Songs You Left Behind: An Evening of Cultural Pride

On February 21, 2018 at the Kimmel Center, several Latino musicians and bands entertained a wall to wall enthusiastic audience. The concert was free and the fourth annual one of an initiative between the Kimmel Center and Javier Suarez, the Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  “Songs You Left Behind” was held in the SEI Innovation Studio, which is located in the basement of the Kimmel Center. The goal of the event is to “bring the music of the Americas to new audiences.” This was definitely successful on Wednesday evening, since the sold out audience was comprised of people familiar with the music (of their homelands or ancestors) and many people who were curious but who did not know the songs or genres.

Javier Suarez and a representative from the Kimmel Center, acted as emcees. The setup was similar to a cabaret with a song or a few from each vocalist or band and then stories, jokes or interaction with the audience about music and related topics. The musicians represented Colombia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. Since all but one were individuals or small bands, they were well served by the venue. The last group to perform, Banda Retoño, a Sinaloan (Northern Mexico) ensemble from New Jersey, really needed a much larger space. They have 15-16 musicians who play a variety of instruments, including clarinet, tuba, trombones, trumpets and percussion. Their numbers were superbly performed, but it was much too loud for the space.

The concert began with solo vocalist, William Eduardo, representing Costa Rica.  He sang “América, América” to a recorded accompaniment. He came back later in the evening with another ballad, “Jamás” (by Camilo Sesto from Spain) in which he encouraged the audience to sing along, and we did! I had great fun listening to him and enjoyed his “in your face” style, which is typical of Latin American singers of pop and ballads. A nod to the music of the mid-twentieth century, it was an interesting contrast to some of the dance music performed in the evening. Here is a youtube recording of  “América, América” by Spanish singer Nino Bravo:

In addition to Banda Retoño, Marla Jimenez also sang a Mexican song, “Mi querido viejo” made famous by Vicente Fernandez.  Ms. Jimenez was accompanied by Berto and Giovanni on guitars and she explained that the song was sung to her often by her father. She became emotional sharing this since her father had passed away and she was inspired to sing this song in his memory. From Colombia, Miguel Reynoso and De Tierra Caliente (USA/Colombia) played a few songs, including “Como un sueño” written by percussionist, “Papa Buda,” and a cover of “Carito” by Carlos Vives.  Although “De Tierra Caliente” sings in Spanish, they definitely have a United States sound, more like funk than salsa in “El sonido”, which they also performed in “Songs You Left Behind.”

A highlight of the evening was Magdaliz Roura and Crisol, who I have heard in different venues over the years. I was impressed with the virtuosity of the flutist and drummer, and Magdaliz’ evocative singing, while she expertly played the guitar. The group dedicated their three songs, two of them from Puerto Rico, to the Puerto Rican people.  “En mi viejo San Juan” by Noel Estrada (1942) was a perfect rendition that began with a flute solo. Their second song was “Bucha y pluma na ma” by Rafael Hernandez (1958), which is one of my favorites. This song was made famous by Puerto Rican vocalist, Myrta Silva, who sang with Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera before Celia Cruz. Magdaliz and Crisol played with gusto and feeling, clearly communicating the hilarity of this song.

They ended their set with an impromptu version of  the Colombian cumbia “La pollera colorá.”

A few audience members got up and danced throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was festive. With only several groups a wide variety of music was performed. This is definitely an event that the Kimmel Center should keep doing each year. Perhaps in a bigger venue for the large ensembles, and a piano?

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A Homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga: A New CD by Brazilian pianist, Hercules Gomes

I’ve spent the last several years intrigued by the life and music of Brazilian composer, Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. She was born in the mid-19th century and was a pianist and conductor as well. I’ve written about her (on this blog even), sung her songs and presented about her life and music. Today, I heard for the first time about Hercules Gomes, a pianist from São Paulo, who is raising funds to create a new recording of pieces in homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga. It is called “No Tempo da Chiquinha.” He’s arranged some of her pieces, adding some of his own style and modernizing her original scores with influences over the last century.  This is his arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s most famous works, Corta jaca:

This is one of my favorites. It is bouncy and danceable. Hercules says that this was his first arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s works, in 2014, for the site: www.chiquinhagonzaga.com.  One can contribute to the funding of this recording by going to the secure crowdfunding site: https://www.catarse.me/notempodachiquinha, and also receive different gifts for a contribution.

Another video that Hercules has put out is of Joaquim Callado’s Querida por todos. Callado was a flutist and instructor, and a mentor to Chiquinha. He is considered the “father of choro.” Although, this piece was not written by Chiquinha, it was written in homage to her, and fits right in with theme of the recording. Playing flute is Rodrigo Y Castro.

Rodrigo and Hercules, who often play together, discuss what Callado meant for flute playing in Brasil. For more information about Hercules, check his website:  http://herculesgomes.com/en/bio/  and his youtube channel for videos: Hercules Gomes

 

 

 

Tango Fire: Then and Now

The piano, violin, bandoneon and bass players are the backdrop for this dark, sultry tango café ambiance. I imagine myself in early twentieth century Buenos Aires, in a dive in a back alley at about midnight. Men finely dressed in suits and ladies in black and white period dress and hairstyles recreate the lively interaction on Wednesday January 31, 2018 at the Merriam Theater (Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts) in Philadelphia, PA, in the United States. A packed theater, full of dance, music or Latin American fans, were taken away to that back street in Buenos Aires for two hours in German Cornejo’s Tango Fire. 

The initial dance that opened Tango Fire is a throwback to the past. The couples dance the same steps in sync and the tango singer, Jesús Hidalgo, sings in Spanish with a handheld microphone. Various vignettes take place in the first half of the show, including a serenade with a guitar to a lady on the bench.

Although this half is meant to depict the early origins of Argentine tango–with music by the great masters, Piazzolla, Pugliese and Gardel, it is plainly evident that these dancers on stage are much more skilled and virtuostic than the European immigrants and Argentine locals who danced the tango socially over a century ago. The dancers display lots of clean and fancy footwork, characteristic of tango, but also some low lifts and jumps, pirouettes, leg extensions and high kicks and backbends, which attest to the ballet and acrobatic training of these formidable dancers. The company includes: German Cornejo (choreographer), Gisela Galeassi, Sebastian Alvarez & Gloria Saudelli, Marcos Esteban Roberts & Louise Junqueira Malucelli, Ezequiel Lopez & Camila Alegre, and Julio Jose Seffino & Carla Dominguez.

The second half of Tango Fire goes beyond tango’s humble origins and showcases some dances and movements that effectively and excitingly  push the boundaries of the genre, without losing touch with it. This is no small feat for the choreographer, German Cornejo, since tango has been so codified in the ballroom, dance school and even in the social tango context. The music performed by Quarteto Fuego (Clemente Carrascal–bandoneon, Gemma Scalia–violin, Matias Feigin–piano and Facundo Benavides–contrabass)  in the second half is more experimental and contemporary with some dissonance, but still accessible. In this act, the women dancers let their hair down (literally!) and the choreography is more varied. The interactions between the dancers seem more personal, more intense and smoldering. There are many lifts, spins, and level changes—from poses kneeling on the floor, to throwing a dancer in the air. There are also group dances that connect women and men, men and men and women and women, in ways that go beyond the traditional male/female partners in social or ballroom tango.

Julio _ Carla 3 copy

Jose and Carla

The costumes throughout the show are spectacular. They are beautiful to look at, colorful, with sparkles and different styles and periods.  In addition, they are appropriately comfortable for strenuous dance movements. In the second half there is more individuality for each couple’s choreography and costumes and each one makes its mark. German and his partner Gisela, exhibited complete concentration and synchroneity in their numbers and a distinct sharp or percussive gesture at times, which created contrast with tango’s typically smooth body phrasing–this enriched the overall effect of their choreography and execution.

Here is a video of German and Gisela from a few years ago:

The Quarteto Nuevo played with gusto for the entire performance. The only break was intermission. The pianist, Matias Feigin, performed a solo that was robustly applauded by the audience in the second act. The ensemble transitioned seamlessly from 20th century tango to more contemporary pieces, with a jazz influence. The concert ended with an encore by each couple after a rousing standing ovation. The Tango Fire company continues this tour around the United States, and it is a must see for ballroom dance and tango aficionados.

German Cornejo & Gisela Galeassi 3 copy

For more information and the schedule for upcoming concerts, please visit their website at: Tango Fire or the Facebook page. Next stop is Queens, NY this weekend!