More Than There Are People

My wife Dee has an extraordinary ability to utter something that makes no sense whatsoever, and then manage to talk her way out of it as if bestowing wisdom to the world. The other night, as we were waiting for a concert to start, following an open air Mass in Playa Blanca, she said that she reckoned there are ´more musicians on Lanzarote than there are people.´ I tried to explain that would be almost impossible, but she soon had me looking out among the hordes to see who was carrying an instrument or looked ´like they can sing !´

This was all after we had seen some friends, in La Coral de Yaiza, on stage accompanying the Mass, as part of a dozen strong choir. At the end of the service we had watched the procession of the statue of The Nuestra Senora Del Carmen around the town centre streets of Playa Blanca, accompanied by The Municipal Band Of Yaiza, so there were another twenty or so musicians to put into the equation. As the assembly returned to the church and Our Lady was escorted back inside to await her journey down to sea on the following Sunday, a huge cheer broke the reverence. This was not only because the icon had been safely returned to the church but also because, in the tent in the square outside the church, Folklorica Rubicon were now taking to the stage. Their numbers included thirty or more singers and musicians in traditional national costume and half a dozen dancers, similarly attired. Some participants were wielding a big stick, reminding us of the Morris dancing we used to see in the UK, celebrating rush-bearing marches.

So, on this glorious Tuesday evening, we had heard the choir singing Holy music as part of the Mass, and had listened to the strange mixture of the fun and the funereal that was the music played during the pilgrimage through the streets of the town. Now, the timples and guitars began in a crescendo, and the singing too, and for forty five minutes we were regaled with the kind of traditional folk lore music that we have come to love in our four years of living here.

Folklorica Rubicon delivered all this in an exuberant and infectious manner and the audience thoroughly enjoyed a performance that impressed and delighted not only the people of the town who were gathered there but also the walk-by tourists on their way to or from the nearby fairground or to the sea-front restaurants. In the sunset of a balmy evening, when the view is so perfect and the music so melodious, it is easy to overlook the technical skills of these vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers. The harmonies, the precise picking and the neat footwork and elegant sway of the dance is very much what makes some sense of Dee’s observations about the island’s number of musicians. The numbers may be surprising, but their qualities are even more astonishing.

Nevertheless, we behaved like tourists, (only because we were so hungry) and folded up my chair and headed off to the Marina once this part of the show was over. Lanis´ scrambled egg suppers are pretty irresistible and, although there was to be another group scheduled to appear, there would be more music the following day, that was for certain.

Tomorrow’s music turned out to be a lunch time performance by a seemingly un-named trio offering ´flamenco flavours.´ The male guitarist and timple player were perfect partners for a female singer who was clearly enjoying herself.

This was the first attempt to attract more passing trade into the beautiful, but half hidden, arena that is The Popa Bar, a beautiful dining room and outside eatery with friendly and helpful staff. It is all brightly coloured with a niche menu of crepes both savoury and sweet and desserts that even as you order them you know you really shouldn’t be ! We sat outside, where the trio were playing, and we dined like royalty as the attractive vocalist interpreted the Spanish stories being told in these songs, with all sorts of sassy and smiling facial expressions. So impressed were we by their performance that we bought their available cd, which we later learned was of Cuban rhythms, not of flamenco, but was, nevertheless, an excellent purchase.
The venue deserves more customers than those who simply stumble into this idyll as they wander the walkway above the market area. We’ll keep our eye out for these lunch time entertainments each market day and keep you informed of their success.

The following evening we were back in the square outside the church in Playa Blanca where the religious festivities continued with a great deal of musical content in a show like no other we had ever seen.

It was titled, in English, as ´Very Good Fandango´, though I have to tell you we couldn’t reconcile what we saw, at all, with its Spanish title. It reminded us, more than anything, of a Good Old Days variety hall revue of the kind that used to be televised in the UK. There were maybe twenty to twenty five performers, most of whom took on numerous roles in various sketches, almost all of which were ´mimed´ to a musical soundtrack. The ´old couple´ who nagged each other and broke into a furious row, in a language we couldn’t understand, were hilarious and there were imitations of rock bands and pop groups that were wonderfully comic, even though they were perfectly lip synched. The sketch that paid a light hearted homage to Aretha Franklin was perfectly delivered.

One of the performers was a Spanish lady from Dee’s yoga group and one guy was, I’m fairly sure, a member of the local Boules team I sometimes watch on a Monday evening down by Playa Blanca bus station. I have referenced The Good Old Days but there were reminders too, in the pace of delivery and physical energy of the routines, which reminded me of the wonderful American programme, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. It was all a real treat, delivered by local people who would not, I think, make any great claims for their talents, but who had the audience of four hundred or so roaring with laughter and applauding wildly at the end. Dee has heard that this travelling revue has played this year at various venues in the municipality of Yaiza, and it looked as if they had been honing their craft along the way. It was all good clean, family fun.

The Heineken Jazz Festival made its annual visit to the island on Friday 19th July and brought us yet another diversion to add to the side-tracks and detours all across the arts that we had been following all week. The evening brought us two acts, each of which was of the highest quality; though I remain to be convinced that Judith Hill and her band really belong under a jazz banner.

That is not to denigrate her star quality, however, and in the scrubland arena outside the CIC El Almacen, on a wonderfully lit stage with a great sound system, she and her ´family´ band that includes her father, an accomplished bass man and her mother on keyboards and backing vocals delivered some superb sounds. Judith and her parents and two female dancers/vocalists and a guitarist and percussionist played all loud and proud, with Judith accompanying herself too, sometimes on electric guitar or on keyboards.

The timing of the band was always tight and Judith usually shone the light, but also occasionally lowered the shades, with a soft, sultry ballad or two with the band all wearing something in luminous green, creating a great aesthetic to complement the glorious sounds. With more than five hundred people seated in the tiny square, and another two or three hundred around the perimeters, there was a deafening roar as Judith’s set came to a close, leaving me wondering how come I had never heard of an artist who is obviously already a star with a huge fan base. I later discovered that she had appeared on the American version of The Voice as long ago as 2013 and, although she had been largely overlooked by the judges, she had made a huge impression on the show’s audience, and has since built a huge fan-base, You don’t get to headline festivals like this as an unknown, though, and she certainly deserves whatever fame she has already acquired.

The second act was Maceo Parker and his band but our view of the stage was now only available from a standing position as there were now surely more than a thousand people who had squeezed into the small empty space in front of our thirty rows of seating.

It was all polite and peaceful and non-threatening but as I pointed out to Dee, a bit of stewarding wouldn’t have gone amiss. To be fair, they weren’t the kind of band anyone was going to stay seated for, but as I said to Dee, I don’t expect people to stand in front of me when I have paid to sit down.

´But you haven’t,´ she said, looking down at me from her full standing height.

¨Haven’t what?´

´You haven’t paid to sit down. This is all free, remember!´

A fair point well made, I had to agree, and decided to shut up.

After completing the first number Maceo Parker announced that he and his band were going to be funky, and funky they were indeed. There will be some readers who remember Maceo as an American ´funk and soul jazz´ saxophonist and recall that he played with James Brown in the nineteen sixties, adding prominent riffs on several of Brown´s hit recordings, with his saxophone sounds couched in alto, tenor and baritone. Parker then played with Parliament Funkaholic, who were popular in the nineteen seventies.

Since then, he has toured as a solo artist or with occasional ensembles, such as tonight’s, that would be best described as jazz fusion perhaps, and were certainly some distance removed from Louis Armstrong or Glenn Miller, (though there are some who would deny that even these two artists never represented ´real jazz´!). Nevertheless, Maceo and his men drove the Arrecife crowd wild.

As I looked up and around me I noticed that absolutely everybody was shuffling and jiving to the infectious rhythms, and I pulled myself, slowly, out of my chair and jigged along with them until the end of the performance.

There was one more musical treat to hear in this week of never ending music, and so it was, that twenty four hours later, we found ourselves just round the corner from this jazz venue, at Arrecife´s Casa de la Cultura. This was to be the seventh, and penultimate, performance in a series of Conciertos Clasicos that have been annually delivered for free over the past few summers. Under the title of ´Airies desde la otra Orillo´ (which Google helpfully translates into English as Aries From The Other Orillo, though I doubt you’re now any wiser than I am) this performance was being delivered by a Quinteto Cuerdas of The Orchestra Classical Lanzarote. There were a hundred and twenty chairs set out in the upstairs room of the building, with its huge windows open to the evening air and offering a great view out to sea.

There were only a handful of seats left for this ´free until full´ event, as we had dallied a little too long over some superb nachos at Tabla, a restaurant we had previously by-passed a hundred times. However, what we had previously overlooked as a quiet outside café, is part of an atmospheric restaurant of great food from a varied menu served by welcoming staff. It was all so good, in fact, that two hours later, after the concert, we called in for the dessert we had not had time for. Another good decision !!

The concert performers were all dressed in black with Alejandro Pinero on first violin and Laura Espino on second violin. Ayore Garcia played viola and Amando Arteago was with the violonchelo. Ivanoff Rodriguez, on contrabajo, was also the spokesman for the group, making all the introductions.

The programme was divided into offerings, all influenced by the Spanish diaspora, from various South American countries and Ivanoff attracted our attention by inviting his colleagues to demonstrate short samples of the subtle differences in the rhythms of the countries that had been influenced by the Spanish music.

I could not have identified the two opening pieces as Venezuelan, I don’t think, The numbers selected to demonstrate the blend of Venezuelan and Spanish and Canarias music were a soft and sombre piece called Quinta Anauco composed by Aldemaro Romero, and a rising and falling piece with a mix of colours. ´Alma Llanera´ was composed by Pedro Elias Gutierrez who was born in Venezuela in 1870, where he became a musical composer. His work on this particular piece was an adaptation of existing music and the addition of lyrics.

Perhaps even without Ivanoff’s introduction I would have recognised the two following pieces as being of Mexican extraction. I am well aware of how Spanish folk lore music has influenced the writing of even contemporary Mexican music that has since become a huge part of the Americana music I love. La Bikina, written by Ruben Feuntes in the twentieth century, was altogether jollier and jauntier than the works from Venezuela. Feuntes was a violinist and composer who helped the mariachi style of music become of global significance. The second Mexican piece was Danzon Number 2, written by Arturo Marquez, in which an elegant melody is carried along on a heavy and irresistible bass line.

Cuban music also has its own very distinctive sound and came to world prominence as recently as the final two decades of the last century when Ry Cooder brought the players of The Buena Vista Social Club to our attention through a cinematic, fly on the wall documentary film and as a hit cd recording of a live performance. La Bella Cubana was composed by Jose White, a writer who would most certainly have been a contemporary of the musicians Cooder introduced to the world.

The final offering was of four pieces of music from Argentina and Uruguay. I might have recognised some of the tango rhythms as being from Argentina but cannot say I could have labelled the Uruguayan music without Ivanof’´s useful introductory pointers.

El Choclo was the only collaboratively written piece played in the programme, having been composed by C. Alcorta and A Villoldo. It was a cheerful, playful and lilting work.

La Cumparsita, by Gerardo Matos, carried the distinctive macho tango style so beloved of Strictly Come Dancing. Matos wrote it to be interpreted by Robert Firpo and his orchestra in their residency at Café la Giraldo in Uruguay, as it was a combination of Tango and Uruguayan bar songs.

The penultimate offering from the fine players of Quinteto Cuerdas OCL was Marron y Azul with a lighter dance feel, and finally we were given images of a beautiful ballroom brought about by the music of Por una cabera.

One hundred and twenty people seated in the room rose to their feet and called for an encore, and the players came back to reprise that final number. The programme selected, and the skills of the musicians who performed it, fully deserved to be brought back for that final bow.

So, with Dee’s ridiculous assertion about the number of musicians on Lanzarote I did some quick mental arithmetic. From Tuesday to Saturday we had attended five concerts and seen almost three hundred different musicians in five different venues and the total audience had been something between fifteen hundred and two thousand.

That doesn’t make Dee’s claim accurate but it does raise questions about how come, on this small island, so many young people learn to play and sing to this amazing standard. I wonder whether music in particular, and the arts in general, are more highly valued and therefore more elevated on school curriculums, than is case in the UK for example.

We need to remember that the trouble with numbers is that they are all ´lies, damned lies and statistics´ as Mark Twain said. So, it might not be sensible to count up the number of arts disciplines represented on the island and adding the numbers of artists in each category to see whether, even though there might be more musicians than people, there may then be even more artists than there are musicians.

To put this in perspective all across the arts can report that Friday 19th July, ´the warehouse´ or CIC El Almacen, to give the gallery its more grandiose title, hosted the inauguration of three visual-arts exhibitions; Flavour, Mumbles Theatre and Sculpting David, by Moon Bengoechea, Daniel Jordán and Damián Rodríguez respectively.

Not only were these three young artists present as exhibitors of the culture of Lanzarote, but also in attendance and support were Pepe Betancort, a huge mover and shaker and shaper of the island’s art offer, and his artistic colleague, Alberto Aguiar. A large audience also attended the opening of these three exhibitions, which will be housed here until September 21. Admission to visit them is free, from Monday to Friday from 10.00 h to 21.00 h and Saturday from 10.00 to 14.00 h.

Flavour, from Moon Bengoechea, is exhibited in the Sala El Aljibe and involves a plastic reflection on disproportionate food production affecting the planet and its environmental consequences.

Mumbles Theatre, created by Daniel Jordán, is a festive and ironic vision of the art world and the language of the exhibitions.

The third exhibition, simultaneously housed under the same roof, is Sculpting David, by Damián Rodríguez, exploring the representation of mankind in painting and how the use of colour and material by an artist can subvert the subject he is addressing.

Already, the numbers of talented artists, curators and exhibition guides on the island is apparent. Now, add those to the number of musicians on Lanzarote and you’ll find there are not too many people who don’t belong in various sections of the Venn diagram.

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