Dia de Canaries – Los Colorados – unknown musicians
Bohemia Lanzarote – Teatro De San Bartolome
BUSKING UP A BREEZE
There was a colloquialism in England, that my Yorkshire parents often used when I was growing up, that drew some comparisons between The Lord Mayor’s Show and the dustcart that followed it.
Dee and I had seen a wonderful ´Lord Mayor’s Show´ the night before at Jameos del Agua, featuring the then acting-President, Pedro San Gines, delivering a speech to formally open the annual celebration of Canaries Day with a show that included an incredible performance, by Jose Perez on the timple, proud and powerful music by Acatif and a demonstration by The Lanzarote Ensemble as to why they have so quickly become the darlings of the classical music crowd here on the island. Dia de Canaries itself, however, dawned with us expecting perhaps now to see only the dustcarts mentioned in the English saying.
Whilst there were all sorts of events being delivered in the towns of Lanzarote, the day itself is one of restful celebration; markets of local produce, a few more tapas menus than usual and a laid back holiday air that the tourists always enjoy. This, though, is a lazy day for the islanders themselves, too, except perhaps for those who work in the tourist industry.
My wife Dee goes to twice weekly yoga classes in Los Colorados. Her class for this day had been cancelled so that the fiesta could be celebrated there but she had previously noticed a couple of posters around the area suggesting that the shopping centre square would today see all the restaurants serving specially revised food offerings and that there would be live music being played in the area.
The adverts were as precise, and as vague, as that, so we wandered over to that side of Playa Blanca, the far side from where we live, and strolled slowly around the area where I normally sit and struggle with my crossword for a couple of hours two times a week.
The place seemed very quiet despite the bunting, brightly decorated tablecloths and barbeque aromas wafting through the air. As we turned the first corner, though, we were regaled by tinkling musical sounds, and knew immediately that this could turn out to be something special.
There before us, under large umbrella awnings over a small raised temporary stage, surrounded by wires and speakers and behind a line of microphones, were three musicians in national or local costume. The sounds they were making perfectly matched the shining sea, the blue sky and the gentle breeze, so we took a bench right in front of the stage and sat down to listen. This was so relaxed and informal an event that I had no qualms in unfolding my newspaper and taking on the daily fight against its devilish clues, even as I listened. Two down: Musical Heaven On Earth, nine letters, that now read space, space, n, space, space, space, space, t, space,…. oh yeah, Lanzarote.
As we listened to this combination of timple, guitar and double bass we vaguely recognised the db player as a musician we have seen playing live gigs, on guitar, at bars along the sea walk on occasions. His name is Jorge and he is the partner of a Spanish lady who is an acquaintance of Dee’s. He usually plays wonderfully jazzy guitar and sings songs like Unforgettable in mellow tones. Here, though, he was shifting and shaking the massive musical instrument and making it talk.
He looked like he would be the middle aged man amongst these three musicians, because the timple player was a tall, pony tailed youth who, for his looks, might have been assumed to be a rocker over in England. His instrument looked even tinier than a timple normally does, being played opposite this huge double bass, but it matched it note for note and notch for notch on the volume scale.
The old man in the trio was the guitar player, though old in this case still meant at least a generation younger than I. Like the timple, too, this guitar seemed a somewhat well used and beaten up instrument and like the musician seemed somewhat weathered.
What smiles these three all had, though, as they played Spanish folk lore songs with a loose, jazz inflected flavour as if in they were in a jam session rehearsal. Jorge obviously faintly remembered us, too, as he nodded across and shouted Hola. That might have been the only word any of them spoke between them throughout more than an hour’s non-stop music.
Evidence that these un-named and anonymous musicians were in fact ´blowing up a storm´ came as we noticed the breeze was seeking to become a gale in competition to them. In fact, as crowds gathered at the café tables around the arena to listen to this small string band and their lilting songs, one particularly strong gust blew over the umbrellas to come crashing down on top of them and shifted speakers on their pedestals. These musicians, even as they stepped quickly out of harm’s way and crept out from under the now folded down umbrella, just carried on playing. Truly, though, to use another English saying, they had brought the place down !
They sauntered off around the square, never missing a beat or a note, seeking a slightly more sheltered area, and because we were so impressed we decided to set off after them, like groupies at a Beatles gig. We ended up at Carpe Diem, another restaurant just a few yards on, where the trio continued, and with no sound system still delivered sunny music and warm harmonies in a perfectly audible fashion. This was a fine accompaniment to our meals of a tuna baguette and chips and cheese nachos and chocolate cake and ice cream and beer.
As we were then replete, as they say, we decided to head for home as the musicians had now put away their instruments for a well-earned rest. The players had not been named on any adverts we had seen and had not introduced themselves at all during their busking performance.
Their mostly finger-picked playing reminded me of a legendary American string band, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, of the nineteen fifties and I can offer no higher praise or comparison than that.
I suspect they were a quickly assembled trio, who may all play together in a larger orchestra, or who may even come from diverse bands, or maybe even are simply solo players who decided to play together for the day. Somebody had obviously hired them, and so we would guess they were being paid, and whatever their fee was, they earned every penny. Regardless of all that, they seemed to have been playing for the love of it, enjoying each other’s company and making sure we enjoyed theirs.
As I put the key into the car door we could hear a much younger rock band kicking into gear for the second performance of the day: all slide and electric and raw, roared vocals. This island knows how to party.
Bohemia Lanzarote – Teatro De San Bartolome
It was yet only the middle of a long week of events on the arts and culture calendar and we still had the Friday and Saturday nights to look forward to. Sadly, though, we are not sixteen anymore and we were, in a favourite word of Fivepenny Piece or The Houghton Weavers (two local folk groups from our previous life in the UK), ´powfagged,´ which is a polite way of saying we were cream-crackered, which is itself a cockney rhyming slang euphemism.
By six o´clock on the Friday evening it looked, though, as if we might not be able, anyway, to attend the event in San Bartolome for which we had already purchased our tickets. A new sofa from a well-known furniture store had failed to show up at our house by its promised delivery time of 5.00 pm. A common occurrence for us in the UK but despite all the myths about disorganisation, unpunctuality and a mañana attitude over here, promptness of such deliveries has been something we have become increasingly impressed by in our four years here.
Nevertheless to cut a long story short, or in my case to cut a bible into a gospel, after several unintelligible phone calls between us and the store and the store and their driver, the latter finally turned up at seven thirty. We were due at Teatro San Bartolome for 8.30 and it was only at seven fifty that we were able to set off, after ensuring our house and its new sofa was all safely locked up. The driver / delivery man ran around like heck to load up our old sofa to take away, unpack and assemble and place in the lounge our new one, and sort out the paperwork for us to sign.
I hurried Dee up, telling her it was time for us to get the heck out of Dodge, and we were almost to the borders of Playa Blanca when her mobile rang, just managing to make itself heard from the very bottom of her cavernous handbag, where it was buried beneath piles of rubble.
After much fumbling and profanity she finally answered, to discover it was the furniture man saying he was trying to catch us up as he had given her the wrong paperwork to sign and that she had in fact seemed to have taken receipt of a double bed he was on his way to deliver, very late, to a family in Arrecife. We pulled in to the side of the road and he joined us a couple of minutes later and the necessary document exchange was enacted.
At last, we were on our way to see a concert we knew very little about. We had seen a poster for Bohemia Lanzarote, that seemed to show the group of that name to number almost a dozen young things. Whether they were thespians, musicians or dancers we hadn’t a clue, but we like the theatre and trust the events it puts on, so we had purchased tickets. Although we were now running late I wasn’t too worried, as I figured there would be only a few people for a group of artists I had never heard of, and anyway, we had tickets. Of course we ended up following a ´black velvet steering wheel car with driver´ and the journey over Le Geria took us twice as long as usual. We finally managed to find a parking place in a very busy looking town and ran (perhaps an exaggeration) into the theatre, flashing our tickets at a man on the door.
He directed us upstairs to the circle, as we were late-comers and the show was just starting. Now physically powfagged as well as mentally, we crawled up the stairs to take the last two empty seats in the circle and, in fact, in the entire theatre. As we sank into our front row, comfortable chairs with a great view, the lights dimmed, and voices were heard singing from behind the still closed curtain. So it was to be a musical event it seemed.
It turned out to be something a lot more than that. We know you hear this from me pretty often, but this would become a fantastic, engaging and inspiring concert.
From the wings, in front of the curtains, stepped seven young males (from teens to late twenties, we would guess) and four females of a similar age range. Between them, they comprised many musicians and several solo singers, and the instrumentation consisted of timple, guitar, bass and percussion with trembling bells as well as hand held instruments like shakers and castanets. The instrumentalists played old music in modern ways, injecting jazz and Latin American rhythms and folk and blues riffs, and the soloists sang strongly and surely with real passion, and the choral singing was simply uplifting in its harmony and syncopation. Lyrics were delivered with some of the verbal clicks and ticks that we have come to associate with the Graceland sounds of the African music Paul Simon introduced to a global audience in the nineteen nineties.
The sound system suffered from booms and pops occasionally, but Bohemia Lanzarote sang on, regardless, and overcame all such difficulties. They encouraged the audience in unaccompanied a capella and all this was performed in front of a power point backdrop of evocative Lanzarote scenes of past and present. The power point also gave details of each song title and its composers, which would have been very useful if your reporter had been able to find his pen or recorder in the pervading darkness of this upper circle, from beneath the mobile phone underneath the rubbish in his wife’s handbag !
There were references in the lyrics of some of these contemporary songs to Cesar Manrique, which drew warm and somehow reverential applause from the packed theatre. References were made as well to the Canarian diaspora, particularly that part of it still to be found in Venezuela, and one particular song, which Dee thinks was called Lolita Pluma, seemed to celebrate a well-known character from that part of the world, with a cinematic projection showing ´her´ and the life she lived. Sadly, this song is not on the cd we purchased on the way out, so we cannot confirm its title, and neither is a song called Aorrorra, which was a complex delivery of voices and instruments that sounded, like something from the depths of history, sacred and profound and was beautifully performed.
We picked the cd up after standing in ovation, twice, with the rest of the house. After our demands for an encore had been rewarded we drove home talking about the somehow fluidly staccato stomping of one of the girl soloists as she sang, of an electric guitar that gently wept in almost George Harrison fashion, and of the choreography that enhanced some of the songs. Of course, on arriving home, we wanted to relax on our new sofa, and so put the cd on the player to hear studio performances of songs we now recognised as part of Bohemia Lanzarote’s live offerings. Isa and Todo Cambia are there, and so too are Siete Rosa and Rosas Con La Graciosa. There are fifteen superb tracks on the album Canarias, Sudamerica, – un viaje de iday y veulta, and it is available on the Atlantida label.
The Canary Islands and Lanzarote are rightly proud of their traditional folk lore music and it has been well protected and nurtured by the likes of Acatif and Los Sabadeños for the last few decades.
Dee and I were part of the so called folk boom of the nineteen sixties in the UK when the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton challenged the established libraries of folk music and division was savage, with folk clubs being classified as traditional or modern (and the same has happened in the jazz and blues scenes, of course) and those on one side of the divide would decry the music on the other.
There comes a time, though, when all our traditions are handed on (down sounds too pejorative) to new generations to care for. Invariably the young inheritors will show their love for the tradition by playing with it, and experimenting with it, because they know the tradition, inevitably, is sufficiently robust to accept such treatment, and to grow from it.
If Bohemia Lanzarote are examples of new musicians re-shaping the old songs and listening to new songs in the old styles, then rest assured, folk lore music over here is in good hands.,