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Filled with movement

Brassy, Havana floor-fillers and swaying rural rumbas double-shot

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What do you know about Cuba? I mean, really know?

Chances are, not much.

Sure, we all know about Fidel’s beard and baseball career. We all know about Cuban cigars. And we all know about the shortstops and Hemingway writing the island birthed.

But when it comes to music, there’s at least a solid chance you’ve never experienced all the sonic flavors the socialist atoll has to offer. I know I haven’t. Not even close.

Juan de Marcos and his Afro-Cuban All Stars aim to change that — one city at a time. And they’ll start this Tuesday, Feb. 17 in Tacoma at the Pantages Theater, then move to Olympia Wednesday, Feb. 18 for a show at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The shows are the first two of a 40-night run for the group.

Both highly anticipated occasions seem certain to deliver a dose of authentic Cuban music rarely seen in these parts, and provide the perfect opportunity for you and the music lovers you know to throw back a dose of culture.

But don’t take my word for it. As I’ve already admitted, I know as much about Cuban music as A-Rod knows about NOT taking steroids — which is to say very little.

According to hype on the Broadway Center’s Web site:

“Afro-Cuban All Stars mix all styles of Cuban music: bolero, chachacha, salsa, son montuno, timba, guarjia, danzón, rumba and abakua. Led by Juan de Marcos, Afro-Cuban All Stars embrace the rich diversity of Cuba’s musical output …”

To put it another way …

“The Afro-Cuban All Stars is not a band, it’s a project,” says de Marcos, a key member of the famed Buena Vista Social Club, the son of singer Marcos González Mauriz, the creator of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and a Cuban music icon. “(I wanted to) bring talented Cuban musicians across the world. It’s a kind of Cuba international band, based on some of the most important Cuban musicians of all time.”

The groundwork for the Afro-Cuban All Stars was laid by de Marcos beginning in the early ’90s. At the time, de Marcos was leading the nine piece son ensemble band Sierra Maestra. After a fateful meeting with Nick Gold, president of World Music Records, and eventually American guitarist Ry Cooder, de Marcos became set on bringing Cuban music to the masses. The Buena Vista Social Club recordings — which were wildly successful worldwide — would come first, followed by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, which de Marcos’s Web site describes as “the best-known and successful Cuban orchestra after Los Van Van and Irakere.”

“I consider myself an ambassador of the Cuban identity,” says de Marcos. “It’s very important that people know we’re here. After 1960 we disappeared off the market. Some people thought Cuba disappeared. There were many sharks going to Cuba for the music. It’s very important to show we are still one of the musical powers of the world.”

So, what can fans of music unfamiliar with the diverse array of styles and vibrations that Cuba has to offer find in de Marcos, his Afro-Cuban All Stars, and the island as a whole?

“Cuba is a very happy country. People in Cuba make jokes with our problems. (I think music fans will) appreciate the happiness of the compositions,” says de Marcos. “When they go to our concerts they’re going to get a piece of the Cuban identity. They’re going to get a piece of the warmth and sincerity.”

Sold yet? Warmth, sincerity, and a piece of the Cuban identity — you’re not going to go home with that after just any show.

Two chances to experience Cuba in just one week: If you’re into expanding horizons, de Marcos is sure to deliver quite a lesson.

[Pantages Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m., $32-$56, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5890]

[Washington Center, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m., $16.75-$37.50, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia, 360.753.8586]

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