Neither hurricane Sandy nor early November snowstorms can stop this Colombian music festival.
New York will celebrate its 9th annual Encuentro festival on Saturday, bringing together nine bands playing the best of the entire panorama of Colombian sounds, from the traditional Caribbean-inspired rhthyms of Grupo Rebolú to the funk-punk of M.A.K.U. Sound System.
Always a shoestring operation put together with more love and dedication than dollars, this year marks an especially hard one for the Encuentro. Hurricane Sandy battered the city a week before the show, leaving millions without power right -- including organizers Pablo and Anna Mayor. But the musicians and venue, Le Poisson Rouge, are responding with optimism, pledging to donate portions of the proceeds from CD sales to hurricane relief efforts.
“It's really important to help the community and we're doing everything we can,” Le Poisson Rouge’s marketing director Dustin Nelson said in an email.
The brainchild of composer and keyboardist Pablo Mayor, the Encuentro is more than a concert. It's an attempt to bring New York’s Colombian community together.
The yearly get-togethers started in 2003, when Mayor and a group of musicians brought the Gaiteros de San Jacinto from Colombia to play in New York. It wasn’t the musicians’ intention to turn the event into an annual festival, but Mayor says they drew such a positive response from New York’s Colombian community that they decided to continue the shows.
Even without much in the way of financial support, the event grew in size. One year they brought the legendary singer Totó la Momposina from Colombia.
“She came over and stayed in my house,” Mayor said. “We put the ticket on the credit card. We just tried to keep her as happy as possible.”
Though trained in jazz, Mayor and the members of Folklore Urbano Orchestra dedicate their virtuoso skill to playing the traditional rhythms of Colombia like cumbia, puya and joropo, with a New York twist.
“For a long time, I felt that Colombians didn’t appreciate their own music,” Mayor told The Huffington Post. “I grew up in a Colombia where everything from outside was considered better.”
Mayor isn’t the only one on a mission to spread his love for the music of Colombia. The Orquestra will be joined by the experimental Sebastián Cruz and his Cheap Landscape trio, funky Chia’s Dance Party and the classical guitar stylings of Alejandro Flórez, among others. And because no Colombian musical performance is complete without dancing, Daniel Fetecua-Soto and the Pajarillo Pinta’o dance company will perform. M.A.K.U. Sound System will close out the night, preceeded by the Gregorio Uribe Big Band, led by an up-and-coming multi-instrumentalist capable of playing playing guitar or accordion. None of the groups sound much alike, but they all bear the unmistakable mark of Colombia.
Those who can’t make it to New York City can get an idea of how the music sounds in the slideshow below. Many of the bands regularly play across the country -- not to mention in Colombia -- so keep an eye out for when they come to your town.