Known as a cultural icon of Puerto Rico and a four-time Grammy nominee and composer, William Cepeda was born and raised in Loiza, the heart of Puerto Rico’s “Little Africa.” His artistic excellence, authenticity, and advocacy for research and comprehensive documentation of Puerto Rican music, dance and culture have earned him multiple awards, grants, and recognition.
In 1992, he revolutionized Latin music with the introduction of Afro-Rican Jazz, an innovative blend of traditional Puerto Rican roots, folk, dance, progressive jazz, and world music. He is widely credited with innovating and creating the jazz sub-genre: Afro-Rican Jazz. His ensemble has toured the world and performed at such prestigious jazz festivals as Montreux, North Sea, and Tabarka and performing arts venues and clubs.
Cepeda’s musical influences include Dizzy Gillespie, Miriam Makeba, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and Lester Bowie among others. A protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, Cepeda was a member of the United Nations Orchestra. He has traveled the world and performed with many jazz artists, such as Lester Bowie and his Brass Fantasy, David Murray, James Moody, Steve Turre, Bobby Watson, Miriam Makeba, and Slide Hampton & the Jazz Masters. He is equally known in the Latin music scene and has performed with such legendary figures as Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, and Oscar de Leon. In addition to his jazz and world music repertoire, Cepeda’s oeuvre includes Bomba Sinfonica, a full-length orchestral work for a symphony, opera, choir, and soloists.
In 2013, Cepeda was bestowed an Honorary Doctorate from the Berklee College of Music. The same year the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival was dedicated in his honor. Cepeda continues to compose, develop new projects and seek new opportunities.
Afro-Rican Jazz is an original concept developed by trombonist and composer/ arranger William Cepeda that celebrates the heritage of Puerto Rico music and its African roots while creating a new shade of jazz with a hip flavor, steeped in the jazz tradition (having performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Mirian Makeba, Lester Bowie, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, David Murray and Donald Byrd, among others), Cepeda developed this unique artistic expression by incorporating a contemporary jazz perspective with the musical and cultural traditions of his homeland, Puerto Rico. The seven member band presents an innovative blend of jazz and traditional Puerto Rico musical forms such as bomba, plena, Jibaro and danza, inspired in part by his family of five generations preserving AfroPuerto Rican music, Cepeda says: “I wanted to do something different. For many years, there has been the fusion of Cuban rhythms with jazz. I love that music, but wanted to create something totally from my roots. This music tells the story of where I come from and the traditions and history of my people. No one has heard music quite like this.”
The band has performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and Latin America in festivals such as the Miles Davis Hall at the Montreux Jazz Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival. The group was featured at the Tabarka Jazz Festival in Tunisia and at Banlieues Bleues. William Cepeda Afro-Rican Jazz offers highly sophisticated jazz arrangements with a word music approach. The music is a collage of rigorous improvisations, complex harmonies, polyrhythmic grooves, modern colors and traditional elements. Idioms from all over the word are explored to create a dense mosaic of rhythms, lines and voices. Cepeda has the reputation of being the pioneer of contemporary Puerto Rican music, as the cutting- edge composer who is creating new sounds and folding the tradition into the broader genre of New World music.