©Brett Delmage, 2018
Amado Dedéu Garcia's (l) solo percussion piece showcasing Afro-Cuban rhythms was a highlight of Rafael Zaldivar's (centre) tribute to the Buena Vista Social Club, presented Saturday as part of the 2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Rafael Zaldivar's Tribute to the Buena Vista Social Club
2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire
The British Hotel, Gatineau (secteur Aylmer)
Saturday, July 28, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Afro-Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar brought the joyous and vibrant music of pre-revolutionary Cuba to Gatineau Saturday night – and had his audience up cheering, dancing, and giving his group a standing ovation.

It was music that Zaldivar had grown up with in Cuba, and heard in performances by masters of the Cuban musical tradition. Starting in 1996, North Americans were reintroduced to this music through the Buena Vista Social Club, and most of the pieces Zaldivar's quintet played were from that group's repertoire.

If many of the tunes were familiar – the group opened with “El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)”, one of the best-known Cuban songs of all time – it nevertheless sounded fresh and exciting. Sitting at the restaurant's grand piano, Zaldivar joked and laughed with the audience as he announced the songs, and the majority of that audience were listening and responsive. One corner of the room turned into an impromptu dance floor with dancers swaying and twirling to the music.

Zaldivar brought four musicians with him from Montreal: vocalist Mirielle Boily, bassist Levi Dover, drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel, and in particular Afro-Cuban percussionist Amado Dedéu Garcia. They produced a tight and fast-moving stream of music, with Boily's warm vocals soaring over the ensemble's driving rhythms. I particularly enjoyed her vivacious take on “Guantanamera”, and her sensuous vocals over sizzling piano and percussion on Compay Segundo's “Chan Chan”.

A highlight was the dramatic and bittersweet “Dos Gardenias”, in which Boily's pleading vocals were underlaid by Zaldivar's piano, at first contemplative and then gradually becoming more swift and complex.

And equally memorable was Garcia's solo number, presenting the country's folkloric roots and Yoruban spiritual heritage in a bravura display of conga percussion and powerful chanting. He mixed rhythms and let his voice and his drumming echo around the room in a riveting display. Partway through, Zaldivar added to the drama with rumbling notes on piano and vocal responses to Garcia – and then as the congas slowed, he lifted his arms and urged the audience to clap along. The piece ended with almost the whole room clapping in time to Garcia's propulsive rhythms – and a standing ovation.

With Saturday's extremely changeable weather, the show was moved inside from Parc de l'Imaginaire to avoid the rain. But just as with Wednesday's show in this series, the British Hotel dining room was deafeningly loud before the concert, with noisy conversations and movement. It quietened down somewhat partway through, and sound technician Patrice Servantes did his best to ensure all the musicians were audible, checking the sound repeatedly from the floor. The result was a reasonably well-balanced mix of instruments and vocals, although Zaldivar's between-song announcements were mostly lost in the chatter. Still, it was not an ideal listening environment.

The show ended with Chico O'Farrill's “Cuban Blues”, a popular Cuban song from the 1950s. The quintet turned it into a celebration, a homage to great Cuban musicians past with folkloric rhythms and invocatory vocals – and a bright Latin beat.

According to veteran Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo, the Buena Vista Social Club wanted “our traditional music to live on and to enchant the world, and this is what our tours achieved.” And that's what Zaldivar and his group achieved with this show: an enchanting revival of songs authentically Cuban but which speak to everyone.

Set List

  1. El Manisero [Moisés Simons]
  2. Bésame Mucho [Consuelo Velázquez]
  3. La Comparsa [Ernesto Lecuona]
  4. Guantanamera [Joseíto Fernández, José Martí]
  5. Dos Gardenias [Isolina Carrillo]
  6. Amadito solo
  7. Chan Chan [Compay Segundo]
  8. Cuban Blues [Chico O'Farrill]

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