There was no Music Sin Fronteras last week because I was planning on bringing you to the Eclectico Music Festival in Jocotepec, Mexico. I went last year and wrote about here, about how Eclectico was an exhilarating blend of the best of local rock and pop and Mexican music and national and even international stars, performing for 3000 people in the Jocotepec Plaza. I was really looking forward to this year’s edition.
It was not to be. The organizers junked the festival format and went for a Grammy-like local music awards show, interspersing local acts with poorly organized award presentations and speeches. They filled the plaza with chairs – no dancing and rocking out and passing tequila bottles and screaming and squealing. It didn’t work. This was not the Grammys and it completely fizzled. The talent was mediocre (there were complaints that the judging was unfair) and the award-music -award-music format was a turn off. It fizzled.
And it drizzled – literally. After a couple of bands got awarded and played, the skies opened and buckets rain drove the already spare audience into the trees, the media huddled under the covered part of the stage, and the bands retreated to the tents. By the time the rain stopped, my publisher and I took this as a sign to leave, and we did. Maybe it got better as it got later, but from the lineup we saw, I was not willing to risk another shower and several hours of listening with nothing to write about.
But the next night was magic. A local venue called La Cochera Cultural – a converted car repair garage with ample space, lights, sound and staging, hosted two renowned Flamenco dancers, and a Flamenco trio. No rain, no speeches, no problems. Just great talent.
The shows was what is called a “Tablao Flamenco” which literally means Flamenco in the place for Flamenco – in this case a platform stage designed to amplify the sound of dancing shoes.
Sunday night saw a full house in outdoor plaza at La Cochera Cultural – every chair was occupied and people stood along the back wall. The venue reverberated with the sounds of castanets, a cajon, guitar, and dancing boots on the tablao platform erected on an elevated stage.
On stage were Sofia Arce and Rodrigo Robles. The highly talented Robles has performed in Ajijic before so his name drew in fans. Sophia Arce is a top-level dancer from Mexico City who hypnotized the audience Sunday night with her castanets, sinewy body, and impossibly fast flashing feet.
Musicians for the evening were Emelia Gálvez , Santiago Maisterra, and Fernando Martinez, all familiar to Ajijic audiences. At the end of the program Emelia Gálvez, a talented Flamenco dancer herself, left her seat on the cajon and joined the two featured dancers for a finale as they all danced offstage.
If you love jazz or blues, you will love Flamenco music. While the origins of Flamenco and jazz and blues are totally different, there is some overlap in the use of certain scales. More importantly the vocals in Flamenco are as haunting and gut-wrenching as any blues. They are loaded with the kind of emotion that the best blues singers pour into lyrics. And while there are strict forms to Flamenco, especially in the clapping ad cajon rhythms, the musicians play off one another like a great jazz trio does
Not surprisingly, there are Flamenco-jazz bands and musicians who blend elements of both flamenco and jazz music styles in their work. This fusion genre combines the passion and rhythms of flamenco with the improvisational and harmonic elements of jazz. One such band, the late Chick Corea, is very familiar to Americans (and others). He collaborated with Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía on the album Zyryab, an iconic example of the fusion between jazz and Flamenco.
The music Sunday night was pure Flamenco, but Santiago Maisterra’s vocals were loaded with the kind of emotion you find in down and dirty blues. Also, in Flamenco, handclapping and foot stomping are part of the music, adding a jazz-like percussive element to the cajon. Take a look…you will love it. It sizzles.
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