The renowned Cal State Los Angeles (LA) Afro-Latin Ensemble has released its second album, “Setenta,” a vibrant compilation of beloved classics and new compositions that represent the past and future of the genre.
Under the guidance of Monrovia resident and band director Professor Paul De Castro, the Cal State LA Afro Latin Ensemble has produced a passionate, sophisticated work that revels in its cultural tradition. Breezy flutes and bright trumpets, nimble and intricate percussion work and a sultry modern take on Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” are just a few of the delights this joyful album packs.
“The goals were very high. I didn’t accept second-rate anything,” De Castro said of the album. “We had the best arrangements, great guest stars, and I put the pressure on the students.”
‘Setenta’ (Spanish for seventy) was named to commemorate Cal State LA’s 70th anniversary and is the second release from Aerie Records, which was launched in 2014 by Cal State LA President William A. Covino and his wife, Debbie Covino.
“The roots of Cal State LA’s Afro Latin Ensemble reach deeply into Los Angeles, and Setenta’s rich connection to the cultural fabric of our region has culminated in a work that is timeless,” President Covino said.
The group began in 1999 as a Latin jazz ensemble, founded by students who sought the advice of De Castro, a Cal State LA alumnus and faculty member in the College of Arts and Letters.
As a well-respected scholar of Afro Latin music and a talented professional pianist, De Castro was an ideal faculty advisor for the fledgling Latin jazz ensemble. He incorporated traditional Caribbean rhythms, particularly those from Cuba, and invited vocalists to join the group.
Wearing signature guayabera shirts featuring the Cal State LA logo, the ensemble has enthralled audiences at venues such as the Autry Museum and Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. In 2000, the 22-person ensemble performed in Cuba, and 10 years later, they played before an appreciative audience of 2,000 in China.
To create “Setenta,” De Castro relied on alumni and friends of the program. He points to one of his favorite tracks on the album, “Trombonático,” as an example of that collaboration. For the trombone section, De Castro relied on former students, including Luis Bonilla, one of the premiere trombone players in the world.
“Setenta is the fruit of a collaborative effort between students, faculty, alumni and guest musicians, the type of which could only take place at Cal State LA,” said the album’s executive producer, Jose A. Gomez, Cal State LA executive vice president.
The album also features the unmistakable vocal work of Grammy award-winning Cuban artist Iris Sandra Cepeda, the percussive expertise of timba specialist Calixto Oviedo, and the studied trombone stylings of Cuban musicology scholar Edgar Hernández, all of whom serve as part time faculty at Cal State LA.
“Our main goal,” De Castro says, “is to make people feel happy, to make people want to move and dance.”’
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