The Pedrito Martinez Group, Featuring Ariacne Trujillo
Gig Seeker Pro

The Pedrito Martinez Group, Featuring Ariacne Trujillo

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1998 | MAJOR

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR
Established on Jan, 1998
Band Latin Jazz




"First Listen: 'The Pedrito Martinez Group'"

Pedrito Martinez has earned the right to brag a little: He's among the world's best Afro-Latin hand percussionists, appearing on more than 100 recordings in the last 15 years. But "La Habana," from his band's new self-titled album, states an especially bold claim. "Nadie conoce La Habana mejor que yo," he sings in the song's first line. That is, "Nobody knows Havana better than I do."

Martinez, who recently turned 40, left Cuba in 1998; you might doubt his credentials on that account. And he's worked often in more worldly, culture-merging environments; his other 2013 release, Rumba De La Isla, merges Cuban and flamenco rumba, and he was an original member of the Latin fusion band Yerba Buena. Of course, he also learned percussion in Havana street-jam sessions, continues to practice Santería as a batá drum ringleader, and sings with irresistible charisma. The more you listen to him, the more you realize he is, almost impossibly, both a cosmopolitan entertainer and an authentic folklorist.

His band is equally full of seemingly impossible resumes. Pianist Ariacne Trujillo also takes turns at lead vocal; she took a highly contested scholarship to a top Cuban conservatory while moonlighting as a singer and dancer at a major nightclub. (You'll see evidence if you catch a live show.) Bassist Álvaro Benavides is a Venezuelan-born, Berklee-trained virtuoso. And the band's fourth member, percussionist Jhair Sala, came to the U.S. from Peru and sought out Martinez for lessons; the two have worked together closely for years. In fact, as the Pedrito Martinez Group, all four play three sets a night, three days a week at a Cuban restaurant in Manhattan. How many world-class bands do that anymore?

That's ample time for the band to try on a lot of suits. The uncanny part is how well they all seem to fit. This band does timba, Yoruban chants, something you might call "Latin jazz"; it executes originals by Pedrito, imagistic ballads, Led Zeppelin ("Travelling Riverside Blues") and The Jackson 5 ("I'll Be There"). It's joined by guests like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, guitarist John Scofield and drummer (and producer) Steve Gadd. It jumps out of stop-time breaks with hyperkinetic percussion, or quoting the "Malagueña" or Gershwin or Grieg, or forceful four-part vocal harmony. Could these guys really be this good at all these things?

That's not really a question most people consider at a Pedrito Martinez Group show. For all the gonzo kitchen-sink approach, this band also serves as a dance-party starter, like any Afro-Cuban unit worth its salt. Perhaps, then, its leader does know Cuba pretty well after all. - NPR Music

"Pushing Boundaries of Rumba Fervor"

It has become a familiar question backstage at festivals, concert halls or anywhere else that musicians gather on the road: Have you heard that amazing Cuban percussionist in New York City? Pedrito Martínez may not yet be known to the public, but among his peers, he is firmly established as a source of rhythmic delight and inspiration.

Fifteen years after arriving from Havana, Mr. Martínez, 40, is a first-call player for recording sessions of all types, and his three-nights-a-week residency at Guantanamera in Manhattan has made that small restaurant-club a favorite hangout for visiting pop, rock and jazz stars. On Tuesday, he takes another step forward, with the release of his first CD as a bandleader, accompanied by a celebratory show at City Winery.”Pedrito’s got a unique combination of forces coming together in him,” said the musician and writer Ned Sublette, author of “Cuba and Its Music.” “He’s a percussionist with deep drum knowledge, and also a singer and bandleader, but he’s also something over and above that — the flowering of a new creative spirit of rumba, breaking out of the traditional context and taking it to a larger audience.”

Mr. Martínez was born and raised in a Havana neighborhood called Cayo Hueso, a traditional center of the family of African-derived rhythms known as rumba. Not only did he have uncles who played the music, but he also grew up just a block away from the Palacio de la Rumba and sneaked into that theater to watch top orchestras rehearse when he was a child.

Initially, though, because Mr. Martínez could not qualify for government programs to train musicians, which are limited in number, he thought about becoming an athlete. He boxed for a while, but focused on judo, which gave him stamina and made him limber, two qualities that have served him well in coping with the physical demands of playing the congas and the two-headed batá drum, his main instruments.

“I never went to music school, because in Cuba, at that time, to get in, you needed a connection, some clout, and I never had that kind of connection,” he said in a recent interview. “But at the same time, I’m happy with the way I learned things on the street, because they teach you things you can’t learn in school.”

As a teenager, Mr. Martínez began working as a musician and performed with top ensembles, like those of Tata Güines and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. But he found the routine, playing in hotels for a dollar a month, he said, enervating and demeaning.

“If you wanted a ham sandwich, you had to eat it on the sly, in the kitchen, because if the manager of the hotel saw you eating in front of the foreigners, you’d get fired,” he recalled. “And then, at 2 in the morning, I’d have to walk home carrying my congas or my batá, because there was no bus. When I got home, there was no light, water or gas, so I’d eat some cold food, amid a terrible heat. It was the worst time of my life.”

In 1998, the Canadian jazz saxophonist Jane Bunnett, a frequent visitor to Havana, invited Mr. Martínez to join her touring band, which allowed him to leave Cuba. When the group got to New York, and his contract ended, he decided to stay on, “because of all the musical opportunities here,” and played with local bands.

Breezy, outgoing and relentlessly optimistic, Mr. Martínez said he thought making his mark would be easy. But he went to a jazz show and had an unpleasant revelation: after he was invited to jam onstage, the band, led by the trumpeter Brian Lynch, promptly launched into a tune that began in a 5/4 time signature and then shifted to 9/8, and he was lost.

“You hardly ever see that kind of irregular time in Cuban music, so I had no idea what to do,” he recalled. “It was the biggest embarrassment I’ve been through as a musician, but it’s what made me say to myself, ‘This city is a place that can teach you a lot of things, and I’m going to learn how to play this.’ ”

So Mr. Martínez embarked on an intense program of instruction, learning to read music and studying composition. He also took private lessons with a fellow Cuban, Román Díaz, a master percussionist and Santería priest whom he describes as a mentor.

A strong religious element pervades Mr. Martínez’s own music. At his home in Union City, N.J., where he lives with his wife, daughter and parents, a room is set aside as a shrine to Santería deities, and he said it is there, practicing on the batá, often used in Santería ceremonies, that he perfects many of the innovative rhythms he plays onstage.

Mr. Martinez said one big challenge he faced in making the new CD, called simply “The Pedrito Martínez Group” (Motéma Music), was translating the dynamism of the band’s live performances. The record includes several songs the group regularly plays live, both originals and Cuban standards, as well as Afro-Cubanized versions of Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” and the Jackson 5 favorite “I’ll Be There.”

All four members of the group sing, with Mr. Martínez doing lead vocals on most tracks. The record also features guest appearances by Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield and Steve Gadd, the ace American drummer who also produced the record with Mr. Martínez.

“It’s pretty extraordinary what they do,” Mr. Gadd said. “The rhythms that Pedrito is singing are complicated themselves, and then to be able to play other complicated rhythms around that, it’s special. This is a real band, singing and playing rhythmically advanced music of the highest order.”

When Mr. Gadd stops by Guantanamera, he occasionally joins the group onstage, but most visiting musical luminaries, perhaps as intimidated as Mr. Martínez was when he first encountered jazz, are content to remain in their seats. On successive nights last month, members of Earth, Wind & Fire and a Spanish flamenco troupe showed up, and Mr. Martínez’s manager, Paul Siegel, also remembers visits by Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Paul Simon, Roger Waters, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke.

“Over the last six to eight years, I’ve taken every band I’ve been with to see him, because his musicality is just staggering,” said the guitarist Derek Trucks, who has played with the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton bands. “After Allmans’ rehearsals, three or four of us will head there, and it’s funny how many other musicians you’ll see. You know that everybody is going to go through New York, so you say ‘You’ve got to see this guy, you’ve got to go to Guantanamera and see Pedrito whipping it.’ ” - The New York Times

"Beat Happening, Pedrito Martinez's Cuban rythms"

POP MUSIC about Cuban conga player and singer Pedrito Martinez. With his high cheekbones and dazzling smile, Martinez has the charisma of a mainstream star, which he is to many in the Cuban-American musical community. He is a devotee of Santeria, the Yoruba-based religion that slave traders brought form Nigeria to Cuba in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and regularly plays at ceremonies in homes in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In addition, he plays at the Cuban restaurant Guantanamera, on Eighth Avenue. He sees both venues as instrumental in spreading his powerful blend of African and Cuban traditions. Martinez grew up in central Havana, but left Cuba in 1998 and has lived and played in the U.S. ever since. The rhythm that is central to Martinez’s music, called the clave, is the beat that underlies much Afro-Cuban music. He and his remarkable quartet plan to record soon, but right now the best example of Martinez’s singing and drumming can be found on “Today’s Opinion,” a recent album by the saxophonist Yosvany Terry. The best way to experience Martinez is live. His piano player is Ariacne Trujillo, a woman who often chats during songs with Alvaro Benavides, the bassist. Martinez sits center stage, and to his right is Jhair Sala, who plays the cowbell and the bongos. Martinez and his band have won over dozens of people the writer has taken to see him, despite common confessions to not liking jazz or not understanding Latin music. If anyone can move Afro-Cuban music into greater visibility, it’s Martinez. - The New Yorker


Pedrito Martinez Group (2013/Motema Music)

Pedrito Martinez songs Liner Note Author: Kevin Moore. Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York, NY; MSR Studios, New York, NY. Personnel: The Pedrito Martinez Group (vocals, percussion); Ariacne Trujillo (vocals, piano); Alvaro Benavides (electric bass, background vocals); Jhair Sala (percussion, background vocals). Audio Mixers: Willy Torres; Alan Silverman.

Rumba de la Isla (2013/ Calle 54)

Arrangers: Pedrito Martnez; Romn Daz. Personnel: Pedrito Martnez (vocals, congas, cowbells, background vocals); Nio Josele (guitar, hand claps); Alfredo de la F (electric violin); John Bentez (acoustic bass, electric bass); Romn Daz (bata, spoons); Xiomara Laugart, Abraham Rodrguez (background vocals). Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York, NY (04/2010). Billboard (p.53) - "Martinez makes magic by pairing Afro-Cuban chanting and beats with the musical legacy of Spanish flamenco great Camaron de la Isla."



The Pedrito Martinez Group has its roots planted firmly in the Afro-Cuban Rumba tradition and in the bata rhythms and vocal chants of the music of Yoruba and Santeria. Ben Ratliff summed it up aptly for the New York Times calling it, "complex, blenderized Africa-to-the-New-World funk."

Since its formation in the current lineup in 2008, the Pedrito Martinez group has developed into an extraordinarily tight and creative unit with a home base gig in Midtown Manhattan at Guantanamera.  They have built a fan base that includes Steve Gadd, Ravi Coltrane, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, John Scofield, Roger Waters, Derek Trucks, Herlin Riley, and Will Lee.

Pedrito Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba, Sept 12, 1973. He began his musical career at the age of 11, performing as vocalist and percussionist playing with such Cuban legends as Tata Guines, Munequitos de Matanzas. In 1998 he was brought to Canada by Jane Bunnett, to tour with her group, Spirits of Havana.  His decision to remain in North America to pursue his career, proved to be an auspicious one when, two years later, the annual Thelonious Monk Institute Competition showcased Afro-Latin Hand Drumming for the first time ever; he entered and won first place.

Martinez was a member of the highly successful, Afro-Cuban/Afro-Beat band, Yerba Buena with which he recorded two albums and toured the world opening for bands including the Dave Matthews Band, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles.  In addition, he has also lent his talents to over one hundred records, and collaborated with artist such as Paquito D'Rivera, Issac Delgado, Eliane Elias, Stefon Harris, Steve Turre, Eddie Palmieri, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Conrad Herwig, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bill Summers and Los Hombres Calientes, Arturo Chico O'Farrill, Bebo Valdes, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, and Sting, (for his rainforest benefit, with Elton John and Bruce Springsteen). He was also featured in the documentary film on Cuban music, Calle 54 and his singing and percussion playing were featured in the 2011, Academy Award-nominated, Chico and Rita.

The Pedrito Martinez Group has self-released two live albums. An album by Pedrito Martinez, Rumba de la Isla, featuring the music of the flamenco great, Camaron de la Isla was released on Calle54/Sony in March of 2013. 

Their first studio album, The Pedrito Martinez Group, was released, October 8, 2013, on Motema Music. The album was produced by Steve Gadd and Pedrito Martinez and features special guests, Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, Steve Gadd, Marc Quinones and Gary Schreiner. 


Band Members