Martín Perna plays baritone saxophone and other woodwinds. He conceived of the group Antibalas in 1997 and with help from bandmates from the Soul Providers (soon to become Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings) he formed the band in 1998.
Perna began began his informal study of music as a child in late 1970s Philadelphia tuning into radio stations like Power 99, Jazz 90.1, as well as WKDU and WPRB and his parents’ respective LP collections which included Carlos Santana, Baba Olatunji, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Billy Cobham, the Beatles, Heatwave, Ronnie Laws, Michael Jackson and Talking Heads. During high school, he began listening to–and later digging for–samples of funk and jazz in late 80s and early 90s music. Briefly introduced to the saxophone while in middle school, he returned to the instrument at age 19 after learning the melody to Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “TROY“.
He began making music inadvertently in New York in 1994 after making friends of some teenage jazz musicians who brought their instruments to his house to jam. Through attending shows in the downtown Greenwich Village / East Village music scene of the early 1990s he linked up at that time with music technology student / multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Roth. The two shared several apartments over the next six years, and Martín absorbed as much as he could from him. He soon found himself a part of Roth’s nascent Desco Records stable of musicians and a founding member of the Soul Providers and later Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Motivated in part by his participation on the Desco’s Afrobeat-inspired Daktaris “Soul Explosion” album, he founded Antibalas in 1998.
In 2001, he began studying shekere and percussion with Madeleine Yayodele Nelson of Women of the Calabash, and in 2006, flute with Felipe Mustelier at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana, Cuba. His voice on the baritone saxophone is inspired and informed by soul, jazz, salsa and African funk saxophonists like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ronnie Cuber, Mario Rivera, Tommy McCook, Fela Kuti, Pharoah Sanders, Orlando Julius, Manu Dibango, Igo Chico, Gato Barbieri, Cedric Brooks, and Lekan Animashaun.
Outside of Antibalas, he maintains the musical group Ocote Soul Sounds, a collaboration with Austin-based Adrian Quesada of Grammy-nominated Grupo Fantasma and other musicians spanning from Austin, to LA, to New York to Cali, Colombia and São Paulo, Brazil. As a duo, they created their first album “El Niño y El Sol” in Texas in a week after a chance meeting in Texas in 2004. The album was re-released in 2006 on the ESL Music label followed by “The Alchemist Manifesto” (2008), “Coconut Rock” (2009), and “Taurus” (2011), produced by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation.
Since 2002 Perna has collaborated with the group TV on the Radio live and in the studio, recording on Satellite, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, Return to Cookie Mountain, and Dear Science. He has also performed and/or recorded with an array of artists including Mark Ronson, Burning Spear, David Byrne, St. Vincent, Public Enemy, the Roots, Baaba Maal, Elvis Costello, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Sinead O’Connor, Scarlett Johansson, Angelique Kidjo, Jovanotti, Santigold and numerous others. (Discography)
In 2014 he served as musical director for a Tribute to Paul Simon at Carnegie Hall, featuring Antibalas as the house band performing on 16 of the 22 songs over the course of the evening. In 2015 he served as musical director again for the Music of David Byrne and Talking Heads at Carnegie Hall. In October, 2015, he and the Antibalas horns were part of house band for “Lean On Me: A Tribute to Bill Withers,” also at Carnegie Hall.
Off-stage he has worked on advocacy and policy issues related to immigration reform, music and the arts with the Future of Music Coalition in Washington, DC. He has performed at benefits for New Orleans musicians (2009, 2012), spoke at the 2009 FMC music policy summit in Washington, DC, and has made visits to Capitol Hill to speak with US senators and representatives about open internet, media consolidation, performance rights royalties, and aid to creative workers in New Orleans.
Listen: 1/2013 Interview w/ Martín Perna & Jordan McLean on “Bullseye”