Frecuencia Cosmica: A Magical Musical Mystery Tour
I was treated to a lesson in the history of music this weekend. I have taken courses in music history before including a great course in the History of Rock and Roll – officially titled Music 36 – at Santa Monica City College. But the course I took Sunday night was not a semester or even a quarter; it was actually a two-hour tour, a Magical Musical Mystery Tour called Frecuencia Cosmica
Frecuencia Cosmica was like nothing I have experienced in the past. It was a theatrical and musical portrayal of the history of Mexican music from the mists of time of the Mayan civilization to today’s progressive electronic jazz. The course did not use books or lectures or a syllabus; rather it was taught with dance, and lighting and special effects, and of course, music.
Frecuencia Cosmica a was produced at the Lakeside Little Theatre, the oldest and largest English language theatre in Mexico, by the creative team at La Cochera Cultural, itself a unique institution – but more on them later.
The theme of Frecuencia Cosmica was not only the progression of music throughout Mexico’s tortured history, but how, despite the revolutions and social upheavals and foreign influences and attempts by the Spaniards and the Church to destroy them, the myths and legends and ancient gods and mysteries of Mexico have influenced its music every step of the way, and still do today.
The teaching tools of Frecuencia Cosmica were indigenous and modern instruments, dance, costume, and theater. The instruments included wood and clay drums, a stone xylophone, a primitive flute, a stand up double bass, a thick bamboo stalk, an electrified bass, a cajon, a drum kit, a conch shell, and an electric piano. Dances ranged from Maya spirt dances, to flamenco, to modern interpretive dance. Costumes include gigantic feathered headdresses, modern dance tights, flamenco gowns and shoes and shawls. Special effect ranged from smoke and mist, to stars and galaxies and even the words of poets projected behind the artists.
Three threads ran through the 2-hour performance: a glowing hourglass, mystery, and The Owl – a character made up of hundreds of feathers shaped over the brightly painted body of the dancer. The Owl crept down the aisle of the theatre, examining the spectators with jerky bird like movements while starring from its huge eyes. He was accompanied by a mysterious figure encased in a black robe playing a wailing, haunting, blues saxophone – one of many back-shrouded mystery figures on stage.
The glowing hour glass was started at the beginning of the first act, and turned as we moved into each new musical epoch.
The music ranged from the jungle sounds of southern Mexico centuries before the Conquest, to Bach on piano, to Mexican Flamenco dance, to post-rock electronic jazz laced with distorted notes.
Frecuencia Cosmica was produced by a unique creative organization known as La Cochera Cultural. Once an auto garage, La Cochera was remodeled by a couple of Canadian Expat architects who, with lots of skill and money, added a multi-story creative annex with a screening room, editing bays, scene shop, creative spaces, and apartments for visiting artists. Most importantly, they recruited a group of Mexican creative geniuses in art, music, video, and performance who have used the tools given them to create an endless stream of magic.
La Cochera Cultural not only is a creative center, but it is a keeper of the magic of the Maya, the Toltecs, the Aztecs, of the people of Mexico who somehow have moved into the modern world, and kept the spirit of their ancestors. La Cochera Cultural gives us this magic in the form of music, dance, art, costume, poetry, and events.
These came together on Sunday night in a performance chronicled in the program by the poem:
The jaguar tells our stories of the life and of or existence.
Histories of our Mayan grandparents, Histories of our jungles.
In her spots, the story of your journey is written. (Xiu Ocelot)
Xiu Ocelot (Seriego Alejandro Gomez Hernández) was the principal dancer Sunday night, along with Leonor Zertuche Coindreau. Using his Jaguar skin costume and sounds and movements he brought the magic of the Jaguar to the stage in a production envisioned and assembled in only 30 days by Music Curator and world class sax player Eleazar “Chuco” Soto. Other members of the creative team from La Cochera Cultural include Program Director and percussionist and dancer Emilia Gálvez; bass and double bass player, jazz and flamenco composer Gilberto Rios; classical and jazz pianist Sofia Ramíerz; and drummer, percussionist and composer Miguel Soto.
I understand that Frecuencia Cosmica was only one trip through the centuries of Mexican music; other trips could include Ranchera, Mariachi, Norteña, Banda, Corrido, Son Jarocho, Huapango, Cumbia, Bolero, Jarana, Mexican pop and rock and Tejano, among others. The Owl could be joined by the slaves who brought Afro rhythms to Mexico, not mention the European military music that influenced Banda, and the backbone contribution of the Spanish, the guitar.
But the theme of the musical tour Sunday night was not historical precision, it was magic and mystery, and how magic and mystery have always been with us in music and, hopefully, always will be.
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