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Interview with Ulises Beato of Conjunto Guantanamo

Conjunto Guantanamo
Conjunto Guantanamo
Brooklyn-based Afro-Cuban band Conjunto Guantanamo plays funky Cuban dance music

Like many musicians during the COVID-19 pandemic Ulises Beato, percussionist and founder of the Afro-Cuban band Conjunto Guantanamo, spent much of his time making music and finding ways to reach audiences.

But trying their hand at online performances didn’t work.

“There was that one, long period, like a year or 18 months where we barely saw each other,” said Beato, who uses he/him and they/them pronouns. “We did make a go at doing a live stream, but we didn’t like it. We just agreed that it wasn’t for us. It was kind of a strange thing.”

For the band, Beato said their live performances matter.

It’s because their style of Afro-Cuban music is the get up and dance style of music. It’s as if they band is channeling James Brown — lots of powerful horns, percussion and just in your face grooves — that makes them such a great band to see live.

But at the same time, their songs — like the upcoming release “Tal Vez” — evoke a sexy, slower vibe that makes you want to dance, albeit a slow dance.

Richmond music lovers may remember the band’s live performance at the 2019 Richmond Folk Festival. It was prior to that performance that I first interviewed Beato.

In our updated conversation, we talk about the band’s new music, new tours and some of the history and styles of Cuban music. We also discuss our mutual love of biking — Beato has restored two classic bikes and often rides around the city at night with his daughter.

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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