Guitarist Pablo Menéndez takes fusion to the next level. His band Mezcla (meaning "mixture") blends jazz, blues, rock and several styles of Cuban and African music into one raucous, joyous expression of life.
Menéndez is a U.S. Citizen who has lived in Cuba since he was 14 years old. Offered an opportunity to attend the renowned National School of the Arts in Havana, he jumped at the chance. He was supposed to stay in Cuba for one year. It's now been over 50 years.
Music is in Pablo's family. His mother is Barbara Dane, the folk, jazz and blues singer and activist that critic Leonard Feather once called "Bessie Smith in stereo." Dane is still active in the Bay Area, and recently celebrated her 90th birthday with a grand concert at SF Jazz.
Pablo has never regretted his decision to stay in Cuba. Musicians and artists are revered there, and they are able to make a living, raise their families and have a successful artistic career. He's been able to play the music he likes, to tour the world and to experiment without commercial pressures. Pablo wishes for more and freer artistic exchanges between Cuba and the U.S.
Pablo Menéndez has hosted this radio station's Travel Club members at his home in Havana for roof-top concerts in past years. He wanted to show us some of the "real" Cuba, and how the Cuban people live. He's a charming host, and sincere in his efforts to bridge differences through music and art. "We're neighbors and friends, and we have so much common culture and great music to share," he says.
The recipe for Mezcla is based in Cuban roots music. Menéndez knew that the early rock of the "British Invasion" was primarily electrified blues roots music, and he decided to try electrifying Cuban roots music.
Then he realized that most of the musicians he worked with were also outstanding jazz players, so some jazz vernacular was added. The final essential ingredient comes from Africa, the rumba and Yoruba rhythms that define Afro Cuban music. It's a heady mixture, indeed.
Listen for Pablo Menéndez and Mezcla on Saturday Jazz Caliente this week.
Here's an interview with Pablo from November 2016:
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.