Perched on a stool center stage with a cloth covered table to his left upon which rests a bottle of water and a glass of pale orange liquid while light glints off bracelets, rings and an earring as he smooths back long curling locks and an equally long goatee, he waits. He cuts a fine figure in a sleek grey suit and a snowy white shirt as he pauses to let the crowd settle. There’s a brief moment of anticipation as we wait like the eager, greedy souls we all know we are. We wait for him to cajole us, romance us and entrance us with a voice that’s equal parts ferocious and aches of a thousand sorrows. That voice belongs to El Cigala.
Stepping away from his familiar flamenco fare, Diego El Cigala’s current salsa project and songbook from Indestructible takes fans on musical landscape from El Cigala’s native Spain to his adoptive home in the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia, garnering a whole new enthusiastic fan base.
Backed by a razor-sharp salsa group that includes pianist Jaime Calabuch, trumpeters Cristian David Muñoz and Edison Muñoz, trombonists Richard Stella and Bernardo Aguirre, percussionist Denilson Ibarguen, timbalero Diego Mayorga, bassist Julio Valdes and backing vocalists Diego Galindo and Andres Gonzales, El Cigala takes fans through salsa favorites, emotive ballads and a few more intimate songs with only piano to accompany El Cigala’s roughed over vocals.
Tapping, clapping and finger snapping his way through the Duke Performances Saturday, March 31st concert at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, El Cigala and band had the joint jumping. Fans get doses of “Moreno Soy,” “Indestructible,” “Hacha y Machete” and “El Raton,” as well as some nicely done romantic songs, but I think the more intimate songs with just pianist were perhaps my favorite bits and those places where El Cigala’s voice really comes through in fine flamenco jazz fashion. But then again it’s El Cigala and any song is worth the price.
For six days in a row, Duke Performances presented a series of concerts last week called Black Atlantic. The program brought to Durham, North Carolina, superb examples of African music and artists from the African diaspora. Duke Performances staged the concerts at two venues outside of Duke University to bring the music closer to the community: Motorco Music Hall and the Carolina Theatre.
The first Black Atlantic concert took place on Monday, March 26th, at Motorco. It featured traditional bachata artist Joan Soriano from the Dominican Republic. It was unmistakably a seductive dance event, with various dance instructors and practitioners enjoying and dancing to Soriano’s songs. A sizable group of Dominicans and other Latin Americans joined the party.
The second performance, on Tuesday, March 27th presented acclaimed Haitian vocalist Emeline Michel at Motorco. Her style combines jazz and pop and her drummer incorporated addictive Haitian beats.
Ned Sublette, a well-known American composer, musician, record producer, musicologist, author and founder of Qbadisc, who attended the first concerts, said: “On the second night of the festival the super-sharp, utterly genuine Emeline Michel, freshly arrived from Haiti, played with a tight, professional 4-piece (including guitarist Dominic James) and an internationalized personal vision rooted in her home town of Gonaïves, with an overlay of music study in Detroit and a breadth of experience in various world cities. I’ve heard her music from her first album going forward, but I’d never had the chance to meet her; what a thrill. The Haitian public in North Carolina brought their shot of love to the room.”
The concert on Wednesday, March 28th, featured Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo from Venezuela in the packed-out Motorco Music Hall. This Afro-Venezuelan ensemble of singers, drummers and dancers brought Venezuelan pride to a large group of compatriots who attended the event. Durham-based Venezuelan author and actor Miguel Chirinos provided details about the ensemble: “This group is originally from a town called El Clavo, Miranda State in northwestern Venezuela. Their music is based on percussion, especially the Barlovento drums; it’s typical music from the coastal towns of the country.
Talking with Betsayda, she told me that they have been making music for over 30 years and the music is the accompaniment during the processions of San Juan Bautista [Saint John the Baptist], patron of the Afro-Venezuelan community. In addition to participating in the different religious festivities, they had the opportunity to record their first CD, which includes their main compositions and which they recorded “under a mango tree”. They are also making a documentary where they will tell the story of the town El Clavo, its people and its music!”
Ned Sublette articulated the following: “I expected to enjoy it, but didn’t know how rave-about-it good it would turn out to be.
Machado is a strong frontwoman, and the ensemble is first-rate. Their well-composed show was a model of how to work with traditional acoustic instruments in a percussion-based concert setting. Carrying a lot of instruments around on tour is troublesome and expensive, but they did it. This show included an Afro-Venezuelan instrument, the quitiplas [a set of bamboo sticks played vertically], that you never get to hear outside of Venezuela, as well as the furro (or furruco, a friction drum) energetically holding down the bass, along with a variety of drums. The voices of the group – five men and three women, all beautifully dressed – authoritatively affirmed melodies in well-tuned multi-part harmony, in hypnotic countertime with the drums, giving the group its own polyrhythmic texture. The longer it went on, the more the room got caught up in it.
Bad-ass Durham conguera Beverly Botsford got up with them for a hot minute, and that sounded good to me, too. It was all so compelling I couldn’t be bothered to go back to the bar to refill my delicious pint of Bell’s Porter when it ran out 20 minutes into the set.”
The fourth concert of the series, on Thursday, March 29th at Motorco, presented three of Mali’s finest musicians. Three jelis (griots) from well-known families displayed virtuosity and charm to a full house.
Chapel Hill-based producer and singer Bob Haddad, founder of the Music of the World label said: “Trio Da Kali is an extraordinary group of griot musicians from Mali. Fode Lassana Diabate plays his balafon (wooden xylophone) in the most fluid of ways; a true virtuoso. Mamadou Kouyate’s bass ngoni (West African lute) is rhythmic, percussive and entrancing, and Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate is the most accomplished female griot vocalist in recent years. Her placement of notes, the way she shapes her improvisations, and the way she quavers her voice, are truly outstanding. Together, these three musicians create a sound that is inspiring, evocative, mesmerizing and uplifting.”
The last concert at the Motorco venue, on Friday, March 30th, highlighted the music of the Garifuna community. In this case, it was the best known Garifuna artist at this time, Aurelio Martinez, from Honduras. He delivered an exciting set of songs promoting peace and rights for the Garifuna people.
The final Black Atlantic show took place on Saturday, March 31st at a much larger venue, the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. Flamenco vocalist Diego El Cigala presented his latest project, a collaboration with salsa musicians. Soleir Gordon-Shaefer, host and producer of La Tertulia con Solangel on WHUP in Hillsborough said: “He’s one of my favorites. I totally enjoyed the concert, it was more than I expected since he not only promoted his Indestructible CD, but also sang other songs that were requested. The performance of the chorus and the musicians was tremendous, especially the pianist. It was a magical night with the audience’s euphoria.”
Aaron Greenwald, executive director of Duke Performances, revealed to World Music Central that the intention is to continue the Black Atlantic series next year. We are already looking forward to more of this superb series.
Duke Performances will present a Black Atlantic, a captivating six-day world music festival, celebrating the music of Africa and the African diaspora. The festival takes place the last week of March 2018 at several venues in Durham, North Carolina .
The extraordinary program includes some of the finest artists from Africa and the Caribbean. The festival opens with acclaimed traditional Dominican bachata musician Joan Soriano. Next is one of Haiti’s top female performers, singer-songwriter Emeline Michel.
Afro-Venezuelan vocalist Betsayda Machado and her backing band La Parranda El Clavo are one of the sensations in the world music scene.
Mali produces an impressive amount of high quality talent. Trio da Kali is one of the new stars of the Malian scene. It’s a collaboration between some of Mali’s leading jeli (griot) musical families, Hawa Kassé Mady, daughter of Kassé Mady Diabaté; bala player Lassana Diabaté; and ngoni master Mamadou Kouyaté.
Honduran composer, singer-songwriter and activist Aurelio (Aurelio Martínez) is currently the most influential Garifuna artist. Aurelio will be presenting his new album Darandi released on Peter Gabriel’s Real world Records.
The last concert of Black Atlantic will present flamenco star Diego El Cigala with top salsa musicians. His most recent album Indestructible is a tribute to salsa music.
Black Atlantic Schedule
Joan Soriano (Dominican Republic)
Monday, March 26, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Motorco Music Hall
Emeline Michel (Haiti)
Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Motorco Music Hall
Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo (Venezuela)
Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Motorco Music Hall
Trio da Kali (Mali)
Thursday, March 29, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Motorco Music Hall
Friday, March 30, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Motorco Music Hall
Diego El Cigala (Spain/Dominican Republic)
Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Carolina Theatre of Durham
The Savannah Music Festival has announced the world music artists set to perform in 2018. The festival next year will take place March 29th through April 14th, 2018, at a number of venues throughout Savannah’s Historic District.
As usual, the festival selected first rate world music acts. Mali’s Trio Da Kali will share a bill with South African guitarist Derek Gripper (a kora music practitioner).
Malian kora maestro Toumani Diabaté is set to perform with his son Sidiki Diabaté in A World of Strings, an original production also including Brazilian music played by Savannah Music Festival Associate Artistic Director and mandolinist Mike Marshall and pianist Jovino Santos Neto (who will also play a solo show).
Iberian sounds include the great Dominican Republic-based Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala and Portuguese fado singer António Zambujo.
Cellist Mike Block will perform with fellow Silk Road Ensemble musician Sandeep Das on tabla.
The festivals’ Latin Dance Party features the unrivaled Cuban son ensemble, Septeto Santiaguero.
Festival favorites Lúnasa (Ireland) and Tim O’Brien will team up for a concert of Irish and Appalachian-influenced music.
Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas play on a double bill with an electrifying new all-female acoustic music quartet called The Goodbye Girls.
For ticket information and the rest of the programming, including classical music, American roots music, jazz, theatrical productions and films, visit www.savannahmusicfestival.org.
headline photo: Septeto Santiaguero with El Canario
Duke Performances announced this week the 2017/2018 season at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The programming includes world music, classical music, new music, jazz, American roots music, hip-hop, theater, and dance.
The world music program this year includes one of the finest flamenco guitarists, Vicente Amigo. The Spanish guitar maestro is known for mixing pure flamenco with other musical traditions.
Also scheduled, acclaimed Israeli vocalist Yasmin Levy who sings in Ladino and combines flamenco and Middle Eastern music; Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté and his son Sidiki for a concert of kora duets; Sudanese-American singer and Alsarah & the Nubatones.
Additional world music acts are set to perform under Black Atlantic: a six-day festival of the music of Africa and the African diaspora. The program includes renowned traditional Dominican bachata musician Joan Soriano; Haitian singer-songwriter Emeline Michel; Afro-Venezuelan vocalist Betsayda Machado and her backing band La Parranda El Clavo; the remarkable Malian act Trio da Kali, a collaboration between some of Mali’s leading jeli (griot) musical families, Hawa Kassé Mady, daughter of Kassé Mady Diabaté, bala player Lassana Diabaté and ngoni master Mamadou Kouyaté; and the great Honduran Garifuna singer-song Aurelio Martínez.
Another world music highlight this season is Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala who has explored the musics of Latin America. His most recent album Indestructible is a tribute to salsa music.
I’ve long contended that Latin music (something of a loaded term) was the first world music (ditto) to catch on in a big way. Even if many a mainstream fan’s interest began and ended with Latin big bands, Desi Arnaz, “Tequila,” Santana or the Buena Vista Social Club, there’s no denying Latin music’s permeation into our collective listening consciousness. Me, I love both the purist and fusionist sides of the story. The Buena Vista Social Club was, after all, originally intended to be a collaboration between Cuban and West African musicians. It didn’t work out that way, but the path had already been cleared by that point and many have since trod it.
Thankfully, one recently planned Cuban/non-Cuban musical project that did come to fruition has a very fine CD as the result. Havana Night Sessions at Abdala Studios (Universal Music Romania, 2016) by a collective called The Gypsy Cuban Project sounds very much like what you’d expect from a band with that name: a passionate, freewheeling, seamless melding of Roma and Cuban music.
Romanian musician, activist and parliamentarian Damian Draghici brought 15 players and singers from Europe to Cuba. What they found there was a shared desire to record songs that bridged the two cultures and musicians with the chops to make it happen. The arrangements on the disc reflect the more Cuban angle, but Gypsy elements emerge in the atypical, serpentine way that distinctly Romany-toned strings, brass and accordion tartly take the lead during many of the breaks and solo passages as well as the subtle (but no less heartfelt) shifts in mood when the vocals trade off from one side to the other.
Bolero meets sevdah on the slower tunes and both are stronger for it, while the dance floor tracks are a transatlantic party of the first order. There’s not one bum tune in the bunch, but I particularly like the way the voice of Omara Portuondo is shadowed by what sounds like a pan flute on “Serenata En Batanga” and the slow-burn version of “Chan Chan” that wraps things up.
I was hoping my copy of the CD would be loaded with credits and liner notes. Because it was an advance version, however, no such info was to be found therein. Oh, the tribulations of a music journalist. So when you have the good sense to buy this crackling good disc, you’ll likely get more of the story in addition to the marvelous music.
Madrid-born contemporary flamenco singer Diego El Cigala goes for more of an in-house approach, combining the emotive reach of his grandly grainy vocals with golden era salsa on Indestructible (Sony Music Latin, 2016). Cigala has stepped out of his flamenco roots to cross paths with Cuban and Argentinian music in the past, so he knows how to adapt his vocal nuances.
His focus on this disc is the classic salsa sound brought to the world by the Fania label in the ‘70s, and the fact that Cigala recorded it with salsa master musicians in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia and Spain attests to just how worldly the reach of salsa was and is. The title track is the classic composed by conguero Ray Barretto and burns with all the trademarks of the genre: blazing horns, swirling piano, supernaturally tight percussion, snug bass and a lungful of vocal power. Cigala hits the heights on that one and every other, most of which are chestnuts from Fania that incorporate the salsa subtleties of the places they were recorded.
The smatter of originals like the Bebo Valdés tribute “Fiesta Para Bebo” are no less mighty. And when things slow down a little, as on “Conversación en Tiempo de Bolero,” Cigala wields his voice like the well-honed instrument it is, matching the interplay of Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano and a very sharp rhythm section. Rubalcaba is also present on the concluding Beny Moré composition “Como Fue,” a vocal and piano duet that rounds out one grand and glorious album. Salsa fans; don’t miss this one.