Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez introduced firebrand singer Kiko Villamizar as an artist dedicated to the cause of keeping families together. Although his eclectic, psychedelic tropical dance music addresses other pressing issues, he didn’t waste any time confirming that particular one. The burly, bushy-bearded Colombian-American singer and his slinky five-piece band opened their debut show here this past evening with wih Hasta Que Se Fue, its rumbling chalupa beat underpinning an allusivey harrowing lyric about immigrant families being ripped apart in US concentration camps.
Villamizar blends ancient Afro-Colombian coastal gaita flute music with undulating chicha guitar music along with other styles he grew up with after his family moved from Florida to Colombia. “You don’t have to more your hands like “We Are the World,” but c’mon up here!” he told the crowd, who had been pretty sleepy on this rainy night so far. And suddenly everybody was up on their feet for as the guitarist played echoey, ominous spaghetti western licks over an irresistible cumbia groove. But this was a party for the right to fight: Villamizar’s big anthem addressed the lethal consequences of oil pipelines, which lave contaminated large parts of the world south of the equator.
Villmamizar is also an impresario: he books the annual Wepa cumbia festival in Austin, his home base these days. But it isn’t limited to cumbia, as he reminded with the scampering, skanking El Arbolito, a tribute both to his roots and our endangered forests, a long gaita solo floaitng over the rumbing beat from the bass, drums and traditional tambor alegre.
He dedicated the souful, trickily rhythmic minor-key ballad after that to “the most important person in the universe: her name is Natalie – where are you?” he wanted to know, then imperceptibly shifted the beat into cumbia and then reggae. Villamizar’s sardonic sense of humor is relentless: he explained that an as-yet-unreleased, punchy, syncopated cumbia addressing the South American refugee crisis and the xenophobic Trump response was about “family values.”
From there the band hit a punchy, swinging quasi-ska beat it was like witnesing Peruvian chicha legends Juaneco y Su Combo, but with an otherworldly, swirly edge fueled by the gaita. Villamizar returned to catchy cautionary tales with Aguas Frias, a swaying eco-disaster parable, then blended Santana-esque psychedelic with hard funk.
After blending what sounded like a traditional call-and-response cumbia with a classic 70s American disco shuffle and a spacerock guitar solo, Villaizar got the crowd singing along with a couple of centuries-old Colombian trance-dance chants. By now, everybody except the old people and bloggers were up their feet.
“The word ‘ceremony’ doesn’t exist in most of those languages down there, it’s just the way you’re supposed to live your life,” Villamizar explained, then invited up members of the NYC Gaita Club to validate that with another ecstatic processional tune. His Austin buddy Victor Cruz joined them for a thunderous invocation of the spirits and then a communal circle dance by Colombian bullerengue legend Emilsen Pacheco .
The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is on Sept 19 at 7:30 PM with Korean janggu drummer Kim So Ra and her thunderous percussion troupe. Get there early if you want a seat.