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FORD STAGE TO SIZZLE, COLUMBIAN STYLE

By Audrey Coleman

Do you have plans yet for Sunday afternoon? How about an outdoor fiesta of Columbian music and dance? Slather on some sunscreen, bring your broad-brimmed straw hat, perhaps a fan to cool you down, and be ready to surrender to the hot rhythms of some of Columbia's most talented musicians. On August 5 at 3 p.m., the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood will host a Columbian Festival of Traditional, Contemporary, and Popular Music.

The line-up of artists is impressive, some flying in from Columbia, others based in Los Angeles. Festival headliner Petrona Martinez, a legend in her homeland, is one of the foremost interpreters of the Afro-Colombian song style known as baile cantao (sung dance). The daughter and granddaughter of Bullerengue practitioners, she gained international renown in 1997 when Radio France International produced a documentary about her (Lloro Yo, el Llamado del Bullerengue (I cry; the lament of the Bullerengue). At the same time, she released her debut CD, titled Bonito Que Canta in the United States. Now in her 60s, she moves audiences with her own compositions, which speak of hardships and happiness life has dealt her.

The Justo Almerio Quartet, based in Northern Columbia, will bring its fusion of Latin, Afro-Cuban, South American, funk, and jazz to the festival.  Composer, arranger and bandleader Justo Almario is known for his virtuosity on the soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet, and flute. His many musical collaborations include a stint as musical director for Mongo Santamaria's band, performances with Freddie Hubbard, Tito Puente, Queen Latifah, Charles Mingus, Billy Higgens and Linda Ronstadt, and ongoing involvement Jose Riso's Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars. Almerio's latest CD, Love Thy Neighbor, features his quartet playing original compositions as well as standards.

Joining Almerio's ensemble will be Los Angeles-based Abraham Laboriel, Mexican-born bassist who has performed with George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Sara Vaughan, and Joe Pass, among other jazz greats. He is also founder of the band Koinonia.

Indigenous South American instruments will have a prominent place in the program, thanks to Huayucaltia (pronounced why-yoo-cal-TEE-ah), a Southern California-based ensemble with members hailing from Columbia Argentina, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Its name is inspired by the Nauatl word huayolcayotl, which means kinship, unity or brotherhood. At the Ford performance, they will feature Luis Perez Ixoneztli, a specialist in pre-Columbian musical instruments. The group also plays contemporary instruments, each member bringing influences such as Andean, jazz, classical and rock sounds to create a pan-American fusion. Formed in 1985, Huayucaltia has several albums to its credit, the most recent, El Tiempo, released in late 2006 by Moondo Records..

But what is a fiesta without bailar? Enter Folclore de Mi Tierra la Puya Loca, another Southern California-based group, offering a repertoire of traditional dances from both the Atlantic and the Andean regions of Colombia. Discover the rhythms of mapalé, garabato, el currulao, bambuco and sanjuanero. Some of the numbers will evoke the Carnaval of Barranquilla, one of Colombia's greatest carnivals.

The producer of this festival, Hernan Pinilla, is affiliated with the Taller Arte y Cultura (Arts and Culture Workshop), which he calls "a small non-formal organization that is devoted to promoting the arts and culture of Latin America." Based in Los Angeles and Orange County, the Taller not only produces performances but also leads music and dance workshops in high schools to help Latino students connect to their cultural roots.

The Columbian Festival of Traditional, Contemporary, and Popular Music has three main goals. Pinilla explained, "First of all, it is to bring together artists from Columbia and the U.S. Secondly, to expose to the world the richness of the musical styles from the different regions of Columbia and have the artists bring their art in to the States. They deserve to be known."

The third goal relates to the festival's subtitle, A Song for Peace. "You know how violent Columbia is, how many problems Columbia has with military actions," said Pinilla. We have been marketing this event in (L.A.'s) Columbian community and in the mainstream media so we can put a little pressure on the Columbian government. We want them to sit down and listen to the communities and ethnicities in the different regions that are suffering from these calamities. Not only are the communities suffering but also the environment."

 During the concert, you may here some comments about these problems, but they will be brief. "We don't want to make out of this art and cultural event a political event," said Pinilla. "It's more about bringing artists together and just hoping that some of the politicians in Columbia and the politicians here will listen to us. That means trying to bring to the attention of the Columbian government and the different military forces working in this country the need...for a more (peaceful) and civilized world."

The Columbian Festival of Traditional, Contemporary, and Popular Music: A Song of Peace will be rocking the stage at the Ford between 3 p.m. and "about 6 or 7:30 p.m.," according to Hernan Pinilla. Tickets can be purchased by calling 323-461-3673 or by going on-line at www.FordTheatres.org.  Don't forget the straw hat and the sunscreen.


 Audrey Coleman is a writer, educator, and passionate explorer of world music and culture.