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?