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Posts from the ‘Music’ Category

Meet Odin/Udini, the Rapper

udini-1By Donte Kirby


Odin Palacio better known as “ Udini La Voz,” the bilingual (English/Spanish) rapper represents Panama everywhere he goes, using his music to bridge the cultural divide between those who speak Spanish and English. Before there was an 808 (drum machine, associated with hip hop) and a mic, there was a ball and a court.


Basketball brought Palacio from San Miguel, in the heart of Panama, to Homestead, Florida, when he was 16. In 2000, Palacio,(sharing the same name as his father), an only child, left La Magnolia, housing development area , where he lived with his mother, Graciela Arancibia , the woman who shaped him into the person he is today. His mother was scared for her son, after the murder of his best friend. Palacio’s pain brought him to the point where, in front of his mother, he screamed, “I’m going to kill whoever did that to my best friend.”

udini-2“The night before I left Panama it was really hard to sleep. I couldn’t believe that I’m 16 years’ old and I’m going to leave it all behind to start a new life by myself.”


In Florida, Berkshire High School was a melting pot of cultures, overflowing with international students. Palacio had to navigate not only the cultural barriers but also the language barrier.

“It was very uncomfortable not being able to speak the language. I would feel left out a lot of times. When people were laughing and I didn’t understand what they were laughing for, I would feel like they were laughing at me, even though they weren’t.”

Palacio’s life revolved around basketball for years, hopping from high school to high school trying to find the right program, then junior colleges to finally a few four-year universities. A big change came when, Palacio was in a car accident that left him with three fractures in his neck and skull. This experience distanced him from his beloved basketball. Yet, basketball still guided Palacio to his next passion that drives his life today – music and rapping.

One day, a teammate who would often freestyle and wrote down rhymes in a notebook sat Palacio down and explained the process of writing down lyrics and bars on paper.


Years later, Palacio’s goal for his first album, “Me and My Musika,” was to break down cultural barriers. Palacio and his producers Anis Taylor (AT Soundz) and Travis Ruscil (Dappolis) together create a sound that thematically and rhythmically incorporates their diversity.

“No matter whose under one roof they’re all going to move to the same sound. They’re not going to feel left out.”

“…. I used to download instrumentals and just practice over that. I used to write in all Spanish because I couldn’t rap in English back then.”


Working together on tracks for, “Me and My Musika” was the birth of the label and production house, Higher Than 7. Palacio, Taylor and Ruscil vowed to never release a track they all didn’t agree rated higher than seven.

“Our thing is, if we’re going to do something why not keep everything in house,” said Taylor about why they decided to build a label and production company with Higher Than 7. “We can create our own opportunities.”


In order to create more opportunities Palacio became more active in the tri-state, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Latino community. He became a host for PhillyCAM’s Atrévete, a board member of the Panama International Tri-State Alliance, and a frequent public speaker at high schools in the tri-state area. As board member, Palacio, along with Judy Winter, President of the Alliance, they supported the Panamanian flag being raised at Philadelphia’s City Hall, Nov 4, 2016.

Winter had this to say about Palacio, “He is more in touch with the people. So he can help the Alliance find more Panamanians and direct them to the Alliance.”

As an artist, Palacio’s music is a bridge he uses to connect with others. As an independent musician, his connection to his audience and community is paramount to his success.

udini-3The Journey

“I’ve been knocking on doors. I’ve been asking people for opportunities. I don’t do that anymore.

“I just work hard and those doors I knocked on before, today they’re opening on their own.”

Omar Sosa’s Quarteto AfroCubano Playing at the Blue Note Jazz Club NYC


The Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC is proud to present the music of Omar Sosa’s Quarteto AfroCubano from March 31st until April 3rd each night beginning at 8pm.  Be sure to buy tickets to this wonderful event by clicking here.

Secret Stash Records’ Quest for Afro-Peruvian Music

by Kim Haas 

Cory Wong and Eric Foss are long-time friends and fellow musicians from small town Fridley, Minnesota. They first met when they were six years old. Cory plays the guitar and Eric enjoys drums and percussion. Growing up, the duo’s musical tastes would not suggest an eventual interest in Afro-Peruvian music. Eric recalled, “We grew up (listening to)….whatever you’d expect white kids from Minnesota to listen to…Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and other hard rock bands.” 

As adults, the two friends formed the Secret Stash Record Label in 2009, releasing funk, jazz, and world music. To some degree, Secret Stash, was formed out of  the many frustrations Eric experienced, working at several large record labels, “….I found myself disgusted with the industry; the way (large) retailers and distributors …. treat artists. ….walk into a retail store and you see a new album advertised (taking up lots of space)…like a whole wall (of the store).  The retailer did not put it there because they love the artist.  It is there because the distributor paid the retailer hundreds of thousands of dollars… It’s called Co-Op Advertising.”

Not only does Secret Stash approach the business of music differently but its sounds and recordings are decidedly unique for the 21st century. Nearly all of Secret Stash’s releases are on vinyl (accompanied by mp3s). Cory said, vinyl records offered the most accurate, recreated sound compared to CDs and other musical recording formats. The two music aficionados are focused and selective about tracks released under their label. “We …operate outside normal record business (models). Anything we put out, (we) are in love with it… I always feel that Secret Stash… offers a service. We are a filter……We can’t let things sift through that filter that don’t fit the criteria…” 

Now that the days of working for large labels and distributors is over for Eric, he finds great satisfaction in Secret Stash’s business model. He described their approach to collaborating with other businesses as an important aspect of the company’s brand, “In Minneapolis, Tree House Records and Electric Fetus will play your record because it’s about loving music (not) how to squeeze money out of labels.” Read more

One-On-One with Afro-Rican Jazz Creator William Cepeda

Our April article for Being Latino features a Q&A with Afro-Rican Jazz Creator William Cepeda. This article was originally published on the Being Latino site

Since 1992, William Cepeda has been bringing Afro-Rican Jazz to the world. The music he shares with us is a combination of world music, progressive jazz, and traditional Afro-Puerto Rican roots and folk music and dance.

A Grammy-nominated artist and composer, and the protégé of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespsie, William continuously advocates for research and documentation of Puerto Rico’s musical, dance, and cultural history. This dedication has won him numerous awards, grants, and recognition around the world, but is also a part of his family history. The Cepeda family was recently featured on an episode of CNN’s Inside Africa about Bomba dance.

Born and raised in Loiza, known as the heart of little Africa in Puerto Rico, he was always surrounded by music and dance. His love of music led him to seek formal education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees (one in jazz composition and arranging and one in music education) and a master’s degree in jazz performance.

In 1997, William created his own record label, Casabe Records.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him about his interest in music, why he decided to create his own label, and his latest project La Música de Puerto Rico: Raíces y Evolucíon (Races and Evolution). Read more

Elio Villafranca’s Piano Lesson

Our January article for Being Latino focuses on Elio Villafranca, a Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Jazz pianist.

To say that Elio Villafranca is a jazz pianist doesn’t quite capture the enormity of what the piano represents to him. For Elio, playing the piano is the embodiment of his soul. It lies at the core of who he is.

In his words, “It’s a liberation, piano is like my other half. It’s true, it’s not a cliché. When I get to play the piano, I feel one half already full, but if I do my things (daily routine) and I haven’t played the piano, I feel completely half empty, unbalanced.”

Elio is quite centered, disciplined and gracious. With years of classical piano training in his homeland, Cuba, and a daily practice routine of at least four hours, Elio Villafranca has earned the distinction of being at the vanguard of the current generation of Cuban pianists and musicians developing an international modern jazz sound.

His most recent album, Dos y Mas, is a piano and percussion collaboration with fellow Cuban musician Arturo Stable. Released last year to great critical acclaim,  Dos y Mas honors the musical heritages of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Spain and Cuba. Read more

Music to lift the spirits [giveaway]

We know that Hurricane Sandy has brought a great deal of devastation to so many communities. As a result, we hope that we can bring you a bit of sunshine through music. Even on the darkest days, music has the power to inspire, uplift and transport.

To help lift spirits, we are giving away – 4 copies of Multiverse, the latest release from Afro-Cuban Jazz Musician, Bobby Sanabria. Last month, Multiverse was nominated for a Grammy in Best Latin Jazz Album Category.

Soon, we will be sharing the interview with the masterful Bobby Sanabria. Until then, play a little music and send good thoughts to those in need.

Giveaway Rules

1. Either follow/ subscribe to our blog here on WordPress or like us on Facebook.

2. Leave a comment below why you would like to win one of Bobby Sanabria’s CD’s.

This giveaway will end Thursday, November 8 at Midnight (EST), and the winners will be selected using’s number generator and announced on Friday, November 9.

Singer Alex Cuba’s life without limits (Part 2)

2010 Latin Grammy Winner, Singer/Songwriter Alex Cuba seems to be in a really good place in his life right now, a time when he’s operating on all cylinders. He’s married to Sarah, “love of his life”and they have 3 children. His parents are thankful for his success which thrills Alex immensely. His career is blossoming. He has worked with fellow Canadian Nelly Furtado, one of the biggest stars in pop music. Alex wrote 6 of the songs on her first Spanish CD, Mi Plan, released in 2009.

Read more

Singer Alex Cuba’s life without limits, and the father who inspired it (Part I)

During a recent telephone conversation with my dad, he asked me, “What style music does Alex Cuba play?” I was stumped and had a really difficult time defining the sound. I stumbled around trying to answer the question, but really had no answer. Finally, he said, “That’s ok, I’ll look him up.”

Fast forward a few weeks and I’ve learned that Alex Cuba really doesn’t want to be defined by one particular sound or genre. So, when I asked him last week during our interview, “Who is Alex Cuba?” His answer made perfect sense, “Alex Cuba is the inventor but that’s a really big word, but I want to say that Alex Cuba is a genre bending artist who is really hard to pinpoint and box.”

As a singer/songwriter from Cuba, it’s hard to imagine Alex Cuba as anything other than an Afro-Cuban jazz or salsa singer due to the island’s rich musical history. But he’s not. He actually credits his style, which is a concoction of a variety of musical genres (rock, salsa, Latin pop, samba etc), in great extent to his father, Valentin Puentes, and his diverse musical interests and desire for his son to live completely free of limitations.

Cuba says his father has classic taste in music, loved old school Trova music and Cuban standout performers like pianist Compay Segundo, Conjunto Matamoros and the incomparable Beny Moré. Contrast these Cuban musical powerhouses with Puentes’ enjoyment of singing the Beatles in Spanish, listening to Elvis Presley and a year spent teaching music in Angola and it’s easy to understand how Alex Cuba would be so inspired to move freely between musical styles, feeling very at home and comfortable being quite unconventional. Read more

Giveaway: ChocQuibTown DVDs!

choc quib town

After interviewing Goyo, lead singer of the Afro-Colombian band, ChocQuibTown (CQT) for a guest post on Being Latino, we thought a giveaway was in order.

The Latin Grammy winning band was kind enough to give us six  copies of ChocQuibTown: Live from Gurten. Here’s your chance to take CQT home!

Read more

Culture and Community Bloom at The Festival de Bambulaé

There’s a garden nestled on Palethorpe Street within North Philadelphia’s narrow, twisting roads. It’s called Las Parcelas. There are houses painted in vibrant yellows and blues dotting the landscape. The garden has carefully placed stepping-stones, hanging lights and colorful wall murals. There’s even a pit for pig roasting.

This is no ordinary garden. Formally, the space was occupied by 21 row houses and is now the home of 32 garden plots. It’s a product of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project (Norris Square), which has used its programming and six vast gardens to invigorate and feed the community for four decades. And on June 16, it was the site for Norris Square’s Festival de Bambulaé, a vivid garden celebration and fundraiser.

Rafael Álverez, Norris Square’s Director of Garden Programs.

“It’s an opportunity for the Puerto Rican community to share its culture with people throughout Philadelphia,” says Rafael Álverez, Norris Square’s Director of Garden Programs.

While youth leaders help community elders lay out table clothes, make guacamole and test microphones for the many Philadelphians to come celebrate later that day, it’s difficult to imagine what Norris Square’s gardens looked like 40 years ago.

“All of this area was houses and lots that were dilapidated, torn down and abandoned,” says Reed Davaz McGowan, Executive Director of Norris Square. “Demolition companies would come by and dump their trash here. Community members were depressed. It was a lot of violence, drugs and you’re taking people from this incredible Afro-Caribbean environment of Puerto Rico and all these colors and foliage and you’re putting them in a very urban environment where there’s cement and brick everywhere.”

Something had to be done to counter the violence, the trash dumping and the destruction families were experiencing. And that’s where Iris Brown and Tomasita Romero came in.

They started with some bright paint and a few flowers to bring the magic and beauty of Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. Romero received a fence through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to keep the garbage out. And then they started planting trees.

“Now it’s a thriving sanctuary for these birds and butterflies,” say McGowan, adding, “Iris wanted to do what she could do. She had a lot of support, but it shows how one person with an idea can make a big impact on their community.”

Tomasita Romero and Iris Brown are photographed.

For decades, Iris Brown has been instrumental in promoting the African influence in Puerto Rican culture. In a city which is racially and ethnically diverse, just a few blocks away, the community is predominately African American. Norris Square’s goal – aside from youth development, sustainable farming and community engagement – is to bridge the gap between these two communities.

“We’re more connected than we think,” says Álverez, who is Puerto Rican. “It’s very important to look at the African Diaspora within Puerto Rico and talk about how much it influences this entire culture, from the way we eat to the music we listen to.”

In recognition of Africa’s influence , Norris Square has created The Villa Africana Colobó, a small African village in one of its garden spaces. It has brightly colored huts and interior walls are decorated with African masks. During the  the Festival de Bambulaé, instrument making and leaf printing instruction were available to attendees.

Across Palethorpe Street, there is another garden called El Batey with grapes growing above an arbor and an enormous colorful butterfly wall mural. There are Bomba dancers from two troupes. Members are young and old, swishing their colorful skirts, swaying their hips, tapping their feet and rhythmically beating drums. Bomba is a traditional Puerto Rican dance whose origins trace to enslaved Africans on the island.

The chicken coop and other sites at the garden in Las Parcelas.

Maribel Lozada from Philareyto Dance describes the beauty of Bomba saying, “No hay mucho coreografía ; es más de sentido y como tu sientes.” Lozada has been teaching Bomba to neighborhood kids for decades, carefully explaining Bomba’s “influencia Africana.”

Her granddaughter was one of the dancers who performed with her in El Batey at the Festival. And Guillermo — who is only 10 years old, but has been Bomba dancing for nearly four years —  sits with Lozada echoing his love for the dance and the confidence it gives him. He says, “I like that I kind express myself, my movement and just be me.”

Back in Las Parcelas, beyond the guitar player and lessons on composting with worms, people are touring the garden space and feasting upon Napoleon, the pig who was roasted for six hours by McGowan’s husband, Nat, who happens to be a chef.

Two women munching happily at a table across from an oregano garden work at the PHS. They’ve come here every year since the late 1980s. And PHS has had a strong partnership with Norris Square Neighborhood Project for decades.

The Villa Africana Colobó

“PHS was right there at the beginning. And I think it’s one of the things we’re most proud of. This is why we do this,” says Lisa Stephano. She says of Norris Square, “I think the way they engage children, young people, and give them such meaningful skills and a place to really be together and get a sense of community is really special.”

“I think the gardens really did transform this entire community,” adds Maitreyi Roy who says that Las Parcelas is her favorite garden in the entire city. “They gave a sense of community.”

In the five years that McGowan has been Executive Director, the Norris Square Neighborhood Project has developed its youth program, which boasts impressive high school graduation rates in a community where less than 70% of boys graduate. Now they’re turning all their energy to these gardens. This Festival will raise money to help Norris Square develop community stewardship and cultural preservation. And through generous donations – given over the decades to create and maintain this program – Norris Square can throw movie nights and happy hours and plant more fig trees.

Reed Davaz McGowan and her husband Nat

Around 7:00 p.m., the festivities for the Festival were well under way. People are huddled beneath the fig trees and pear trees with plates of mango salsa, chicken and Napoleon the pig in all his delicious glory.

Out on Palethorpe Street, which is blocked off for the event, neighborhood children are seen playing basketball, riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk.  A man named Modesto is here with his two sons. He works for Taller Puertorriqueño, a Philadelphia Latino arts and culture institution, and his wife serves on Norris Square’s Board of Directors. They come here every year to celebrate their culture and to support the work of Norris Square Neighborhood Project.

Modesto and his son drawing with sidewalk chalk.

His son Sebastian is drawing a robot with blue, green and yellow chalk. He’s drawing in the middle of a street in North Philadelphia, which wouldn’t have been possible years ago. It feels safe now.

He begs his father for more colors. And he’s earned them; after all, he spent his morning weeding the gardens of Las Parcelas. It’s already become his second home.

The Festival de Bambulae raises money to help Norris Square Neighborhood Project develop community stewardship and cultural preservation. Visit their site for more information and ways to help.  You can also “Like” them on Facebook.