Community column: Rich with talent

by Melanie Davis
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By Olga Sanchez, El Hispanic News
 
Olga Sanchez
Sitting in the cozy La Bonita restaurant on a rainy evening listening to live music and watching a video performance of visual art, one could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for the great wealth of creative talent in our region. Several excellent performers are now producing their own CDs and books, which allow their work to live beyond one night of performance. Joaquín López’s new album, “For the Disenchanted,†and the new book/album by Grupo Condor, “Leyendas de México,†are two new projects that were launched in December in unique ways. To celebrate the launch of his first CD, López, a singer-songwriter whose family owns La Bonita, closed the restaurant for three Thursday evenings of art. First, Adlai Alexander opened the show singing and playing smooth Brazilian jazz on his guitar. López then took the stage with his musical partner James Ashley Mayer to perform songs from “For the Disenchanted†on guitar and the Turkish cumbus. Filled with original music written by López since 2005, the album explores the beauty of heartache. Instead of running away from love’s pain or making it sentimental, López decided to pay respect to the experiences shared by so many by writing songs that honestly express depth and irony. López’ selection of the cumbus — a melancholic, resonant, beautiful, and foreign instrument — reflects his commitment to truth. Not traditionally used in boleros, when López heard its sound, he knew it was perfect for his music. The songs on the album are mostly in Spanish. López felt that audiences who didn’t understand the words would still greatly enjoy the music in a visceral way, but he wanted to provide an intellectual experience as well, so he invited well-known local actors including Nurys Herrera and Danny Moreno to read aloud his poetry in English. Contributing the visual component, Dominican artist Hampton Rodríguez created a painting in response to each song on the album. These were compiled into a video montage by Marcos Aguirre, featuring close ups of the details in Rodríguez’ images — spinning, fading, and moving as if in time with the music. The video was projected along the side wall of La Bonita throughout the whole evening, adding to the multi-disciplinary launch of López’s “For the Disenchanted.†The CD is now available for digital download on Bandcamp at joaquinlopez.bandcamp.com. The night before, Nelda Reyes and Gerardo Calderón invited community members to review their new book and CD, “Leyendas de México.†This project is based on a touring bilingual show created by Reyes and Calderón, the performing duo of Grupo Condor. Traveling to libraries, universities, and schools around the Northwest, the show provides a way for audiences to remember the beautiful legends and musical instruments of their homeland and to share these traditions with their children.
Nelda Reyes and Gerardo Calderón
After receiving many requests from families and librarians from all over the region, they decided to create a book that would allow audiences to build upon the experience of the show, by sharing the stories of the Maya, Huichol, and Aztecs with additional activities in three languages: Spanish, English and Nahuatl. It was important for them to include the indigenous language to reinforce its strength and importance in the community. The CD that accompanies the book includes indigenous songs sung by Reyes and the sounds of the pre-Hispanic instruments that Calderón has collected over many years of travel. Creating the book and CD for educational as well as artistic purposes requires a deep commitment to accuracy. After years of research, Reyes and Calderón produced the working draft of their book and CD and shared it with librarians, teachers, and cultural experts gathered together at El Centro Milagro last month. With these expert recommendations, Reyes and Calderón are preparing the final version for publication by March 2013, which will be available via their website: grupo-condor.com. All of these artists are among the finest in our region. After years of watching their live performances, it’s exciting to see the work of Reyes, Calderón, López and all of their collaborators emerge in tangible forms. Both projects, “For the Disenchanted†and “Leyendas de México,†proudly reflect the cultural roots of the artists and their desire to make an impact in the creative landscape of the Pacific Northwest by sharing their art in more enduring ways. Through these projects, their performances, their cultural heritage, and their creativity will be enjoyed for many years to come.
Olga Sanchez, an artistic director for the Miracle Theatre Group, is an actor, director, and a founding member of Los Porteños Latino writers group. She lives in Portland with her husband, writer Mark Saltveit and stepdaughters, Anna and Rose. Olga is project director of the Latino Artists eXchange (Intercambio de artistas latinos), and appreciates this opportunity to share news about the Northwest’s creative scene. Reach her at olga@milagro.org/.