Wednesday night at Drom, power trio Eljuri had been hinting for awhile that they were going to take the music straight into roots reggae. So when frontwoman/guitarist Cecilia Villar Eljuri finally led the band into a couple of bars of Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, and from there into Bob Marley’s Exodus, it was an impactful payoff. The emphasis wasn’t on getting out, but a ‘movement of jah people,” which dovetailed with Eljuri’s own fearlessly relevant, sometimes incendiary lyricism. That defiant, populist focus made the band an apt choice to top the bill at this benefit concert for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Singing mostly in Spanish in a clear, bright voice, Eljuri’s persistent message was one of resistance and solidarity, through a mix of songs taken mostly from her most recent album La Lucha (The Struggle). Last year this blog called her “this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español,” and she validated that description. The band opened with the album’s title track, setting the stage for the rest of their hour onstage, Eljuri alternating between jangly, funk-tinged lines and aching, screaming, resonant Pink Floyd-style leads. She hit her twelve-string pedal for a glittering, chimey take of Indiferencia, her drummer – fresh off the plane from Venezuela and already making a mark with his unpredictable, counterintuitive fills – adding cumbia-style flair on the turnaounds.
They built brooding, dramatic intensity with the bolero-tinged anthem El Viento and later took the sound further upward to epic art-rock grandeur with a long, searing take of the revolutionary thirst anthem Sed. Then the band took a turn toward cheery new wave with Right Now. The bassist switched between a terse, low-key pulse and serpentine climbs up the scale, especially when the groove moved further toward the Caribbean. One of the best songs of the night was a darkly stately, slowly crescendoing anthem written by Eljuri’s mom.
Ani Cordero played an elegantly impassioned opening set solo on nylon-string guitar, drawing mostly from her latest, fearlessly political album Querido Mundo. Calmly and resolutely, she reminded that crowd that in times like these, we shouldn’t get too escapist: if there was ever a moment to be a presence protesting the daily lunacy wafting from the Oval Office, that time is now. She got the crowd singing along to the insistently bouncy anti-police brutality anthem Me Tumba, then ran through Victor Jara’s bittersweet protest song Deja la Vida Volar, from her 2014 album of classic political songs, Recordar. She closed with a jaunty take of the old Puerto Rican plena hit Ay Choferito.
A lawyer from the NYCLU explained between sets that one new constituency they’ve been helping since the Swamp Cabinet took office is latino immigrants on Long Island, whose children are being detained by police under the pretext of investigating gang involvement. When the cops don’t find any reason to hold the kids any longer, they turn them over to the INS.
Drom continues to be Manhattan’s home to interesting sounds from around the globe: the acts we’ll be seeing at Lincoln Center in the coming years typically make their US debut here. One auspicious upcoming show here is on Sept 30 at 8 with wild accordion-driven Chilean psychedelic band Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna making their US debut. $15 adv tix are highly recommended.