On his band's new self-titled recording, Pedrito Martinez offers a bit of homespun wisdom, urging his audience to live conscious lives and avoid arrogance.
"Be patient," he sings, "triumph is in consistency."
Martinez, who is 40, could well be offering advice to a much younger self. When he arrived in the United States from Cuba in his early 20s, he had great skills on the congas and two-headed batá drum, but thought he knew it all.
During a jam session with Latin jazz bandleader Brian Lynch soon after his arrival, Martinez realized he had much to learn - not the least of which was how to read music.
After mastering his art and learning how to play in any setting, he has become a sought-after percussionist for recording sessions and tours and a must-see show in New York, where jazz musicians and aficionados are celebrating his work.
But jazz explains only part of the magic of the Pedrito Martinez Group. On Wednesday, the band brings its explosive mix of traditional and modern Cuban music - and the sounds of Havana's streets - to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.
Martinez said the creative vision for his group's album was shaped by his work with a diverse group of artists - from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to singer-songwriter Edie Brickell.
"I had the opportunity to play, record and travel with many artists - from jazz to pop music to Latin jazz," he said. "I put all those experiences together on my record. ...and I started playing and incorporating a lot of tastes from all those bands into my group."
The bandleader has such a reputation that jazz greats like Marsalis, guitarist John Scofield and drummer Steve Gadd perform solos on the album, along with harmonica player Gary Schreiner.
As he is three nights a week at the Guantanamera restaurant in New York, Martinez will be joined at the Dakota by classically trained pianist and vocalist Ariacne Trujillo, a huge talent who also is from Cuba. Rounding out the group are bassist Alvaro Benavides of Venezuela and percussionist Jahir Sala of Peru.
They will perform a repertoire of complex original music that sounds like love songs to Havana, in all its glorious imperfections.
Martinez, a batá drummer who practices Santería, couldn't be more sincere when he sings "Nadie conoce la Habana major que yo" (Nobody knows Havana better than I do). He grew up in an area known for rumba, the African-rooted rhythms underlying much of Cuban music. But unlike Cuba's musical elite, trained in conservatories, he honed his talents in local ensembles.
"I grew up on the streets and I came from a very poor neighborhood called Cayo Hueso, right in the middle of Havana and all the knowledge that I got in music I learned in the street," he said. "I never had the opportunity to go to any school of music.
"But I'm very proud and happy that I learned that way because actually I learned a lot of stuff that they don't teach you in the schools in Cuba like the folklore, like the batá, all those Yoruba chants that I've been incorporating in all the records that I've been doing through all these years living in the United States."
On the album, the band adds accessible covers to the mix, including Robert Johnson's "Travelling Riverside Blues," and the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There."
Like many of the island's modern bands, the Pedro Martinez Group has a big sound. Theirs is fueled by four-part harmonies, popular refrains and percussion from the cajon, bongo and cowbell.
"We're trying to groove as much as we can and trying to keep the rhythm very solid and powerful," Martinez said. "So we create a language and a code that we all know and that we all feel comfortable and very, you know, very good about it. When we play up there we don't even look [at] each other."
"It's all about groovin."
If You Go
The Pedrito Martinez group
When: 7 and 9 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis