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The Justice (October 20 , 2009)

Obbini Tumbao to take up residency this week

by Sarah Bayer and Amy Melser

<i>PHOTO BY Jodi Elkin/The Hoot</i>

Photo courtesy of Shawna Kelley

Obbini Tumbao, an Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble based in Boston, is taking up artistic residency at Brandeis from Oct. 21 to 24 for this semester's MusicUnitesUS series. From salsa dance workshops to anthropology classes about native music and culture, the band will participate in a wide range of on-campus events designed to immerse the campus in Cuban culture.

The choice of Obbini Tumbao promises to be quite a treat for the Brandeis community. Boston Phoenix readers named the band "Best World Music Act" in 2006, and a Boston Globe reviewer compared the group's eclectic style to "if Mambo Kings Pancho Sanchez and Tito Puente got together to jam with Herb Alpert and Ry Cooder of the Buena Vista Social Club." The band's Slosberg performance follows recent gigs at such prominent Boston-area venues as Ryles Jazz Club and Regattabar.

The rise to local prominence comes only five years after bandleaders and Berklee School of Music alumnae Rebecca Cline and Anita Quinto first decided to collaborate while they were traveling in Venezuela. In an e-mail interview with the Justice, Cline explained, "One afternoon, after a hike up the Avila (a mountain that borders the city of Caracas), we dreamed up the idea of playing songs together that we both liked and that offered an alternative to the routine." Cline says she and Quinto were originally inspired by such Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians as jazz trumpeter Félix Chappotín, timba band Los Van Van, bandleader Eddie Palmieri and salsa singer Cheo Feliciano.

The two now perform backed by an ensemble that includes bongo, vocals, keyboard, bass and trombone. Cline explained the meaning of her band's name: The word obbini means woman in the Yoruban language, which is native to parts of modern-day Nigeria and Benin, while tumbao is Caribbean Spanish slang that "refers to the basic rhythm performed on the bass, piano, or congas. Depending on context, it can also be used to mean mojo, groove or swing."

Throughout the week, Obbini Tumbao will be a visible presence on campus, offering everyone the chance to dance or jam along with the band's music. Says Prof. Judith Eissenberg (MUS), who was responsible for planning the residency, "I love the workshops, where we get to actually participate in the tradition the musicians bring." Students will get a chance to learn the basics of Latin dance on Wednesday when the Salsa y Control Dance Company arrives on campus to prepare the community for Obbini Tumbao's Thursday afternoon dance set in Shapiro Atrium. The band will also lead a drum circle on Friday to teach Afro-Cuban rhythms.

There is also a series of open classes planned, including one occurring Friday from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Slosberg Recital Hall, when the band and the ANTH 185B: "Cross-Cultural Art and Aesthetics" class "will talk about the connection between spiritual tradition and this music," Eissenberg said. She added, "I think religion and music are such powerful expressive cultural expressions, and they so often intersect." Cline says she hopes to bring to Brandeis "a hands-on perspective on sociological issues discussed in class."

But Eissenberg and bandleader Rebecca Cline agree that the highlight of the residency is sure to be the Saturday night concert in the Slosberg Recital Hall. "After attending all the events, it adds up to so much on stage," says Eissenberg. Summing up her vision of the residency, Eissenberg predicts Obbini Tumbao will provide "Celebration. Virtuosity. A sense of play. Pride. Intimacy. Energy."

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