Illusions of Cesar

César Takes Centre Stage

100 Years: Lanzarote and Cesar (week one)

Dee and I had long been looking forward to the series of events to be staged at the appropriately, if temporarily, named Scenario Manrique at El Reducto on the beach of Arrecife. The stage embraced 100 Years: Lanzarote and Cesar for the first time at 8.30 pm on Wednesday, April 24 to present a musical play entitled The Illusion of Caesar. Staged by The Skins Company and produced, in workshop fashion, by a travelling repertory, The Illusion of Cesar not only reflected the unique landscape of Lanzarote but also seemed to give voice to its people.

There are so many aspects of human nature that come to mind whenever I read about this man I once thought of as a parochial artist but that I now recognise as both shaping and being shaped by a global stage. I think of his enthusiasm, curiosity, passion, rebellion, creativity and sense of freedom and tonight so many of those traits in the universal artist that was Manrique were celebrated through melodies, songs and testimonies that certainly seemed to resonate in the hearts of the audience.

Quiet and attentive, seemingly lost in the spectacle, the audience clearly recognised many everyday scenes from the life of the universal artist. Elements such as fire, land and sea were present in a show dominated by sweetness of voices and strength of drums. The show hypnotised its followers with beautiful moments, such as when a percussionist was seemingly rowing a boat on the water, a scene almost literally created by smoke and mirrors. There was even a time when one musician seemed to be playing a violin fastened to his sombrero.

The performance offered music inspired by Canarian folklore and traditional music of other parts of the world, and spoke in various artistic languages painting a vivid picture to accompany a complete and satisfying story and somehow the whole seemed more than the sum of its parts.

With great versatility, quality and delivery, the cast explored and explained a cultural and anthropological legacy of the Islands and wove into this the traditions of other cultures in a recognisable, distinctive pattern. In this way, the past and the present walked side by side towards new horizons through nuances of loudness, strength and global vision.

Taking an interdisciplinary artistic approach the cast created music that will endure and that enhanced the feeling of the audience that we are, somehow, active participants with the artists in any time or place.

The entire play left me thinking about the relationship between art and audience and the old conundrum of whether a tree can be heard falling if there is no one in the forest.

The company is led by Jonatan Rodríguez an artistic director who is, himself, a multidisciplinary artist. He leads an ensemble including musicians Fede Beuster, Vontor de la Guardia, Carlos Castañeda, Guillermo Molina, Itahisa Darias, Germán G. Arias, Juan A. Mora, Jeremiah Martin and the voices of Laura Álvarez, José Félix Álvarez and Fátima Rodríguez.

The stage direction of Oswaldo had a lightness of touch, and the rehearsed music and improvised sound experimentation led by Ubalda Perez and Jonas Garcia employed classical instruments with more primitive folk resources, such as stone, glass and wood, at the same time using farming implements and fishing tools that clearly demonstrated to the audience what materials would have been available to the young Manrique in Lanzarote. The Illusion Of Cesar also enjoyed effective and atmospheric lighting by Dimas Cedres and Hugo Carrugatti.

With such support behind the mise en scene of the stage, the cast encouraged us, over the course of seventy five minutes, to contemplate social and climate issues, as wide as the ocean and as old as the island itself, and the changing fears and aspirations of its people.

Not being able to follow the narrative through the language was slightly problematic in that we were more prone to interpretive flights of fancy than we might have been if following a linear storyline. There was some confusion, too, amongst our party about the mix of modernity and ancestry of the instruments employed, which included accordion, violin, electric bass, percussion and guitar as well as sticks on barrels, oars on the sides of a boat, that somehow then became wind instruments and of course, some harmonic and beautiful vocals. Friends gave an emphatic ¨No´ when asked if they had ´liked´ the show, but then described is as ´unforgettable.´

Or, as I call it, ´magic´ !!

In fact, another magical moment had been produced in the absolute finale, as the entire company each picked up a picture frame that had all served as part of the strange workplace created by the mise en scene. The frames, with stage lights weaving through ´dry ice´ smoke effects, seemed to transform reveal each character as looking out at the world through a window on Lanzarote.

There was something incredibly moving about that, and it brought the audience to its feet to burst into a deafening, standing ovation, for emotional and several emotional minutes.

25th April – Mucho and Ferreiro

The following night The Manrique stage on Arrecife beach hosted the indie band Mucho and the singer Ferreiro, as another part of the events commemorating the centenary of the birth of César Manrique.

The music began at 8:30 with the sounds of Fausto Pérez, Miguel de Lucas, Carlos Pinto and Marti Perarnau, respectively the guitarist, bassist, percussionist and vocalist, of Mucho.

The music being performed on this stage tonight, and throughout the scheduled events to follow in the lengthy programme ahead, has been commissioned to reflect the eclectic tastes of Manrique and whether the artist might have ever heard this kind of contemporary music is a moot point. However, we know he embraced the new, so he would surely have found sounds to enjoy here.

The seventy minute gig, (that’s a rock term rather than one for classical music, but I just wanted my reader (s) to know that we is down wid da kids, and can talk de Street), was comprised of several tracks on their new album, Is Anyone At Home? This is the group’s fourth release and there were clearly identifiable genres in play here including pop, rock and R & B. It was interesting as well to detect the influences of a couple of my own favourite bands, The Raconteurs and Black Keys.

Mucho eventually left to well-deserved applause and whoops and hollers to make way at ten o’clock for the solo vocalist, Iván Ferreiro, formerly singer with the now disbanded group Los Piratas. Musical references were made by the artist to Low, another top Spanish group.
This type of music was aimed at a younger audience than your friendly, but aged, Lanzarote Information arts correspondent, and although the sounds were not to my own particular taste, they were certainly well-performed and well received by the good sized crowd.

Friday 26th April . Maru Cabrera, Taburiente and Taller Canario

Lanzarote artist Maru Cabrera has quickly established herself as one of the most popular singer-writers on the scene around The Canary Islands, since deciding to take up a full time music career around eighteen months ago. We have seen her perform a previously during that period and we have been more and more impressed each time.

When we first saw her it was as part of a small choir supporting a four piece group at a tiny church in Tias, and then we saw her as a solo performer in a songwriter’s showcase in Teguise. In that show she excelled not only with her own material, accompanying herself on guitar, but also with her ability to ´jam´ along with her fellow musicians. Maru has a commanding stage presence and this show tonight on the Manrique stage illustrated how much progress she has made. Here she was leading her own band of excellent musicians through a show of great light and shade. There were songs that were ´rockers´ and one or two Adelle like ballads. She owned the stage like a young Suzi Quatro, or even as Taylor Swift does now. She led an audience of four or five hundred through singalong choruses, and we were left looking forward to the albums she will surely make.

Taburiente were next to take the stage, and from the vantage point of we four humpty dumptys sitting on the wall (there were no chairs out tonight, this being a ´rock´ crowd) there seemed to be a slight turnaround of audience with several people leaving the front of stage area to be replaced by a new audience for this ´world music´ group. Actually, humpty dumptys might not be an accurate description; we were perhaps more like four green bottles, as we each had a Tropical beer by our side all night.

Anyways, Taburiente demonstrated perfectly why they enjoy such a proud reputation and how they have achieved such longevity. This music was a wonderful fusion of pop, rock, jazz elements and world music. The instrumentalists wove their work around each other and produced a great bed rock for the strong vocals. All this was played out before a wonderful light show (the lighting has been an excellent feature of all the gigs so far, take a bow Mr lighting director) and from where we were sitting we looked over the heads of the swaying dancers and on to the stage and saw enhanced live shots and backdrop pictures on the big screen. I was hearing hints of Springsteen and Paul Simon’s solo work but these are only my reference points. I’m sure the Spanish audience would identify many other influences enhanced by this wonderful band.

As their set finished we spotted the island’s Officer For Culture, Oscar Sanchez, walking past. We stopped him to compliment him on the quality of all the acts we had seen this week, and as always, he smiled and enthused about the arts he so obviously loves. We all, only half-jokingly, compared this festival to Woodstock, (I know, I know but we’re all flower-power hippy kids) and Oscar waxed lyrical about the music of Jimi Hendrix, before telling us that Taburiente are from La Palma, and were actually founded as long ago as 1974 and have supported artists such as Rosa Leon and Caco Senante and have recorded a dozen albums over the years, the latest being five years ago now. This was sinewy, fluid and eloquent music tonight and the recording studio surely is calling them back!

Taller Canario, a group that has contributed so much to the lyrics and melody of the popular music on the Canary Islands, closed tonight’s event. This is another long-established Spanish band, of songwriters, founded in Tenerife (Canary Islands) in 1985, by Pedro Guerra, Andrés Molina, Rogelio Botanz and Marisa Delgado. First they were named “Taller Canario De Música”, but when Marisa left they shortened their name. Pedro Guerra also left to follow a successful solo career, but Taller Canario continued to make marvellous music.

As the audience seemed to do another swap around after this spot we noticed our friends Iain and Margaret waylaying another passer-by and ion broken Spanish trying to explain to him that they thought they recognised him. It turned out they had once seen him playing the timple at the El Grifo Bodega. He was a lovely guy and seemed thrilled to be remembered, but he eventually left us to return to front of stage to enjoy the music of Taller Canario.

Tonight the opening couple of numbers of their set were interrupted by technical malfunctions, but these were handled professionally and soon overcome. Their’s was a gig that then quickly built in momentum, with mellifluous, mellow tones somehow reminding me of Toto (do you remember Africa, a song that was all over the radio back in the day?).

The music built in tempo, too, and soon some of the musicians put aside their instruments to dance in what I can only describe as what we used to call ´gypsy´ fashion, that looked to me to like Balkan movements. And in an instant, it was over, with a massive ovation, before the audience begin to head off home. However, around a hundred headed instead to the front of the stage and for the next twenty minutes the eleven musicians chatted to their fans and even gave short impromptu acoustic spots, as followers joined in with their singing. All lit by the stage, all simple and low key, this was a moving scenario.

Saturday April 27th: Misfits and Coffin Vacant

Two Canarian groups took over the reins and paid their own tribute to Manrique on Saturday April 27th. Misfits and Coffin Vacant provided a rock element to celebrations that by now were beginning to take on epic proportions. These two bands brought an audience of a younger age group to the stage and delivered edgier performances to bring the week to an exciting close.

These Concerts were of free admission, and had been organised by The Cabildo de Lanzarote, through the Department of Culture, with the collaboration of the Government of the Canary Islands and of the city of Arrecife. These wonderful celebrations of Cesar would continue throughout the following week, too, and we are already looking forward to bring you reviews of the fusion and funk of Bimini & The Blackbelts and Brooklyn Funk, as well as the gentler tones of Beni Ferrer and Olga Cerpa. We’ll take in some of the cool jazz sounds of Diego Barber and the ensemble sounds of The Seminique Project. The classical offering from Goran Bregovic sounds promising too, and was warmly recommened by Oscar Sanchez when we chatted with him and that will be followed the next night (4th May) by the opera of Carmen Burano. All that will certainly keep us fully occupied until the closing night of the celebrations which brings three esteemed folk lore outfits on stage to round off the events.

Acetife, Los Gofiones and Los Sabandeños also take up space in our CD racks, and we expect to have to buy another new rack for storage once the list of recording artistes celebrating Manrique have packed away after their live tours.

I have already asked Steve Bewick, the presenter I once co-hosted with on Crescent Radio to see whether he can find some of their tracks to play on his Hot Biscuits programme also broadcast from the UK and available on the internet on FCUM Radio.

More reading: Manrique’s great works.

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