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Meet ACA Studio Musician Matt Jenson and “Rebel Tumbao”

Have you ever stepped into the Arlington Center for the Arts and been swept up in an Afro-Caribbean beat emanating from behind the closed doors of ACA’s music studios…? That’s Matt Jenson, ACA’s ubercool keyboard player, bandleader and arranger – a man who is on a mission with his music.

ACA Studio Musician Matt Jenson

Matt has traveled the country and the world with his music. He’s played and toured with blues guitar great Ronnie Earl, Latin pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri, and Reggae legends Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley. On the piano faculty of the Berklee College of Music, Matt teaches a ground-breaking course on the Life and Music of Bob Marley, and leads the College’s select Reggae performance ensemble. Trips to Jamaica and West Africa have allowed Jenson to delve deeply into the music of the African diaspora, which permeates his playing and outlook on music, and the world.

“Kickstarting” a new CD with Rebel Tumbao

We recently caught up with Matt, who is charged up about his most recent project – creating a CD of his 10-piece Afro/Latin/Roots/Reggae band, “Rebel Tumbao.”

First we had to ask: REBEL TUMBAO – what’s it mean?

“The word ‘tumbao’ in Spanish slang means “groove,” they explain, “so what we are is ‘Rebel Groove‘!”

See Rebel Tumbao in action in their awesome Video

Tell us about Kickstarter…?

“Kickstarter is an online fundraising platform especially for creative independent projects,” according Matt. “The way it works is that once you’ve been accepted, you pick the amount you want to raise and the deadline (up to 60 days). If you do not reach your goal, no money changes hands. Kickstarter does not do any actual fundraising for you but the platform offers a very concise presentation and anyone in the world with an Amazon account can contribute. (They take 5%.) In return you, as the artist, offer incentives at different tiers. If you have a project that is well organized, it’s a GREAT platform to use.”

As of this writing, Matt and his band have 78 backers who have pledged a total of $6826. They have 29 days to go to meet their $10,000 by December 1, which will launch them on their way. Good Luck, Rebel Tumbao!!

If you’d like to support Rebel Tubmao’s recording project, visit their Kickstarter page for how to contribute, and see all the great benefits you’ll get in return for your support!

So how does a nice boy from the back woods of New Hampshire become an Afro/Caribbean groovemaster?

Growing up in the back woods of New Hampshire injected Matt with a deep spiritual connection communicated by the simplicity, beauty and truth of nature. As a child he had the opportunity to visit extended family in Boston and with that cultural exposure, he fell in love with the musical styles of the African diaspora: Jazz, Blues, Reggae & Afro-Latin Music. Later as a young man with a penchant for seeking the deeper understanding of life, he became extremely interested in the spiritual-socio-political-economic conditions of human kind, always wondering why we couldn’t do better. This, combined with his intense creative drive, provides the bedrock for nearly all of Matt’s artistic output as a talented keyboardist, composer, arranger and educator.

Back just before the turn of the century, Matt completed a masters degree in Jazz studies at the New England Conservatory of Music and then began his professional career playing keyboards in the various Boston music scenes. Quickly noticed for his groove and ability to get funky as well as his arrangement chops, Matt soon headed out on worldwide tours, most notably with the great blues guitarist Ronnie Earl. After making his mark on that scene, the maestro of New Orleans soul, singer Johnny Adams came knocking and Matt was again out on the road. The double barreled Blues and Soul Ph.D he got from those two on the bandstand and on the road (as well as the steady bread), allowed Jenson to settle back in Boston and flush out some ideas he’d been having regarding his love of Caribbean music, especially his simmering love for Bob Marley and the extensive repertoire and styles of the iconic Latin pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri. The universe came with an answer to Matt’s musical loves and almost simultaneously he had the opportunity to study piano with Mr. Palmieri and to dive deeply into the music of Bob Marley. Regarding the latter, Matt joined the piano faculty at the Berklee College of Music and created a smash hit performance studies class entitled “The Music and Life of Bob Marley.” Each semester he directs a select ensemble of talented young musicians and teaches them about the socio-policital circumstances around Bob’s life. This class has given Matt many opportunities to plumb the depths of Marley’s life and music, including numerous trips to Jamaica where he has connected with many who were in Marley’s inner circle. Most notably Matt has performed with Judy Mowatt and worked with Rita Marley taking part in the “Africa Unite” event in Ghana, West Africa in 2007.

Matt is a multi/culti/genre musician with an unbridled passion and drive to positively transform humanity for the better, just as he himself has been transformed by the music, humanity and socio-political message of his own mentors. He wishes to do the same for others through his own music and pass the message on, not just to fellow musicians but, to the people. His arrangements and original compositions (including some very powerful lyrics) for Rebel Tumbao mark just one launching point for his artistic contribution to the long line of musical rebels who have helped to break barriers and spearhead essential resistance to destructive mind sets, policies and institutions.

Introducing Rebel Tumbao:

Rebel Tumbao is the merging of the earth shattering rhythms of Afro-Cuban soul and the conscious-raising mission of Reggae. At the center of this creative endeavor is its brain-soul-child, pianist/arranger Matt Jenson and José Claussell, world-renowned timbalero with Maestro Eddie Palmieri for the past 18 years. José and Matt are two inspired musicians who have naturally come together because of a calling to play deep, soul nourishing music and a genuine concern for the well being of the planet and the people who live on it. This supercharged music is much more than just music because it carries the power to raise consciousness and transform lives.

This 10 piece group presents deep Latin-soul arrangements of Bob Marley’s music and Matt Jenson’s consciousness raising compositions, leading the way towards the global paradigm shift so desperately needed today. The sound of the group is squarely based in the sonic depths of the 1960-70’s soul, reggae and Afro-Cuban eruption yet arrives in the early 21st century creatively merging these styles with a depth of understanding and subtle use of electronic textures.

Based in New York City and Boston, it is a multi-cultural group consisting of the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm section of congas, timbales and bongo/hand percussion, then add two trombones, 2 back up singers (with vocal work in both English and Spanish), piano and bass. The lead vocal chair is occupied by the inspired powerhouse vocalist, Toussaint Yeshua (Soulive, Wyclef Jean, Damien Marley), son of a Baptist preacher and devoted gospel, soul and reggae singer. He delivers THE MESSAGE like no other.

Says Jenson, “It’s taking to heart Marley’s intention to fight down ignorance, greed and fear, to speak the truth and to free the people with music! It’s bringing forward the transcendent Afro-Caribbean message born out of our African ancestry and the subsequent struggle to live in peace and unity. Rebel Tumbao is a groove and feeling that emanates from the core of Mother Earth, the earth that we now so desperately need to take care of, and then shoots upward bypassing the foibles of mankind delivering us to the joyous heights of what ultimately we are all working towards; TRUE FREEDOM, enlightenment.”

Go Deeper:

to learn more about Matt and his music, visit

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