Archive | April, 2007

Ozomatli & Cultura Londres @ Shepherds Bush Empire 13 April 2007

14 Apr

It wasn’t a surprise to see that a queue, made up of the old and young alike, had wrapped itself around Shepherds Bush Empire long before the Ozomatli show on Friday night. The band draws upon musical heritages and cultures from across the globe- striking a chord with people of all ages and backgrounds. Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Ozomatli are a musical representation of the hybridization of cultural identity in LA. Mixing and layering musical traditions, Ozomatli has a global sound that was able to identify with an audience made up of an equally global background.

A local hip hop group, Cultura Londres, opened up the show with a South American vibe. True to their “old school hip hop” foundation, the group had a DJ mixing and scratching, sampling tracks live. Complementing the DJ, Cultura Londres featured the talents of Tiago as MC and Angelita Jimenez.

Drawing from the rich cultural heritage of South America, where Tiago and Angelita were both raised, Cultura Londres referenced common musical forms performed in that region and mixed them into their performance. The incorporation of Capoeira in their set was an interesting idea and helped to establish a sense of authenticity to their music, linking their music to the martial art and greater culture of Brazil and South America. At first the use of the martial art onstage caught me off guard; but as a musician and martial artist myself, the expression onstage came through as a reinvention of the roda.

The Cultura Londres set could have been more- the group has a lot of potential, but their set as a whole left me wanting more. The musical flow from song to song didn’t quite work and the energy onstage seemed to fizzle out before it could reach the audience. However, when the DJ sampled an anthem, the audience picked up and sang along with the MC. But that was nothing in comparison to what Ozomatli would incite from the audience.

Enter Ozomatli, a heavy mix of musical fusion. Taking Latin rhythms, funk and jazz riffs, salsa melodies, reggae, rap, and hip hop energy, the group layers its musical elements into politically charged, danceable songs that connect with both new and old fans. Their music is a hybridization of the musical traditions that can be traced to the far corners of the world.

While there is a strong African influence in their rhythmic preferences and choreography, many of their songs are in Spanish. This reflects the singer’s heritage as well as California’s culture a s a whole where there is a considerable Hispanic population. The language barrier didn’t seem to detract from the performance. In fact, the audience at sang along and learned songs from the forthcoming album.  Audience interaction was key to the Ozomatli performance and infused their music with instant credibility.

The Ozomatli set tied into the Cultura Londres performance by drawing upon the musical heritage and culture of South America. Both acts sang songs in Spanish and used adapted rhythms and melodies. Both performances also made use of choreography to complement the music. However, the most memorable event from the night was the closing Ozomatli song, where they took on the appearance of a Brazilian batteria with the addition of a trombone. Disappearing into the audience, Ozomatli processed through the crowd, repeating a rythmic phrase, and bringing the entire audience into the performance, ending the night with a bang.

In contrast to the Cultura Londres set, Ozomatli proved that they are veterans of live performance. Inviting the audience to sing along and creating a dynamic dialogue, not just between performers onstage, but including and literally mixing with the crowd, Ozomatli delivered a brilliant show.


Isabel Bayon Compania Flamenca with Miguel Poveda, “La Puerta Abierta”

5 Apr

There was a definite energy in the air before the performance as people milled about and settled into their seats. Quite, suddenly the atmosphere was pierced by the cry of an offstage male singer- the beginning of the martinete. A mesmerized hush fell over the audience as ears and eyes opened, focused on the dark stage.

While the echo reverberated in the hall and in the hearts and minds of the audience, Isabel Bayon stepped into a semi-light spot and with a flick of her wrist and stomp of her heel she had everyone in thrall. It was one of the most intimate and unique performances I’ve had the opportunity to experience- there was a simple, raw energy to her every movement on stage.

A subtle visual shift from the spot to blue lighting signaled the transition from martinete to the variaciones Goldberg. A recording of Bach’s Goldberg variations played and in an instant two musical traditions fused in a unique artistic form as Isabel Bayon danced in response. Her performance was intriguing, mesmerizing both to the eyes and ears. Much like Bach, Isabel seemed to take a theme, an iconic pose, and worked it into variations, creating a beautiful dance sequence. I could never have imagined that Bach and Flamenco would be such a perfect match. It just goes to show that music has no boundaries!

For the solea, Miguel Poveda stole the stage with his captivating, heart wrenching cante. His emotive melismas seemed to be coming straight from his soul. While being completely taken by his delivery, I could hear the eastern influence on Flamenco music by the particular scale and notes used.

The milonga was expressed with a more fluid dance than the martinete. Curiously, it is not characteristic of “traditional” flamenco; rather it is a form native to Argentina and Uruguay. Apparently the term milonga comes from an expression that means “lyrics” and as if to justify the term, Miguel’s voice stole the stage.

Jesus Torres’ guitar solo was a mesmerizing performance. His fluid style and melancholic melodies were full of passionate energy. While the people seated behind me were still captivated by the fact that Isabel Bayon changed on stage, I was enraptured by Torres’ skill. My eyes were fixed on his guitar as he played up and down scales and chords that seemed to reflect an eastern influence.

The alegrias was one of the most visually and musically uplifting moments of the performance with all the musicians onstage, clapping the rhythm and calling out in response to Isabel Bayon’s dance. The atmosphere lightened and the energy onstage soared. However, as if to remind everyone of the roots and heritage of Flamenco, a recording of an old cante played, interrupting the alegrias momentarily, allowing a moment of reflection for the musicians and audience alike.

Miguel Poveda sang for Isabel Bayon during the pasodoble, which is not characteristic of “traditional” Flamenco music. Rather, it corresponds to the Pasodoble dance, a style of ballroom dancing attributed to Latin America, but with roots in France! The use of this particular style was a beautiful example of musical influence across the Atlantic. The musical reference was made concrete as Miguel and Isabela danced together ballroom style.

The recorded music played once again, capping the performance with a reference to the beginning and the performers exited via the open door at the back of the stage to a standing ovation. At first, I was surprised by the unassuming, bare simplicity of the performance as a whole. The bareness of the stage, as well as the minimalist stage and lighting design ensured the audience’s sensual focus on Isabel’s every gesture and the music’s every note. The venue seemed to shrink, becoming more intimate as the performance progressed.

Miguel and Isabel both had incredible stage presence and the combination of music and dance, singer and dancer, enhanced the performance. The rhythmic pulse kept by hand claps, snaps, and stomps seemed intricately complicated yet Isabel’s movements were always precise. As my first flamenco performance, it was definitely an unforgettable experience. It was a unique opportunity, an exposure to a style of music saturated with numerous influences, from gypsy and Arabic to Latin America.

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