Yasser Tejeda
Yasser Tejeda Credit: Mario Rubén Carrión

The Dominican Republic is famous for merengue and bachata, but Yasser Tejeda prefers to focus on lesser-known varieties of Dominican roots music. He reimagines centuries-old Afro-Dominican styles, especially palo, a form of music traditionally played in the countryside that involves complex call-and-response rhythms created by drums called palos and voices. His elegantly polished compositions contain a fascinating, delicate interplay of past and present, and they’re underlain by raw ancestral music meant to move bodies and bring about communion. With his band Palotré, Tejeda does jazz- and rock-infused deep dives into rhythms (including palos) played by the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of the Congos de Villa Mella (an ensemble that’s been named part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO). Palos are at the heart of secular and spiritual gatherings called quijombos, and Tejeda’s second album, Kijombo—a danceable, exhilarating fusion of Dominican roots rhythms with soulful, R&B-tinged jazz—takes its names from those celebrations. He also recently released a three-song EP called Interior, which strips down Kijombo tracks “Nuestras Raíces” and “Amor Arrayano” and adds the new song “El Sol de la Madruga.” On the EP he uses just voice and guitar, and his nuanced, percussive chords echo the drumbeats of certain palos. I can’t wait to be enveloped in Palotré’s textured sound when they headline day two of the LatiNxt Festival on Navy Pier, where they’ll share the power of what Tejeda celebrates in the first lines of “Nuestras Raíces” (“Our Roots”): “Siente este ritmo / Que es de esta isla / Palos caribeños / Fuente infinita” (“Feel this rhythm / It’s from this island / Caribbean palos / An infinite wellspring”).  v