Malamanya’s Latin American roots

I reported this piece for a series called Minnesota Mix, a Minnesota Public Radio News project that examines how youth and ethnic diversity are influencing Minnesota arts. – David Cazares

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Each time Adriana Rimpel stands before a microphone, she opens a window to another time and place, taking herself — and her audience — on an island journey.

Rimpel is the lead singer for Malamanya, a Twin Cities band that plays traditional Cuban son, a folkloric music that explores the beauty and struggle of daily life.

When Malamanya takes the stage, the show is a celebration — whether Rimpel sings of love or heartbreak.

It’s also about sharing Latin American music and culture, sometimes with Latinos and sometimes with college students, as the band did in a recent show at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis.

Rimpel is backed by five men on bass, guitar, congas, timbales and trumpet. The group has spent two years pursuing an authentic sound, one that bandleader and bass player Tony Schreiner discovered by chance. A friend gave him a disc of old Cuban music burned off the internet.

“There was this blaring trumpet and it was really syncopated,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I absolutely need a copy of it.’ He gave me a copy that day and I went home and I started listening to it. It was like instantaneous love-slash obsession.”

Schreiner began to study the music — and to look for a group to play it. He met conga player Luis Ortega, then playing for Maria Isa. They began recruiting musicians, but the project didn’t come together until they met Rimpel, a mezzo soprano who hadn’t performed with a band.

“She blew everybody away right off the bat,” Schreiner said.

Rimpel, a Mexican-American from St. Paul’s West side grew up listening to romantic Latin music, surrounded her mother’s Mexican and Puerto Rican friends. She didn’t know her Haitian father, but feels connected to Afro-Caribbean culture.

That could help explain her affinity for traditional Cuban music, a fusion of Spanish, African and other elements she embodies on stage.

During a break at the Nomad, she explained that the band wants to share Latin American folk music with Latinos and others.

“Malamanya means bad habits and we’re sort of encouraging people to indulge… they have the permission to celebrate this music …even if they’re not from those countries… or don’t know the music. ”

Rimpel is studying the music with Viviana Pintado, a masterful Cuban performer in the Twin Cities. But just like Cubans on the island, she works the music she loves into performances — from fairly modern Latin music to R&B.

She performs the band’s songs — in English and Spanish — differently each night, adjusting the tempo and timing to suit the mood.

“I’m giving them heat, I’m giving them passion. I’m not from the tropics, but that’s in my blood too.”

Malamanya performs in a free show Sunday at the Memory Lanes Block Party in Minneapolis.

See a longer look at Malamanya here.

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