CUBAN MUSIC AND DANCERS IN THE AISLES
Review of concert by SERGIO DE JESUS, Teatro de Tias,
´five bums at the bar´ interview after the concert.
Since emigrating to Lanzarote four years ago we have marvelled at the art works and humanity of the late Cesar Manrique. We have fallen in love, too, with flamenco and the fado music from Portugal, and smiled at Spanish folk lore music with its trembling timples and the swirling skirts and stately courtship of traditional dance. Jazz concerts, poetry readings and the incredible Nordic soundscapes have all simply blown us away.
Through the what´s on guide on the Lanzarote Information web site and the contacts I have established through The Department Of Arts And Culture at the Cabildo I feel pretty confident I am aware of most arts and cultural events taking place. The artists I then preview, interview or review here on my own blog, subsequently then help keep me informed of tour dates, gigs and special concerts.
However the first thing I knew of one particular recent event was a poster advertising a concert at Teatro De Tias for later that evening, that sounded too good to miss. At nine pm that same evening, Cuban singer writer Sergio De Jesus would be giving a live preview of his forthcoming album, Mientras Tanto.
´Grab your coat, woman,´ I shouted to Dee, ´we´re going out !´ She was busy in the kitchen preparing a salad cream butty for my tea but, heck, I´d just have to let that go.
We raced out to the car as fast as our old legs would carry us, and drove twenty miles up to Tias, leaving the sun setting behind us. We somehow arrived at the theatre even before they managed to get the doors open, and although we could faintly hear a sound-check being held inside, there was not a soul around to see.
So we headed over to the Arrayate Un Millo Restaurant, which we have mentioned before on these pages, and in articles for Lanzarote Information, for its excellent food and friendly service. Tonight we would only have time for a quick drink until the theatre opened. Halfway through my pint, though, I glanced up at the list of Tapas specials on the chalk-board, and noticed the promise of a chickpea stew for only three euros and fifty cents; chickpea and stew and a price of less than a ´fiver´: what´s not to like? It was lovely and I made a note to self to keep my eyes open for that in future.
Nevertheless, it was time to return to the ticket office, where we soon spotted people we know among the early arrivals. Dee´s yoga instructor, Mercedes, was there and Marianne who runs choirs over here, and a white haired German guy, who seems to be at all the events we go to, and others we recognised but don´t yet know.
We had seen this musician play live on a number of previous occasions and, indeed, we already own some of his recordings. The admission price was only 12 euros and by the time the musicians took to the stage there was gathered a healthy and enthusiastic audience that included some obvious devotees of this genre. Sergio stepped to the front, centre stage, and behind him was a keyboard, a percussion set, a collection of bongo drums and an upright bass.
Musicians followed Sergio and stepped to their instruments and the lights dimmed. Throughout the entire concert, the keyboards player, as he moved from tinkling piano riffs to massive organ chords, evoked memories of Garth Hudson of The Band, once labelled ´the most brilliant organist in rock.´ The upright bass player, (and this instrument was a modernistic, slim piece that was so thin and dainty it looked almost like the kind of stringed instrument played by nomadic African tribesmen) would create a fantastic sound, but so versatile was this musician that he alternated easily from this upright bass to a more recognisable bass guitar. There were two percussionists; one behind the kind of high hat drum kit we associate with rock bands and the other with upright drums, bongos, shakers and tambourines.
Sergio fronted them with an acoustic guitar which he occasionally exchanged for an amplified electric version.
As the first note of the evening was struck, however, I was nevertheless wondering how this somewhat unconventional line up might create sinewy Cuban rhythms, but I need have had no concerns.
The band performed, in both rhythm and syncopation, with guest contributions from fantastic brass players and trumpeters who wandered on and off stage in a carefree manner, dropping little bombs of music notes that were still exploding even as they stepped back behind the curtain.
Sergio´s voice is quite light and airy but it sat comfortably above the orchestrations of the group. The songs were contemporary and the Cuban sound was clear to hear, but there was something else, too.
One beautifully played opening riff on the acoustic guitar was redolent of Sunday In Memphis, recorded a few years ago by Big House, one of the last great country music groups.
Then there was the guest female vocalist Sergio introduced, who took to the stage from her seat in the audience!!
She accompanied him on a Spanish language song, singing ´below´ his voice in subtle harmony. Sergio then played a lovely acoustic work as she sang, in English, Farewell River. I wasn´t familiar with the song but it sounded perfectly radio-friendly.
On other pieces the guy with the bongos shook and rattled and rolled all manner of hand held instruments, one of which looked like a glorified shillelagh. The swell and fall of the keyboards added real light and shade and the player on the drum set switched rhythms effortlessly, always keeping perfect time. The trumpeters seemed almost to play mariachi music at some points and the bass player, who seemed almost transported in his delight of playing, knitted it all together. So infectious were these rhythms that very soon there were a dozen ladies spontaneously dancing in the aisles, all sway and shimmy and shuffle.
The playlist included the tracks on the new album and I made a note to look for copies on sale in the foyer as we left. Sadly this was not to be the case, as the album is first available only via Spotify.
Sergio´s back-catalogue recordings were available, though, so I bought one I didn´t already have, and suddenly the man appeared at my side to sign it ! I took the opportunity to ask about the country music references I felt I had heard in the music, and Sergio reminded me just how close Cuba is to America and told me he grew up listening to American Rock And Roll and Country music on his radio.
If Sergio was willing, there might be a quick chance here to conduct one of our ´five bums at the bar´ interview and see what more we could learn about this excellent artist
´WHO do you think you are?´ I asked, smiling to temper any implied rudeness.
´I am Sergio De Jesus Padron, who is a singer-songwriter,´ he replied. ´I am a member of Artemisa, The National School Of Art Instructors and it all started, I guess, perhaps in 1993.´
´I won first place in a prestigious Composition Festival, In Province Havana, in memoriam of Dolphin Fleitas. Later in 1999, my songs, Because December and Take Me were finalists in the OTI Festival. All that set me off on journeys that have taken me on performing tours of Spain, in places like Marbella, and the Lebanon, parts of Argentina including Beunos Aires, as well as Greece and Italy.´
WHAT is it about Cuban music that makes it so acceptable to such culturally different places, I wonder.
´Cuban Music, El Son, was born in the East of the Island, derived from the Changui, which in turn is a fusion of African and Spanish Music,´ Sergio replied. ´It is a syncopated and rhythmic rhythm that invites you to move.´
I asked Sergio WHEN Cuban music first made itself known to the rest of the world.
´It began gradually with the emigration of great Cuban musicians to the United States and to Mexico and Latin America, to the Caribbean and finally to Europe,´ he considered. ´That has been the way in which our world and our music has become known to the rest of the world.´
There is definitely a conversation I would like to have with Sergio about Ry Cooder and The Buena Vista Social Club, who first made me aware of Cuban music, but that can wait until we meet again.
In the meantime, the fourth bum at the bar, who calls himself Mr. Where, interrupted and asked Sergio WHERE his music takes him, mentally and / or physically. Having already identified various points on the atlas at which he has given performances, Sergio gave a more elliptical response this time.
´My music is a mix of the Cuban Son that was influenced by my Father, and the Spanish Music of my Mother, as well as my own discoveries in fields such as the pop and jazz of the United States, and reggae and The New Cuban Trova, ´ he tells us.
Our final question is WHY does the kind of line-up of musicians we describe in the review so suit Cuban music and WHY is the fusion of music important to you?
´I believe that having an open mind towards other influences of World music is essential,´ states Sergio. ´It helps me in my training as a musician and singer-writer.´
So the conversation came to an end but I was left with no doubt Sergio will follow this road as far as it will take him, sharing his love of Cuban music of all kinds with everyone he meets along the way. In return he will reveal some of the intricacies of that music to other players and singers and writers and their fans.
We look forward to hearing more of Sergio´s albums and to attending more wonderful gigs like this one somewhere down the line. and to submitting revised reports to the Lanzarote Information web site and to complement the news, previews, interviews and reviews carried here on our across the arts blog pages as we continue to follow the the signals and signposts that point us down the sidetracks and detours that so often lead us to the gold at the rainbow´s end.
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