Best Latin Performing Artist: Burning percussion and top-notch arrangements

John Santos and the Machete Ensemble

The East Bay boasts a vibrant Latino musical community that contributes distinct cultural points of view to the diversity of the region. From Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, and of course here in the States, world-class artists such as Lichi Fuentes, Ray Obiedo, the Snake Trio, Avance, Los Cenzontles, and others have honed their craft performing locally. The qualitative standard for such artists is set by percussionist and bandleader John Santos, who is going on twenty years leading his acclaimed Machete Ensemble. A longtime Oakland resident, Santos and his band were nominated for a Grammy in 2002 for the album SF Bay and are now performing in support of their latest Afro-Cuban Latin jazz offering, Brazos Abiertos (Open Arms). A renowned educator who teaches at Jazz Camp, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and several other outlets, Santos planted roots this year with a number of concerts at La Peña Cultural Center. His band’s performance at the heartfelt recent tribute to Chichito Cepeda, a percussionist from Puerto Rico who was killed in an auto accident, was a highlight of that tragic event. What Santos whips up these days with Machete is Latin jazz with vocals that say something, a burning percussion section featuring the legendary Orestes Vilató on timbales, and top-notch arrangements by Wayne Wallace and John Calloway. Yet it is Santos himself, sitting behind those conga drums taking solos and directing the band, who most exemplifies the standard set by this wonderful band.

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