Celebrating This City’s Multicultural Richness and Getting Lost in Feral Colombian Sounds at Lincoln Center
Over the past year, there’s been plenty of pretty feral South American music at Lincoln Center. In their debut there last night, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto continued that tradition as much as their own, which goes back to the 1950s when they were one of the very first to take their ecstatic native trance-dance music beyond their Colombian coastal stomping ground. Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who booked the night, said with relish that the band reflect the “Diversity and beauty of our international city.” Xenophobia has no place here – and the sold-out crowd loudly agreed.
The seven-piece band – five percussionists delivering both boom and clatter on instruments of various sizes, plus two playing the gaita, the otherworldly, hair-raising, overtone-generating reed flute – opened with a vampy party anthem. From there they didn’t waste time getting relevant with a defiant salute to freedom fighters, the gaitas keening and veering in and out of the western scale. The call-and-response of the hypnotically shuffling dance number after that underscored the African origins of this music, but if they’d switched out those wild, rustic gaitas for European accordions, they would have been playing vallenato. These roots run deep.
From there the band took the same kind of chant and made slinky cumbia out of it, peaking ot with thundering bass drum. But as much as the percussion was front and center, it was always the quaver of the gaitas that kept the intensity at razor’s edge, always pushing the sound beyond a simple, undulatingly hypnotic groove.
These guys have more experience working a dancefloor than pretty much any other band on the planet. So it was no surprise to see the lightning of the gaitas and the thunder of the drums rise as the show went on, in a defiant celebration of Colombian pride. They brought up their newest member, Yeison Landero – whose grandfather played in the group in the 1960s – to play accordion, creating a surreal mashup of ancient Africa and 1960s Caribbean beachfront bar sounds.
From a musical point of view, it was awfully cool to hear how the accordion was basically playing gaita voicings, but in straight-up minor-key. As the dancers swayed and clapped along, it became harder and harder to focus on the details and resist the urge to just let the body take over from the brain. Which is part of the deal with this band: let the cumbia take over and your mind will follow.
The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is on July 26 at 7:30 PM with Argentine dancehall rapper Alika. Get there early if you’re going.