Jazz Inside Out series

From Africa through the Caribbean: Roots of Afro-Cuban jazz

From Africa’s Heartbeat to Afro-Cuban Jazz!

Friday, April 26

7:30 p.m.

Campbell Recital Hall

SJW MEMBERS: $12 | Child (17 and under) & Student (present valid student ID card) $5

NON-MEMBERS: $20 | Child (17 and under) & Student (present valid student ID card) $12

Sights & Sounds
About the music and musicians

Immerse yourself in a musical odyssey that traces the fiery spirit of Afro-Cuban jazz back to its African roots. This event is not just a concert performed by the Bay Area’s top Afro-Cuban musicians, it’s a mind-bending adventure through centuries of rhythm and song.

Imagine: The infectious syncopation of Ghana’s “womenyanu dadao” game echoing in the room, its 6/8 pulse resonating with the very DNA of African music. This simple children’s chant holds the key to unlocking the secrets of rumba, the “mother” of Cuban music, whose playful dance steps mirror the joy of life.

But your journey won’t stop there. Guitar and tres virtuoso Kai Lyons and his band will also explore the passionate intensity of changüí, the “father” of Cuban music, its rhythms fueled by the struggles and triumphs of Afro-Cubans. Feel the earth tremble with every beat, a testament to the resilience of a people and the power of music to heal and inspire.

Jazz itself has Afro-Cuban music at its very foundation. Ragtime maestro Scott Joplin found inspiration in Cuban melodies! We’ll delve into the fascinating connection between habanera and danzón, and how these rhythms crossed the ocean to infuse American music with a unique “Latin tinge,” as pianist and composer Fats Waller put it.

Kai and his band will compare the musical tapestry of Cuba with the vibrant sounds of Mali and the Congo, uncovering the diverse influences that shaped their distinct musical personalities. You’ll be surprised by the shared threads that bind these cultures together, a testament to the enduring power of rhythm to transcend borders and languages.

The night won’t be complete without exploring the soul of Afro-Cuban jazz. Think of SJW faculty artist Dizzy Gillespie declaring, “The more upbeats in your music, the more it swings!” Witness how the syncopation of rumba and changüí found new life in the improvisational freedom of jazz, creating a genre that still pulsates with energy and innovation.

Remember the connection between gospel and jazz, both born from the yearning for spiritual expression? Kai will show you how this same yearning fueled the vibrant Santeria tradition in Cuba, its rhythms intricately woven into the fabric of Afro-Cuban music.

This event will be much more than just a fantastic concert; it’ll be a conversation with you. Come prepared to discuss, to tap your feet, and to be swept away by the irresistible force of rhythm. As Kai’s music washes over you, you’ll understand why Cuba’s musical heart beats with the spirit of Africa, forever echoing the stories of resilience, joy, and the undeniable power of sound.


Kai Lyons, guitar and tres Cubano
Christelle Durandy, lead vocals and maracas
Einar Leliebre, lead vocals and percussion
Ernesto Mazar, bass
Miguelito Martinez, flute
Josh Jones, drums

More about Kai Lyons

Kai is a San Francisco native who has followed his passion for the guitar all over the world. He was a student at the prestigious jazz program at William Paterson University where he studied with the late, great jazz masters Mulgrew Miller and Harold Mabern. He’s performed and studied extensively in New York, New Orleans, Brazil, and Ghana, as well as all around the Bay Area. He brings his profound mastery of the Cuban tres to make the story of Afro-Cuban music come alive with heart rate-raising excitement. Visit Kai at kailyons.com