The full audience at Kilbourn Hall was treated to a special celebration of the warm sounds and lyrics of the Caribbean islands, while the cold and wet weather of Rochester continued outside of the building on Nov. 15.
Presented by the National Council for the Traditional Arts and Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Masters of Caribbean Music concert kicked off Eastman’s World Music Series, introducing many of the audience members to some of the folklore and musical traditions of Puerto Rico, Haiti and Trinidad.
Ecos de Borinqun was the first group to take the stage at Kilbourn with its fast-paced and rhythmic songs, setting a high standard for the rest of the acts to follow. The rustic feel of the Puerto Rican backcountry resounded in the ensemble’s performance. Miguel Santiago Diaz formed Ecos de Borinqun in 1978 as a result of a resurgence of interest in Puerto Rico’s jbaro highland roots.
Those roots were the result of a cross-culturalization between the African slaves, the Spanish conquistadors and the native Taino Indians. They eventually produced the distinct sounds of Puerto Rico, and most importantly, the cuatro – a small guitar-like instrument that pierced through the rest of the ensemble with its plucked melodies.
With the strumming of the guitar, the two cuatros and the giro, it was sometimes difficult to hear the voices of the singers. Instead of focusing on the narrative lyrics that described life in the mountain country of Puerto Rico, what was most recognizable were the voices, which seemed to lament through the melody of the songs.
One could have almost concluded that the entire conjunto jbaro – jbaro ensemble – must be centered on the giro itself more than any other instrument. It was difficult not to notice the girero Pablo Figueroa scraping away at the oblong gourd, adding several taps of his shoes here and there as he danced around in his own small area off to the left of the group.
Ti Coca et Wanga-Ngs, however, quickly brought the mood down to a more lax and unimpressive state. The overall playing of the group lacked a certain sense of technique and expertise.
More than just a rustic or “country” sound, the group seemed to lack a mastery of skills on their instruments. The drummer, in particular, only seemed to lengthen each song with every stroke he took to the high-hat and toms.
With every expansion of the accordion, the twoubadou seemed to retard further and further into a sloth-like tempo.
The only one that seemed to overcome the lethargic effects of the music was Ti Coca, who jumped around the stage with an energy that collided with the dragging tempo of the music.
Though the concert’s program assured the audience that Ti Coca and his group are considered some of the best twoubadou performers in Haiti, it is hard to imagine that a type of music with such loose cohesion between its ensemble members can exist. Compared to the other ensembles that performed that evening, Ti Coca et Wanga- Ngs lacked a certain “tightness” in their playing, which makes the listener aware that they have been performing and practicing together for a long time.
After a brief intermission, during which the audience had an opportunity to purchase CDs and have them autographed by the performers, it was time for the grand introduction of the king of Trinidadian calypso, The Mighty Sparrow.
With a performing career spanning over four decades and having been crowned Trinidad’s Calypso King 11 times, The Mighty Sparrow certainly knew how to put on a crowd-pleasing performance. Accompanied by a drum-set, a trombone, a trumpet and a synthesizer, The Mighty Sparrow did an excellent job of entertaining and engaging the audience in his performance.
The deep sonority of his bass voice matched perfectly with the lyrics that were infused with political and social commentary – however playful it may have seemed.
The concert ended with a giant collaboration of all of the groups playing pieces representing each individual musical style, emphasizing the concert as a celebration of culture.
Figueredo can be reached at email@example.com.