SERGIO DE JESUS Teatro de Tias October 2019
We swap a weekly e-mail when I send him my articles for consideration, and I read his regular newsletter, about life here on Lanzarote, for new English speaking visitors and residents but he and I have never actually met or spoken to each other. Nevertheless, there are countless times a year I have cause to say ¨Good old Miguel´ because of his timely distribution of useful, and to me, sometimes even life-changing information. It was because we were told by neighbours about his newsletter and the Lanzarote Information web site when we came over four years ago to live here that we found details of the thriving arts and cultural aspects of Lanzarote. We felt welcomed and safe when we started to attend events at which, sometimes, we seemed to be the only English people. Because we non áblis Espanol (does that mean I don´t speak Spanish?) we might have encountered administrative problems or have had occasional difficulty in understanding a performance. However, it was because of Miguel´s patent love of this island and its people and their life-style that we were so encouraged to join a scene that has taken us to clubs and caves, theatres and galleries and concerts on the beach and to shows in hills alive with the sound of music.
We have fallen in love with flamenco and fado music, marvelled at Manrique and smiled at Spanish folk lore music with its trembling timples and the swirling skirts and stately courtship of traditional dance. Jazz concerts, poetry and the incredible soundscapes produced by visiting Nordic artists have all simply blown us away.
With Miguel’s what’s on guide on Lanzarote Information, and also due to the contacts I have established through The Department Of Arts And Culture at the Cabildo I feel pretty confident I won’t miss anything. The artists I preview, interview or review on these pages and for my own blog, also help fill my entertainments calendar.
So it was, when I received a recent newsletter from Miguel, that I clicked on the what’s on button just to ensure I was on track with the month’s listings. However the first thing I saw was a poster advertising an event at Teatro De Tias for later that evening, that sounded too good to miss. At nine pm Cuban singer writer Sergio De Jesus would be giving a live preview of his forthcoming album, Mientras Tanto.
´Grab your coat, woman,´ I shouted to Dee, ´we’re going out !´ She was busy in the kitchen preparing a salad cream butty for my tea but, heck, I’d just have to let that go.
We raced out to the car as fast as our old legs would carry us, and drove off up to Tias, leaving the sun setting behind us. We arrived at the theatre even before they managed to get the doors open, and although we could faintly hear a sound-check being held inside, there was not a soul around to see.
So we headed over to the Arrayate Un Millo Restaurant, which we have mentioned before on these pages for its excellent food and friendly service. Tonight we would only have time for a quick drink until the theatre opened. Halfway through my pint, though, I glanced up at the list of Tapas specials on the chalk-board, and noticed the promise of a chickpea stew for only three euros and fifty cents; chickpea and stew and a price of less than a ´fiver,´ what’s not to like? It was lovely and I made a note to self to keep my eyes open for that in future.
Nevertheless, it was time to return to the ticket office, where we soon spotted people we know among the early arrivals. Dee’s yoga instructor, Mercedes, was there and Marianne who runs choirs over here, and a white haired German guy, who seems to be at all the events we go to, and others we recognised but don’t yet know.
Tickets for this concert, featuring a musician we have seen before and by whom we already own some previous recordings, were only 12 euro and by the time the musicians took to the stage there was a healthy and enthusiastic audience that included some obvious devotees of this genre.
The lights dimmed and Sergio stepped to the front, centre stage. Behind him was a keyboard player who, in the way he moved from tinkling piano riffs to massive organ chords, evoked memories of Garth Hudson of The Band, once labelled ´the most brilliant organist in rock´.
The upright bass player, (and this instrument was a modernistic, slim piece that was so thin and dainty it looked almost like the kind of stringed instrument played by nomadic African tribesmen) would create a fantastic sound, but so versatile was this musician that he alternated easily from this upright bass to a more recognisable bass guitar. There were two percussionists; one behind the kind of high hat drum kit we associate with rock bands and the other with upright drums, bongos, shakers and tambourines. Sergio fronted them with an acoustic guitar which he occasionally exchanged for an amplified electric version.
So, before the first note was struck I was wondering how this somewhat unconventional line up might create sinewy Cuban rhythms, but I need have had no concerns. The band performed, in both rhythm and syncopation, with guest contributions from fantastic brass players and trumpeters who wandered on and off stage in a carefree manner, dropping little bombs of music notes that were still exploding even as they stepped back behind the curtain.
Sergio’s voice is quite light and airy but it sat comfortably above the orchestrations of the group. The songs were contemporary and the Cuban sound was clear to hear, but there was something else, too. One beautifully played opening riff on the acoustic guitar was redolent of Sunday In Memphis, recorded a few years ago by Big House, one of the last great country music groups.
Then there was the guest female vocalist Sergio introduced, who took to the stage from her seat in the audience!! She accompanied him on a Spanish language song, singing ´below´ his voice in subtle harmony. Sergio then played a lovely acoustic work as she sang, in English, Farewell River. I wasn’t familiar with the song but it sounded perfectly radio-friendly.
On other pieces the guy with the bongos shook and rattled and rolled all manner of hand held instruments, one of which looked like a glorified shillelagh. The swell and fall of the keyboards added real light and shade and the player on the drum set switched rhythms effortlessly, always keeping perfect time. The trumpeters seemed almost to play mariachi music at some points and the bass player, who seemed almost transported in his delight of playing, knitted it all together. So infectious were these rhythms that very soon there were a dozen ladies spontaneously dancing in the aisles, all sway and shimmy and shuffle.
The playlist included the tracks on the new album and I made a note to look for copies on sale in the foyer as we left. Sadly this was not to be the case, as the album is first available only via Spotify.
Sergio’s back-catalogue recordings were available, though, so I bought one I didn’t already have, and suddenly the man appeared at my side to sign it ! I took the opportunity to ask about the country music references I felt I had heard in the music, and Sergio reminded me just how close Cuba is to America and told me he grew up listening to American Rock And Roll and Country music on his radio.
We swapped e mail addresses and agreed to try to digitally conduct a brief interview. Watch this space, then, for an exclusive interview with this talented singer and writer and for a comprehensive review of his discography.