Hispanic Music Finds a Home in Santa Barbara

UCSB, ¡Viva el Arte! Bring Culturally Rich Programming to Town

Las Cafeteras
Courtesy Photo

MEXICAN BEAUTIES ON THE TOWN: In Santa Barbara, there has long been a cultural divide between the parallel worlds of Hispanic and non-Hispanic culture, by the nature of the demographically cleaved population hereabouts and the differences of musical and cultural tastes. But lines, venues, and demarcations do sometimes blur (thankfully), like when top-drawer mariachi bands show up at the Chumash Casino, say, or the festive Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival at the S.B. Bowl come Fiesta-time.

More specifically, two UCSB-powered sources feed us lesser-heard sounds from south of the border — or perhaps better to say “down in neighboring corners of the continent.” The wondrous and now nine-year-deep ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! program has been promoting and enlightening us about regional Mexican styles, from mariachi and beyond, bringing bands to the county to perform and teach. UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) also stokes a fundamental agenda for hosting music from outside U.S. borders. Most recently, the MCC was lit up by the Bulgarian splendor of the fabulous Varimezov Family Band, which put on both a great sit-down show in the theater and then a saucy, odd-metered “dance set” in the MCC Lounge.

Suddenly, this fall, an unspoken regional music of choice is the Veracruz-based folkloric style known as son jarocho, which has gone through periods of attention and revivals over the past century. Last month, ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! hosted the bold, young next-generation band Los Vega Son Jarocho, extending the family musical line to include members of the older son jarocho band Mono Blanco, which played in the series four years ago. The younger band’s show at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, where the series ends up for free-to-the-public Sunday-night soirées, was a memorable one, rich in Mexican musical heritage and the infectiously rhythmic stuff of interlocking parts on indigenous guitar-like instruments and the dance-percussion component of the zapateado footwork, right through to the genre’s greatest hit, “La Bamba.”

In upcoming son jarocho news, this Friday’s concert at the MultiCultural Center features Las Cafeteras, an East L.A.–based band of note and rightful buzz-worthiness that has been finding new ways to update the traditional music with other musical spices and spoken word. The band, formed by young, roots-rediscovering musicians in 2005, has been making inroads to reaching larger and hipper ears of late, spreading the gospel by opening for such big names as Ozomatli, Lila Downs, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, which invited them along to open for its Santa Barbara Bowl show two years ago. Their vibrant dynamism and rootsy energy translated well to the Bowl context, and the chance to hear them in the intimate pressure-cooker of the MCC Theater on Friday is one to seize upon.

Yes, Veracruz and this specific musical tradition, as filtered through young Los Angelenos’ sensibilities, is the cultural flavor of choice on Friday. But we can also call it regional music of the Americas, in the large, multicultural sense.

FRINGE PRODUCT: In the latest chapter of my festival-junkie annals, I paid a visit to the jazz festival in Umeå, Sweden, a few weeks ago, appreciating an actual dose of wintry chill, atmospherically, and the 45th annual festival’s concentrated blast of good music (including a mind-bender set by Norwegian vocal wonder Sidsel Endresen, channeling her special inner-primitive-sophisticate musical language).

But the strongest impression made in Umeå was a show by the great Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and trio — with potent poet of the bass Anders Jormin and Jon Fält, the wily cool Drummer the World Needs to Know More About. As heard on that Swedish afternoon, before a packed and admiring house, and also heard on the illuminating new ECM album Indicum, Stenson is one of the world’s finest and most lyrical pianists in jazz, and his trio ranks in the upper echelon of the piano-trio art form. Musics of the world beckon, here and there.


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