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Cuban Fusion Pioneers Sintesís On Queen, Santería And Prog Rock

Sintesís performing live in Havana, Cuba.
Courtesy of the artist
Sintesís performing live in Havana, Cuba.

Just when you think you know a lot about Cuban music, along comes a pair of musicians who tell me one that of the major influences on their pioneering jazz/rock/santeria band was Queen.

Yes, that Queen.

In 1976, Carlos Alsonso and his wife Ele Valdés started Síntesis as a prog- and jazz-rock outfit in Havana, Cuba. After participating in a festival that featured santería — the Yoruba spiritual tradition that developed in Cuba among West African descendants — they were enthralled and determined to incorporate this sacred music into their own.

And that's where Queen comes in. Once you hear how the band stacks their voices to sing the praises of the santería deities, you can hear Freddie Mercury's penchant for operatic voice arrangements.

During our conversation spoken entirely in Spanish, Alfonso says he fell in love with the English prog-rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer through pirated copies of the 1970s live music television programs The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

It's worth dusting off your Spanish verb conjugation chops to listen in on two visionaries share their experiences as a couple, as musicians and as parents to two very talented musical offspring.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
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