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Sunny sides of Cuban and Mexican Sones, Symphony and Circus: variety à la SF

Sunny sides of Cuban and Mexican Sones, Symphony and Circus: variety à la SF

This past week I happily jumped into the welcoming waters of some artistic events that characterize San Francisco at its multicultural best.

It started on Sept. 29 at Busch Plaza 1, high noon. There, a well-tuned quintet (“Christelle Durandy and Amigos”) applied color to the grey downtown air with the infectious chords of Cuban “sones.” The event was part of something called “People in Plazas,” a great idea that employs musicians for free one-hour programs!

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Christelle, the band’s director and singer, is from Martinique but now resides in Oakland. Her partners in joy were Kai Lyons (an SF native), skillfully plucking on the Cuban Tres, the also Cuban Vincent de Jesús on the Bass, plus Julio de la Cruz, a Texan/Puerto Rican, on bongos.

Rounding up the fun, the quintet featured the irrepressible Nicaraguan/Salvadoran Ahkeel Mestayer on the congas (also an SF native). His 2 year-old son Clemente (my grandson!) was on the soap bubbles.  

The sun was high, the sky was blue, it all was beautiful, let me tell you.

Group Tarimba performs at Café de Olla, located on Mission and 19th streets, Oct. 2, 2021. Photo: Azucena Hernández

Then, on Sept. 30,  Azucena and I got all decked out and attended the “All San Francisco: The Concert.” We were still downtown, but this time at the Davies Symphony Hall. 

It was Preview Night for the SF Symphony. On the next night, the heavy-duty sponsors, regular attendees to the Symphony, would be there. Also wearing their best, perhaps with pricier name tags.

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The Preview Night celebrated Community Organizations, something that the Symphony has done since 1980, when this Hall first opened. 

In 2021, the “All San Francisco Committee” presented the Ellen Magnin Newman Award to Loco Bloco, a true representative of some of the best that our Mission community has to offer. 

I quote from the program:  “…this award is presented annually to a community-based organization that strengthens the region’s cultural fabric and serves vulnerable families and individuals to create a more just and equitable society for everyone who lives here.” 

That is a very apt description of what Loco Bloco has done and continues to do, since its creation. They do it by engaging young people through the creation and performance of music, dance and theater, all rooted in Afro-Latino traditions. “Culture Heals” at its best!

The members of Loco Bloco were there, led by José Carrasco and family, all smiles and exuding a very deserving pride. My granddaughter Luna was also there. She has become a wooden-stilt walker with Loco Bloco. Her mother, my daughter Dulce, was a dancer with the group, a few years earlier. As you can read, performing runs in the family…with the help of organizations like Loco Bloco.

The night included an excellent mix of classical and more “popular” music, under the baton of the Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Originally from Finland, he has become a strong proponent of an inclusive musical vision, prompting collaboration across cultures and across artistic disciplines. 

That night’s program opened with the excellent members of the SF Symphony interpreting Slonimsky’s Earbox, (1995) the compelling music of Bay Area native John Adams.

Following that, the Symphony interpreted the Argentinian Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia Suite,” Opus 8a (1941). Here, the excitement intensified because the Suite was danced by the strong and beautiful multiracial dancers of the African-North American Choreographer Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. The stage filled with graceful beauty, emanating from that mixture of music, dance and by the applause of the all-masked but wide-eyed appreciative spectators. What pandemic?

After the Ginastera offering, the wonderful African-North American bass player and singer esperanza spalding took over the stage, with a leisurely sensitive rendition of the jazz legend Wayne Shorter’s Gaia (2013). Jazz and classical music engaged on a welcomed pas de deux, that promises much from this Collaborative Partnership between Spaulding and the Symphony.

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On Saturday night, we descended upon a perhaps less glamorous but more vibrant part of town, as we went to hear the infectious notes of “Sones Jarochos” and “Sones Huastecos,” a music that comes, mainly, from Veracruz, México. 

Glamour was absolutely secondary to this fact: the performance at “Café de Olla,” located on Mission and 19th streets, made us levitate with enthusiasm.

On the rather small stage, the members of “Group Tarimba” shared an abundance of beauty. Lolis García was on the “jarana” guitar, also playing the requinto, singing and dancing, her heels beating a rhythm that dwarfed the rather noisy atmosphere and the challenging acoustics of the Café. Kyla Danish was on the violin, “jarana” and vocals. The trio was completed by the wonderful voice of Arwen Lawrence, who was on the ”Jarana,” the “Marimbol” and the “Quijada de burro”…and also danced.

As Sunday came, a brilliant sun invited us to turn off the TV and head towards Heron Park, in the Bayview. Circus Bella was in town and we would be kids again! We had enjoyed that circus before, years ago. The place was a cauldron of sun-soaked families and laughter. The circus did not disappoint, with its mix of creative silliness and amazing physicality.

Masked or not, all those events signaled that a sense of relative normalcy was lifting our spirits. 

To end, I will say it again: La Cultura Cura. Culture Heals.

   

El Tecolote turns 52 this August!

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