Immediate Family Records & Eshuni Records announce the release of Acertijos (Riddles), the new album by master percussionist Pedrito Martinez, widely understood to be one of the most innovative soloists in the instrument’s history, will be available worldwide on March 19, 2021. Recorded before the pandemic shut down the world’s airports that had been Pedrito’s second home for more than twenty years, Acertijos was mixed during the great lockdown of ’20.
Acertijos / Riddles contains nine new songs—Aumba, My Father’s Eyes, Yo Si Quiero, Arrimate Paca, Ciudadano, If You Don't Know How To Dance, Inhospito Mundo, Blasfemador, and Afina el Arroz.
The music on Acertijos is playful and profound, juvenile and ancient, while it ascertains with sounds of Yoruba, rumba, jazz, and timba. “A compilation of emotions,” Pedrito calls it, “and the story of my life living in New York and Cuba.”
Renown Cuban music historian Ned Sublette (Cuba and Its Music) writes, “Acertijo” = Riddle. This the quick and dirty translation, but there’s a constellation of meanings all having to do with mental activity,” and adds that, “acertijo is related via Latin to the English ascertain. A finding-out. A puzzle you have to solve. A query to the database. Some riddles are pastimes, but others go to fundamental issues of human existence.”
“Aumba,” the album’s opener, is a feature for Dagoberto Gonzáles. Besides being the rafter-rocking violin soloist of Cuba’s splendid Orquesta Aragón (founded in 1939 and always gigging), Gonzáles is well known to Cuban listeners as an arranger with a recognizable sound. The Yoruba words (Aumba, awa ori…) are sung to the eggun, the spirits of the dead, the ancestors who know more than we do because they’ve been alive and dead both. The lyrics offer Pedrito’s degense of his religion as heritage, and Cayo Hueso is in the house: No tengas miedo, defiende tu legado. Don’t be afraid, defend your legacy. Soy cacique, soy cimarrón. I’m a chief, I’m self-emancipated.
That acoustic guitar track on the opening of “Aumba” was laid down by Eric Clapton. Pedrito and Mr. Clapton have been friends and mutual admirers for years, beginning in 2009 when the British guitarist / singer / songwriter began dropping in on Pedrito’s regular spot back in the day at NYC’s Guantámanera, attending more than a dozen times. For this album, Pedrito flew to London after having sent a track with a new arrangement to Clapton’s well-known song “My Father’s Eyes” (Los Ojos de Mi Padre), featuring both men on lead vocals, bonding over the lyric that describes a man’s spiritual connection to his father. Mr. Clapton was also kind enough to solo with his classic electric guitar tone on “Yo Sí Quiero.”
It’s every Spanish-language songwriter’s dream to hear his words sung by the Puerto Rican superstar Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Pedrito’s no different. Known for his gentlemanliness, Gilberto comes from the great Puerto Rican tradition of improvising poets that has counterparts in Cuba and throughout the Spanish-speaking world. To hear him with a state-of-the-art timba track is a thrilling change-up for those of us who love his more familiar salsa sound.
The guest voice closest to Pedrito’s home is Cuba’s Issac Delgado (on “Ciudadano”), who shot to fame in Cuba thirty years ago with NG La Banda, then became a bandleader in 1991. With the younger generation of Issac Delgado, Jr. and Mitchell Delgado collaborating with Pedrito to contribute three songs to the album, there’s an echo of Issac’s classic sound here. (The two are ongoing collaborators: Pedrito was in the conga chair on Issac’s last album, and Issac memorably guested on the title song of Pedrito’s previous album, Habana Dreams.) Pedrito and Issac appear with Alexander Abreu, the virtuoso trumpeter, known to every Cuban, who leads Havana d’Primera. Rumba, is the eternally modern Black drum-vocal-dance music of the Cuban street, represented on this album by “Blasfemador.”
In Acertijos, Jazz, the highest prestige of musical worlds, in which Pedrito is one of the elite, he invited his heroes to be part of the album. There’s Jon Faddis, Kenny Garrett, Terrace Martin, and a long list of New York-based players of Pedrito’s generation who are now headliners, every one of them not just a player, but a powerhouse head: Miguel Zenón, Dávid Sánchez, Etienne Charles, Sean Jones, and Román Filiú.
But perhaps the strongest direct stylistic influence on Acertijos is Timba. The Havana dance-music style that blew up in the ‘90s, during Pedrito’s formative years, and is still rolling forward today. Timba brought a jazzy, funky, virtuosic approach in a hyper-rhythmic, Afrocentric package, offered to a dancing public for letting off steam. It’s still not widely heard in the US for reasons having in part to do with the embargo of Cuba, but it’s been a universally understood musical fact in Cuba for more than thirty years.
Timba bands in Cuba may have as many as 15-17 players, but Pedrito tries it with a small group. Even while concertizing with the greatest names in clave-jazz as well as moving in the world of bill-paying, mass-public pop, Pedrito’s been focused on developing his own band. With the group came an innovation comparable to Joe Cuba’s post-mambo breakthrough forty years before: a big-band music stripped down to a portable combo. Everyone has to sing. Everyone doubles instruments. The parts are dense. For Acertijos, they’ve had the luxury of expanding the instrumentation with guests, but on the live gigs it’s a quintet that fills the space with their spirits while Pedrito fires up the drum. It’s a cosmopolitan band, because it’s in New York: Peruvian percussionist Jhair Sala, Venezuelan percussionist Manuel Márquez, Uruguayan bassist Sebastián Natal, and Cuban keyboardist Issac Delgado, Jr., who contributes five of the arrangements. Whatever it is, this band can play it. Sometimes for fun they swap instruments onstage: Pedrito straps on the bass, Sebastián takes over the conga chair, etc. It sounds fine. Depending on the night, you might see other musicians with the band as well, and they’re here: Yeisson Villamar on keys, Kali Rodríguez on trumpet, Xito Lowell on trombone.
Acertijos makes real a sound Pedrito’s been striving to achieve, with the help and advice of the spirits he’s authorized to address – or, as he put it, “the spirits I accumulated when I was living in Cuba, and all the spirits I accumulated here [in the US]. They put me on my way.”
Acertijos will drop on March 19, 2021 and will be available on all digital platforms with a limited vinyl edition available on Immediate Family Records.