The music of master musician Cuban-born multiple Grammy Award-winner Paquito D'Rivera and his fellow musicians Paraguyan Berta Rojas and Trinidadians pannist Mia Gormandy and drummer Sean Thomas took the Queen's Hall, St Ann's, audience through the highs and lows of laughter and tears as they thrilled the audience on Sunday evening.
The concert titled In The Footsteps of Mangore was hosted by the Classical Music Development Foundation in collaboration with Calabash Foundation for the Arts. Rojas is currently on a tour entitled In the Footsteps of Mangore as she embraces the same itinerary as the great composer Agustin Barrios Mangore when he journeyed through Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, French Guiana, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and El Salvador. Presented by Banco ITAU and sponsored by the National Tourism Secretariat of Paraguay, this leg of the tour featured guest star, D'Rivera with special participation by local musicians Gormandy on pans and Thomas on drums. Mangore actually lived in Trinidad for a time and travelled the world performing as "Nitsuga Mangore" before his death in 1944. Rojas is considered to be the foremost classical guitarist in Latin America.
"Agustin Barrios travelled to 20 countries throughout the Americas," Rojas informed the assembly, "and he came to Trinidad in 1932. I just imagine how hard it must have been in those days to arrive from Paraguay—by train, by boat, by horseback ride, walking as well.
"But he made it and he was probably the first classical guitarist ever to play here, so it's an honour to remember him and an honour to play here in Trinidad and I thank you so much for making time in your busy schedules to be here."
Following Gormandy and Thomas' opening selections of
Barrios' "Un Sueno en la Floresta" (A Dream in the Forest) and a medley of local selections entitled "A Different Look", Rojas took the stage to perform six pieces composed by "Mangore". Introducing each piece in English, she then seemed to become one with the guitar made by Michael O'Leary, as her fingers caressed and manipulated the delicate Savarez strings. From the complex chords of "Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios", to the intricate steps of the waltz, "Vals Op. 8 No. 4" and the subtle underlying bell tolls of the world famous, "La Catedral", Rojas thrilled the gathering with her mind-blowing, ear-massaging delivery.
D'Rivera's personable nature immediately found favour with the crowd and kept them in fits of laughter, as he addressed them jovially in between his jaw-dropping performances.
A master composer and the first artist to win Latin Grammy Awards in both the Classical and Latin Jazz categories in 2003, D'Rivera also received the National Medal for the Arts from President George W Bush in 2005 and boasts of a catalogue of over 30 solo albums in Jazz, Bebop and Latin music. Having performed alongside the London Philharmonic, Symphony, Warsaw Philharmonic, US National Symphony and many other world-renowned Orchestras, D'Rivera joined Rojas to deliver five of Barrios' compositions, namely: "Choro da Saudade", "Ca'azapa", "Maxixe", "Prelude in C Minor" and "Las Abejas" (The Bees).
"Hello everybody," he greeted the hall with a broad smile, as he took the stage. "She can play that thing eh? I love this island—there're so many beautiful people here. ("I wanna stay" replied Rojas). Let's do it! We're so happy to be in the land of two of my favourite people... Lord Kitchener... and my friend, Relator!"
Willard "Lord Relator" Harris was seated in the third row and stood briefly to accept the compliment. After the applause had subsided, D'Rivera turned to Rojas and said: "Let's get to work!"
What followed was a heavenly blend of percussion and guitar: a whirlwind of sound-scapes swirling through the cochleas as D'Rivera made light conversation in between songs. At Rojas' request, he also performed a call and response version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and mid-way through also slipped in a few chords of Kitchener's "My Pussin".
"The reason I'm playing better tonight," he joked, "is because my friend Andy Narell told me, he said: you have to play good in Trinidad or they'll pelt you. (Laughter) Of course, you don't know who Andy Narell is right? He owes me money too!!! Five dollars..."
By the time Gormandy and Thomas returned for the grand finale of Barrios' "Danza Paraguaya" (Paraguayan Dance), the hall was alive with a buzz of excitement. Following the performance and the standing ovation given to the cast, over sixty of D'Rivera's and Rojas' CDs were sold in the space of just four minutes. Patrons mobbed the table where the musicians assembled to sign autographs and take photos and ladies were seen eagerly ripping the plastic packaging off their CDs, in order to have them signed by the acts.
"Fantastic", "Amazing", "Incredible" were some of the words used to describe the performance by local musicians, vocalists and industry practitioners, such as Raymond Edwards, Marlon de Bique and Roger Salloum.
"They were flawless," said Salloum. "I mean, she played that guitar like she was born inside of it. The two of them barely looked at their sheets and still hit every note in perfect timing together. That's the kind of performance that either drives you mad from trying to emulate such greatness, or makes you want to retire from playing music altogether."
Staged here by the Calabash Foundation for the Arts with part proceeds going toward their debut project, Jab Molassie, Rojas, D'Rivera will journey In the Footsteps of Mangore to Costa Rica and Brazil next. For more these great musicians, log on to www.bertarojas.com and www.paquitodrivera.com.