Sunday, January 9, 2011


After a late fall filled with lots of terrific jazz gigs, we hadn't been out for jazz in almost a month while we dealt with winter weather; snow and ice in parking lots is no fun for anybody, but between my arthritis and my hubby's Parkinson's, it's just too tricky to go out in those conditions if we don't have to.

So it was a very welcome event last night (the streets are clear--until tomorrow night, that is) to go out for Sandunga playing at the Iron Post in Urbana. I have featured this group before on  Susan's Blog (see October and November archives) and with good reason -- they are an exceptionally talented local band! I forgot my camera (again!), but there are some terrific photos taken last night that are available on the Sandunga Facebook page.

The band plays mainly guajira son, the music of the Cuban countryside. It's a rhythmic and infectious mix, with lots of musical influences in its heritage: Spanish, African, Caribbean.

Willy Hope plays two Cuban guitar-like instruments, the tres and the laud. Laud means "lute" and is sort of like a Cuban lute. It is an instrument with twelve metallic strings and has a high, poignant, and folkloric sound. The tres is really as much a rhythm instrument as a guitar. It has two sets of three strings. Willy plays both with impressive virtuosity, sings in a clear and beautiful voice, and seems to radiate joy as he performs.

Julian Norato plays guitar and provides the lead for many of the vocals with his wonderful voice. Many of the pieces seem to involve a repeated chorus as well as the narrative lyrics, and so the others join in the vocal backup. The way that Willy's and Julian's voices harmonize and then blend seamlessly with the sound of the other voices is both melodious and magical to hear! Tina Hope plays the wooden percussion instruments, the claves and the guacharacha, and joins in vocals. Andy Miller, a cool-looking young dude with dreadlocks whose birthday was yesterday, plays the bongos exceptionally well, joins the vocals, and plays a bell-like instrument as well as using his new seat as a drum! Adam Walton is there with his three congas; the dialogue between the congas and the bongos is marvelous and causes everyone in the audience to hoot and clap and yell for more.

Sometimes the group is also joined by Eduardo Herrera on the electric bass guitar. He adds a welcome rhythm, joins in the vocals, and makes humorous comments at the mike. Another special guest tonight was Gina Reynolds. I first heard Gina sing in Portuguese with Bate Calado. It's a Brazilian band that also includes Eduardo. She did a couple of songs, including the haunting "Besame Mucho" (I also love Andrea Boccelli's version of this on CD).

Listening to these songs makes me wish I knew more Spanish than I got from the short course many years ago. Because of French, I do pick up a word here or there, but I wish I could find lyrics to some of these popular "son" tunes that many of the audience members seem to know. (Willy, can you help?) Nonetheless, I get the idea that the lyrics are lighthearted and full of the kind of joy in life that seems to emanate from each of the band members as they perform. They so obviously love what they do that you can't help but feel the enthusiasm.

Speaking of enthusiasm, it's always a warm and diverse audience at Sandunga gigs, and the dancing usually starts in earnest during the second set after folks have had a bite to eat and drink (Iron Post cheeseburgers are quite good and reasonably priced). Though we can't join in, we both love to watch the dancers. It's such a great mix of people: a retired physics professor dances with his daughter, a community radio personality gyrates, a young woman who clearly adores dancing is teaching her steps to her lovely young daughter, and a couple soon to have a child dance cheek to cheek (or is it belly to belly?).

The audience also included some local musicians who have come to share the fun: Karim Yengsep the bass player from Bossa Nuevo and other groups, Holly Holmes, singer from Bossa Nuevo, guitarist George Turner who has played with Desafinado, with pianist Lara Driscoll, and in his own quartet, and Mikael Templeton, clarinet and saxophonist who plays with various groups, including the great Jordan Kaye combo called The Music of Django Reinhardt.

It was mighty cold when we left at nine to head home (single-digit windchill, I'm guessing), but we felt warm inside from such a delightful evening!

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