Another in a series of outstanding concerts is coming to Roger Williams Park in Providence on Sunday, August 14 at 6PM when FirstWorks Summer Beats presents William Cepeda’s Afro-Rican Jazz.

Cepeda, a cultural icon in Puerto Rico, was born and raised in Loiza, the heart of San Juan’s “Little Africa.” The trombonist has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and is a four-time Grammy Award nominee. He’s also a Professor and Artistic Composer at the University of Puerto Rico.

Cepeda’s sound is rooted in what has become known as Afro-Rican jazz, an offshoot of more traditional Latin Jazz. It incorporates elements of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms and genres including folk, dance, progressive jazz, and world music. He’s recognized as the artist who more-or-less created the genre.

“I’ve been doing fusion between folk and traditional,” Cepeda explained in a recent phone interview. “People are going to hear the drumming and the essence of the Puerto Rican music mixed with jazz improvisation, Jibaro, Decima, Plena, Bomba, Taino and more. We’re going to do a collage of the spirit of Puerto Rico, fused with modern jazz, popular music, and world music. It’s going to be a very interesting concert.”

The music is fun, upbeat, and inspiring, and for jazz purists, it’s related to traditional Latin jazz, yet distinct.

“Traditional Latin jazz is more inspired by Cuban culture … more salsa, rumba, more cha-cha-cha,” said Cepeda. “This is more dedicated to Puerto Rico, more bomba, it’s a different spice, different type of rhythms, different forms.”

“If you don’t know one or the other, we are all from the Caribbean, it may sound a little alike, it’s from the same family. You’ll hear the uniqueness of Puerto Rican with the bomba drum, with the traditional instruments of Puerto Rico, you’re going to see the history through the music, the 50s, and the 60s,” added Cepeda.

You’ll also see a rare performance of Cepeda playing conch shells. “The Taino played the shells and on one of the pieces, I’m going to feature the conch shell. It’s going to be an experience of Puerto Rican music rhythms and more,” said Cepeda.

He’s bringing the full seven-piece band to Providence along with a local dance troupe. Lydia Perez, an award-winning Afro-Taino artist from Rhode Island, will lead dancers from the Puerto Rican Institute for Arts and Advocacy. “We’re going to collaborate with the traditional troupe from Providence, and do more traditional bomba, with dancers and singers and drums,” added Cepeda.

William Cepeda

So what can attendees expect at the show?

“We are a blend of different things, some of the music is going to be high energy, dancing, and some of the songs are more mystical, more organic. You’re going to hear different vibes. It’s how I interpret Puerto Rican jazz, you’ll see a lot of different influences in the music, urban, R&B, and avant-garde.”

The free outdoor concerts from FirstWorks are a wonderful opportunity for music fans of all ages to learn about new music. Click here for more details on the show.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.