New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: mariachi music

Globalfest 2018: The Best Ever?

Yeah, Globalfest this year was cold. But it’s winter. Judging from the number of midwestern and Canadian accents in the crowd last night, an awful lot of people at this year’s annual festival of sounds from around the world are on familiar terms with it. At this point in history we should be grateful that anything approximating winter still exists.

And it was reassuring to see such great throngs of people coming out on what might have been the coldest night of the year to see music from shithole countries. Neither of the two nations officially designated as shitholes by the Oval Office – El Salvador and Haiti – were represented among the dozen acts on the bill. But Iran has been on a White House shitlist for a long time, Cuba for far longer. And by today’s White House standards (if not tomorrow’s), the cities of New Orleans and Detroit can’t be far behind. So a lineup, which by European standards would have made for a good, solidly eclectic summer festival bill, was positively subversive here in the US in 2018.

Mohsen Namjoo set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, opening up the evening with his Persian rock band at the Liberty Theatre stage on the south side of 42nd Street. How did the Iranian setar lute player handle singing to an audience of non-Farsi speakers? Mostly by just vocalizing. “Understand it as sound,” he said with a sardonic wink to the crowd jammed at the front of the stage. Which is a step outside the box for a guy known for his incendiary lyrics.

He’s been called the Iranian Bob Dylan, although Tom Waits is a better comparison – and Namjoo rocks a lot harder than both of those guys put together. Showing off every octave of his formidable range, he prowled from gritty lows to overtone-enhanced highs, evoking a ney flute during one long interlude. His snarling band – lead guitar, bass and drums – made fanged Iranian art-rock out of Metallica, and took innumerable twists and turns through a dynamic mix of multi-part epics in 5/4, 7/4 and 11/4.

Namjoo, who has a withering sense of humor, cynically dismissed the American fixation with four-on-the-floor rhythms. His funniest moment of the night was when he played sarcastic bebop on his setar and scatted – after opening the song with a plaintive, haunting, spacious minor-key lute intro.

Later in the night there were similarly spectacular vocals from Georgia’s Iberi Choir, who are not only a choral ensemble but what could be termed an acoustic psychedelic folk band. Georgian harmonies are unlike music from anywhere else on the globe, with plenty of uneasy adjacencies but not the microtones of Middle Eastern or Balkan music. There was a brooding sensibility throughout much of the group’s set, and also a relentless, sometimes hypnotic intensity, alluding to but never hitting the kind of big minor-key crescendo you might expect from, say, Russian music.

Like Namjoo, the group members all seem to have impressive range, leaping far from monklike gothic lows within thirty seconds of the start of the set. The group’s instrumental chops were also as gripping as their vocals. Throughout a mix of dance numbers, Central Asian field hollers, laments and celebrations, various subsets of the ensemble would move to the front, accompanying themselves on a variety of lutes. In the most spectacular moment of the entire evening, the group leader played jaunty harmonies on two wood flutes at once and didn’t miss a note.

Across the street at Lucille’s, Brazilian rock singer Ava Rocha led her wickedly psychedelic four-piece band through a deliciously acidic, unpredictably shapeshifting set. South of the border, the 80s are still very much alive, but in a much darker way than they are here. American indie bands tend to ape the blithest, poppiest side of the Cure or New Order; down there, the sound tends to be much darker. Rocha’s mask finally came off three songs into her set. By then, the band had prowled through enigmatic early 80s Souxsie terrain, then a hypnotic series of interludes that were best appreciated as a contiguous whole rather than individual songs.

Tightly and methodically, the band negotiated sharp-fingernailed no wave, clenched-teeth Gang of Four skronk and insistently pulsing postrock interludes, the Telecaster player often hanging on the same tense, unresolved hook for what seemed minutes on end, at a couple of points switching to mini-synth for a series of woozy, warpy textures. The other Fender player handled the more aggressive, jagged lines over the rhythm section’s relentless drive. Rocha’s moody mezzo-soprano made a strong match with the songs’ often pained intensity, another case of many this evening where the mood of the music transcended any linguistic barrier.

That was most vividly the case in singer Eva Salina’s rapturous set of music from across the Balkans, in a rising and falling intimate duo set with her longtime accordionist Peter Stan. Where he’d animated a big ballroom full of dancers at Golden Fest a couple of nights before with his whirlwind arpeggios, cascades and looming low pulse, this time he fired off bright rivet-gun staccato riffs and similarly nimble spirals when he wasn’t lowlighting the sadder numbers.

Which would eventually go in all sorts of different directions. Eva Salina reminded the crowd that there’s a little bit of sadness – and happiness too – in pretty much everything, varying her delivery from delicate microtonal nuance, to lustrously sustained midrange, to lively, bounding passages. A handful of numbers – including a surreal tale of a drunk trying (or not trying) to pull his life together, and a bouncy celebration of a rotund little bride who’s eventually going to bear nine children – were taken from the catalog of legendary Romany crooner Saban Bajrmovic. Salina’s forthcoming album mines a completely different repertoire, that of the tragic but indomitable chanteuse Vida Pavlovic, most poignantly exemplified by a couple of ballads about abandonment – with and without children.

Finally, as midnight approached, it was time to move next door to B.B. King’s, the biggest room at this this year’s festival, for Mariachi Flor de Toloache. Where Eva Salina had been all about subtlety, New York’s only all-female mariachi band were all about fire and drama, breathtaking vocal acrobatics and audience participation. Bandleader Mireya Ramos played nimble basslines on her guitarron but saved her most spectacular chops for violin, in a sizzling solo during the night’s final cumbia. Her counterpart on tenor guitar also showed off a sensational top range during an unexpected and wildly successful detour into noir soul- somewhere Amy Winehouse is very jealous. With two trumpets, soaring violin and balmy flute, the group made their way through a defiant shout-out to Puerto Rico, a handful of rhythmically tricky, punchy dance numbers and a droll medley that quoted Led Zep along with other more snarky riffs.

Serendipitously, there was less of a need to triage this year than at past festivals. The only major disappointments were missing Miramar – who are playing Barbes tonight, Jan 15, at 9 – and also Indian carnatic hip-hop duo Grand Tapestry, who if they played at all, were done by half past midnight. And it would have been a lot of fun to see the whole set by slinky, shuffling New Orleans trio Delgres, who with slide guitar, sousaphone and drums played a kinetically hypnotic mashup of Mozambiquean duskcore over New Orleans-tinged rhythms. It was akin to watching Tinariwen playing R.L. Burnside tunes – with a fat low end that frequently bubbled over with distortion.

And what a difference a venue makes. What a pleasant change to see the calm, comfortable faces of the staff at B.B. King’s instead of the paranoid stares of the goons at Webster Hall, a place where just getting inside felt like trying to break into Riker’s Island. Even as transcendent as many of the past fifteen years’ worth of Globalfest lineups could be, being treated like a criminal from the git-go always leaves a bad taste.

But revenge is sweet. At Globalfest 2013, a daily New York music blog proprietor managed to sneak two bottles of wine through Webster Hall’s security gauntlet. Not to drink there – to take home afterward, and carry out through that same exit door, a raised middle finger to every little Hitler in the house.

A Ferocious Brooklyn Celebration of Diverse Mexican Sounds

Thursday night at Prospect Park Bandshell, Lila Downs and her lavish twelve-piece band put on a show that was as American as America gets these days. Early in the set, the intense, impassioned singer and bandleader explained that Mexican music is a joint celebration of three cultures, African, Spanish and Native American. Then, addressing the Mexican contingent in Spanish, she made it clear that this was in defiance of the demagogue in the Oval Office. Even the non-Spanish speakers figured that one out – and roared their approval.

The red-flare trumpet cadenza that her Mexico City-based trumpeter fired off to open a duel with his American jazz counterpart, Josh Deutsch. Spanish flamenco, but with the biting chromatics of North Africa and the Middle East hovering in the distance. But then Deutsch took it straight into volleys of African-American jazz.

The insistent, off-kilter metrics of a couple of mariachi songs drew a dotted line across the water to Africa, while their bouncy melodies were pure, native Mexican. And the overtone-rich jangle of the Rickenbacker guitar – when it could be heard ringing through an awful sound mix – was pure heartland America, or Liverpool, if you go back a little further.

Downs’ latest album Salon, Lagrimas y Deseo goes deeply into the mariachi tradition, but as the show went on, she also took on the role of angst-ridden ranchera diva, cumbia siren and wounded Mexican film ingenue. Over the keening strings and frequently spine-tingling flights of a trio of members of New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache, she belted with characteristic raw power in her low register, and took a couple of dramatic flights up to the very top where she held on for dear life – and held the crowd breathless with how long she managed to stay up there.

There are many cultures in Mexico, but one common quality is resilience: the Mexican people have been through a lot, especially lately, and Downs’ songs reflect that. It would be an overstatement to say that love under an occupation is one of her themes, but any Spanish-speaking American can relate to her irony-infused narratives of trying to keep things together on a personal level while embattled from all sides. Minor keys soared and pulsed, guitars and cuatros rippled and strummed amidst blazing brass and undulating, eclectic grooves. Downs hadn’t been here in awhile, was psyched to be back and everybody was glad to have her here.

Another band who’re taking Mexican music to new places, Orkesta Mendoza, opened, cursed with an even worse sound mix. Yet while they were also missing their usual secret weapons – baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano and lapsteel player Joe Novelli – their songs proved to be so strong, and catchy, that they stood alone with just a guitar-bass-drums setup frequently spiced with trumpet, clarinet or creepily carnivalesque roller-rink organ. Like Downs, they played a bunch of slinky cumbias; at one point, leader Sergio Mendoza tried to get the sleepy early early-evening crowd to count down a number, James Brown style, but they weren’t having it. Charismatic baritone singer Salvador Duran worked up a sweat punching out the beat with his shakers while Mendoza switched back and forth between acoustic guitar and organ and their multi-instrumentalist played just about everything else And bassist Adam Rogers sang a number that was part latin soul, part Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Which makes sense: the Elevators were a Texas band.

The afterparty was at Barbes, and was even wilder. With their biting, chiming, punchy acoustic guitars and singer/dancer Julia del Palacio firing off machinegunning beats with her tap shoes, Radio Jarocho celebrated the pan-latin sounds that have steamed into Veracruz over the past many decades. With their colleagues Mariachi  Flor de Toloache in the house, New York’s only original son jarocho band sprinted through a mix of funny, often smutty, wryly aphoristic songs about drinking, chasing women and smoking weed. Yet just when it seemed the party had reached its peak, they completely flipped the script with the best song of the night, a gorgeously stark, bolero-ish minor-key lament. This is what Trump wants to keep out of the country with his wall? Put a wall around this, wigface. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache and Patti Smith Play an Unforgettable Opening to This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

What was most miraculous about Patti Smith’s performance yesterday evening, opening this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, was that everybody who wanted to get in to see her was able to. That may seem bizarre, considering how far the line snaked around Damrosch Park and down Columbus Avenue before the gates opened at six, but by the end of the night, everybody was in, there was plenty of room and if everybody wasn’t listening attentively – most were – at least the crowd seemed contented. Prospective concertgoers should be aware that this year, in the wake of the tragedies in Paris and Nice, the security staff here are checking everybody’s bags. But they did that quickly and efficiently, and even courteously, something that should be the case everywhere but is not. Getting practically strip-searched by the sadistic door crew at Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night was beyond the pale: that venue most assuredly won’t ever get any coverage at this blog again.

But Lincoln Center Out of Doors will, because even by cynical New York standards, this concert was transcendent, and there are several on this year’s slate that are equally enticing – the full schedule is here. The all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache opened the night auspiciously with a tantalizingly brief set that ran short of forty minutes. Frontwoman Mireya Ramos dazzled the crowd with her soaring vocal range and her lightning chops on the violin, backed by her bandmates on bajo sexto, guitars and percussion. Ramos’ originals ran the gamut from plaintively waltzing to bouncy quasi-schoolyard rhymes, with a couple of playful detours into Led Zep and a less successful grunge remake. While the group – who take their name from the moonflower, which is reputedly an aphrodisiac – have a thing for the stately, dramatic strains of classic mariachi music, they transcend that genre. They closed with an irrepressibly jaunty, snazzily harmonized, Andrews Sisters-inspired arrangement of the jazz standard Blue Skies, a hint that this group has even more up their collective sleeves.

Smith told the crowd that she’d been asked to read a lot, in lieu of playing, but then added that she didn’t always do what she’s told. And drew lots of applause for a couple of poignant reminiscences of her Chelsea Hotel days with Robert Mapplethorpe, from her wildly popular memoir Just Kids. Then she led the band – her daughter Jesse Paris Smith on keys and longtime supporting cast Lenny Kaye on lead guitar, Tony Shanahan on bass and J.D. Daugherty on drums – through a mix of crowd-pleasers and unexpected treats. They opened with a delicate, slowly waltzing version of Wing, then picked up the pace immediately with a bristling Dancing Barefoot, the prototype for a million janglerock hits or would-be hits. Pouncing, intense versions of Summer Cannibals and Ghost Dance followed: Smith was on a roll and building to something that would prove to as unforgettable and impossible to turn away from as it was characteristically relevant.

A toweringly elegaic, organ-fueled take of This Is the Girl brought down the volume but raised the intensity. Introducing a tensely waltzing take of Break It Up, the bandleader explained how the song was based on Jim Morrison appearing to her in a dream as a marble statue in chains, finally breaking free and flying off to “his next adventure,” as Smith put it. The highlight of the show, musically at least, was a searing if relatively brief and almost unrecotnizable take of Radio Ethiopia, opening with a misty, hypnotic wash of acoustic guitar and building to a firestorm where Smith lashed out at the Donald Trump camp for calling for Hillary Clinton’s execution. In a long, heated address to the crowd, Smith reasserted that “This isn’t the American way,” and railed at the media for being lapdogs to the Trump crowd. Ultimately, Smith’s message is what it’s always been: “We want peace, we want love, we want to be fucking free!”

From there, the dynamic sweep of the rest of the show ranged from a soft electric piano-driven easy-listening radio take of of Peaceable Kingdom, matched by a cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry, to the garage-rock energy of  the Stones’ The Last Time. From there they made a familiar run-through of Because the Night and then hit an apt coda with People Have the Power. And then segued into the Who’s My Generation, complete with Shanahan doing a spot-on John Entwistle impersonation on the bass breaks, his treble turned all the way up. As the rhythm disintegrated and the band descended into a cauldron of noise, Smith alluded to the righteous wrath of Rock & Roll Nigger, but never ended up going there as the group left their instruments to feed into the amps. As she’d been doing all night, Smith chose a moment and let it speak for itself.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors may not have anything this politically charged coming up, but the rest of the festival is as excellent and eclectic as past years have been. Tonight features gospel and jazz; tomorrow there’s a concerto and a symphony by Mozart; Sunday has haunting psychedelic bolero band Miramar opening for salsa dura legends Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz. And that’s just this weekend. The secret to getting in seems to be not to wait for hours in the blasting heat before he gates open, but to show up about 45 minutes early, i.e. around 6:45 when the diehards are already seated.

 

Wild, Diverse Global Energy Overflows at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was an exhilarating if somewhat underappreciated mix of global sounds. Opening night of this year’s festival on the 20th of the month, a Pete Seeger tribute kicked off by none other than Judy Collins, was a mobscene rivaled here in recent years only by the overflow crowd at the 2010 staging of pianist Larry Harlow’s iconic salsa jazz suite, La Raza Latina.

A performance of some rather arch indie classical and contemporary ballet pieces this past Friday drew a smaller and less diverse crowd, but the diversity was back last night in epic force, at least musically speaking. Assembled by the prime movers of Globalfest, the evening had every bit of eclecticism and often delirious energy as their annual January Webster Hall celebration of mostly dance-oriented sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the APAP booking agents’ convention. Originating before the youtube era, the concert gives venue bookers and the public alike a chance to sample party music of pretty much every stripe throughout a series of what are essentially longform auditions. There’s literally something for everyone, as there was all over the Lincoln Center complex last night. Don’t like canned beats? Leave the underground parking garage (where the promoters had cleverly stashed that stuff away) and go to the park out back for a funky Indian jamband, or to the plaza for some Mexican brass music.

Around the corner from the opera hall, Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band M.A.K.U. Soundsystem stole the show, and the crowd from Red Baraat – who were half a block south, in Damrosch Park – with their slinky, moodily triumphant grooves, reaffirming their status as one of New York’s best bands. And they left no doubt that at this point, cumbia has superseded reggae as this era’s default global party music. What’s coolest about cumbia is that a lot of it is pretty creepy, a quality underscored by keyboardist Felipe Quiroz’s sepulchrally tremoloing organ. Bassist/frontman Juan Ospina played bitingly catchy, hypnotically bouncy riffs and sang in tandem with multi-percussionist Liliana Conde, alongside guitar, conga, drums and a punchy two-trombone horn section (joined at the end by an esteemed Colombian tenor saxophonist whose introduction got lost in a flurry of applause). The band’s lyrics, mostly in Spanish, celebrate diversity and global unity in a surprisingly poetic way, without being either trite or saccharine, over loping, undulating minor-key vamps punctuated by animated percussion breaks and menacingly swirly keyboard riffs. One of the casually defiant tracks from the band’s latest vinyl ep, Musica Nunca Muere (The Music Never Dies) pretty much said it all. If the IWW had embraced cumbia instead of marching band music, maybe the Wobblies really would have taken over the world.

The evening’s single best performance – and funniest moment onstage – might have been from New Orleans “Russian mafia band” Debauche. Toward the end of their bristling, boisterous, hourlong set, given the “ten more minutes” sign from the sound booth, they responded by speeding up until they were going doublespeed and then even faster. More bands should do that! Frontman/acoustic guitarist Yegor Romantsov evoked another charismatic Slavic rock bandleader, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, as he made his way through edgy minor-key Russian-language romps about duplicitous women, deals gone bad, a love song reinvented from a lesbian perspective, and a mashup of a Jewish wedding song and a happy-go-lucky Mexican folk tune. Their was a distinct klezmer influence in many of the songs, from a sarcastically swaying hi-de-ho anthem, to a series of bouncily brooding, clarinet-and-violin-fueled shuffles. An attempt to get the heavily Russian crowd to sing along on Bublichki, the opening track on the band’s album Cossacks on Prozac – which would be better titled Cossacks on Coke – met with mixed results. But there was a big crowd down front dancing. And somehow the bull fiddle survived being climbed on by both the the burly guy who was playing it, as well as the coyly energetic woman playing standup bass drum and tambourine.

Sandwiched in between the cumbia and the klezmer rock were an eight-piece edition of Brooklyn’s Banda de los Muertos, who do both original and traditional Sinaloa-style brass music with trombones, horns, trumpets, woodwinds and drums. Most of their set had a breezy, good-natured sway, through a mix of ranchera waltzes, a Los Tigres del Norte cover and Marty Robbins’ El Paso reinvented as a mariachi brass theme. Trumpets and trombones got most of the solos and made the most of them, Ben Holmes and Brian Drye getting the choicest parts. Mariachi Flor de Toloache frontwoman Mireya Ramos took the music in a strikingly intense, imploring direction with her powerful, angst-fueled, melismatic vocals on a bolero, Te Quiero Tanto, written by the band’s frontman/clarinetist’s aunt. And then Ramos led the group back onto more upbeat turf.

Opening the night in Damrosch Park, Moroccan/Israeli crooner Emil Zrihan delivered an often riveting, impassioned performance worthy of a headliner, backed by his regular accordionist and an inspired pickup band who played seamlessly despite having been assembled at the last minute (the rest of the singer’s band were back in Israel, having been unable to get visas). Zrihan blends sounds from a millenium worth of Andalucian music as well as Sephardic cantorial themes, with an occasional detour toward klezmer or rai. His smartly dynamic, nonchalantly crescendoing take of the classic protest song Ya Rayyeh was well-received by the small but electrified crowd gathered in the shade toward the front of the stage. Zrihan and the accordion slowly jammed their way into many of the numbers, climbing to melismatic peaks that sometimes took on operatic exuberance or angst against a tightly swaying, rhythmically tricky backdrop of acoustic guitar, violin and twin hand drums.

And it was too bad that there weren’t more people in the park to catch Brazilian dub band BaianaSystem. Although a lot of what they had was on tape (or in the mixing board, or coming from somebody’s phone), their slow, slinky pulse made for an aptly nocturnal sendoff to the few who remained, ending the night with fat, tersely emphatic bass, long, ominously chromatic solos from electric guitarra baiana player Robertinho Barreto and rapidfire, reggaeton-style Portuguese lyrics from frontman Russo Passapusso.