Joe, May 7, 2005
  • Re: Band was boring   from , Dec 6, 2008
  • They bring life back to music   from Honeyrock Ingram, May 10, 2005
  • FABULOUS   from Carla Manrique, Feb 28, 2006
  • SALUDOS   from OSVALDO NOEL, Feb 11, 2010

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