Maraca Around the Clock 

Cuban flutist Maraca and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Masters bring a New Year's heat wave to Oakland

Cuban flutist Orlando Valle, better known to the initiated as "Maraca," has called together some of the greatest names in Afro-Cuban music for a six-day fiesta at Yoshi's (Jack London Square, Oakland, 510-238-9200 or www.yoshis.com). The celebration begins the night after Christmas, culminating in an explosive - and sold-out - New Year's Eve bash. Maraca, with a wink, says he expects temperatures to increase unusually as the old year closes.

This will be different from previous performances of Maraca's regular band, Otra Visión. Afro-Cuban Jazz Masters, as this all-star ensemble is called, features Tata Guines, a living legend of Cuban percussion; Giovanni Hidalgo and Enrique Lazaga of Orquesta Ritmo; Changuito of Los Van Van; New Yorican trombonist Jimmy Bosch; Coto, the tres player formerly with Cubanismo; plus four musicians from Otra Visión.

With such dynamic musical personalities in one band, Maraca expects tremendous energy and symbiosis between the musicians, who all know each other very well. "This will be a magic event, one that cannot be repeated every day," he promises.

Why the name "Maraca"? "This is a nickname I've been given at the music school," he explains. "A lot a Cuban musicians have nicknames - I'm not an exception. The only interesting thing is that [even though] I'm called Maraca, I play the flute as my main instrument. I got this nickname because I was really thin when younger, with a huge Afro haircut, and I used to look like the instrument called maracas."

For six years, Maraca played with the renowned Cuban band Irakere. Before Irakere, he worked with singer Bobby Carcasses and the late pianist Emiliano Salvador. He said the experiences he acquired alongside such geniuses of Cuban music allowed him to enter Irakere very young. While playing flute and keyboards with Irakere, Maraca also tried some compositions and arrangements of his own.

Last year he played with Wynton Marsalis, an experience he claims was more like an encounter than work. "I was giving a master class at the Vancouver Jazz Festival. Wynton came, sat down, and listened until the end of the class - then invited me to perform with him that night during the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's show in a Vancouver Theater. We played a song of Machito - the reaction of the public was incredible, because nobody expected such a fusion at the end of the show," he said.

Maraca has also performed with legendary Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria in Tokyo, at a show of the Tito Puente Latin Golden All-Stars Orchestra. According to him, it was the one moment of his life that he enjoyed the most. "I think Mongo is a legend of Cuban and Latin music. We became friends. We saw each other last year during a show I was having with my band at Lincoln Center in New York," remembers Maraca.

To Maraca, the message of the music is one of optimism, happiness, fraternity, sincerity, and hotness - adding that the most important thing is "not what we achieved during our tours in the USA, but what we will achieve each time with our presence on Northern American stages."

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