Like other Cuban musicians such as Lazaro Ros and Orlando “Puntilla” Rios–who have both performed in Chicago within the past year–Los Munequitos de Matanzas are masters of roots rumba. This hauntingly beautiful music wraps a paper-thin Spanish veneer over a visceral and intellectual feast of polyrhythmic percussion, Yoruba chanting, and dance, all derived directly from the West African traditions that came to the Caribbean with the 18th-century slave trade. Los Munequitos’ U.S. shows are necessarily framed as nonprofit educational affairs to get around the longstanding U.S. embargo policy that regards importing Cuban music as trade with a foreign “enemy.” But their music is vibrant and solid enough to triumph easily over any “educational” presentation. Isolated from the homogenizing influences and commercial pressures of major international recording companies, the music’s kept its raw edges; too bad that wonderful isolation is due partly to the same Clinton-approved embargo that not only humors right-wingers in Miami and starves the Cuban economy, but also legitimizes a teetering Castro dictatorship that pursues trade with Myanmar–formerly Burma–and forces HIV-positive people into sanitariums (both according to Radio Havana). But is this discomforting reality any more paradoxical than roses growing from dung–or, for that matter, American blues and gospel coming out of years of slavery? Friday, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334. Saturday, 8:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African-American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 288-7685 or 324-8300. Sunday, 1 PM, Stanley Field Hall, Field Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt and Lake Shore Dr.; 922-9410. Sunday, 4:30 PM (workshop and performance), Schwinn Hall, 3001 N. Palmer; 243-2777.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.