A TONGUE-IN-CHEEK LATIN CELEBRATION OF HEARTBREAK COMES TO JAPANALIA
By Owen McNally
February 05, 2013
If you have tears, prepare to shed them Saturday night in Hartford at a pre-Valentine's Day concert celebrating the romance and heartache of the Latin American Songbook of the 1930s and '40s.
Bassist/guitarist Carlos Hernandez Chavez, a Hartford troubadour, and the smoky-voiced singer Graciela Quinones take center stage as they present "Canciones de Amor y Despecho" ("Songs of Love and Despair") at concert-producer Dan Blow's "Music @ Japanalia Series" on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. at Japanalia Eiko, 11 Whitney St. Chavez and Quinones, who are longtime Latin music collaborators, are supported by guitarist Edwin Rios, a native of Puerto Rico, and pianist Gabriel Lofvall, who was born in Argentina.
Billed as a "tongue-in-cheek" celebration of the many heart-breaking, mind-boggling sides of love, the concert's repertoire of classic Latin love songs, particularly those lamenting the agony and the short-circuited ecstasy of unrequited love, is also, in a humorous, hyperbolic vein, billed as "Noche de Cortavenas/A Wrist-Slashing Evening." It promises to be a robustly entertaining, fun-filled, full-scale probe of the wayward ways of love and the mysteries and miseries of the human heart.
"It's a romantic kind of tongue-in-cheek repertoire on the many sides of love, or what I call the Mexican or Latin blues, songs from our Spanish-speaking brother and sister countries -- Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, you name it," said the Mexican-born Chavez, a noted Hartford-based musician, social activist and celebrated visual artist and muralist.
"It's tongue-in-cheek," Chavez said, "but always done with great respect for the music."
"We're not going to make fun of the compositions. We're going to have fun with them. We'll be performing songs that we embrace, we respect and we love. Whatever comes out of our mouths or through our fingers is going to be respectful, even if it's done in fun."
While songs sung in Spanish will be placed in context by Chavez for non- Spanish-speaking audience members, the bandleader stresses that the music itself, for all its unique qualities, is universal. It's a language of the heart understood, he says, by anybody with a heart.
"We sing about abandonment, heartache, abuse. The human condition permeates what we sing about. It's a universal language. After all, everybody can cry.
"All of us have stories of love. And the songs that we present are going to resonate with the audience, Spanish and English speakers alike.
"Just tell me, who hasn't had their heart broken?" Chavez asked, emphasizing the common emotional ground and shared human bondage that music and art provide for everyone.
As a kid growing up in Mexico, Chavez, a self-taught musician who began playing guitar at age 10, became immersed in popular music through the radio and recordings in his home and was deeply influenced by his mother, who loved to sing around the house.
Similarly, Quinones, who was born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico, was also enormously influenced by her music-loving mother, who loved to sing at home and even in the family car while driving her kids.
"Most of the cars we had didn't have a radio, so my mother, who had a beautiful voice and knew all the old songs, would start to sing. As a kid, I started accompanying her, eventually doing duets. Music just became an integral part of my expression," said Quinones, a licensed clinical social worker on the Storrs campus at the University of Connecticut's Counseling and Mental Health Services.
Music and emotion, she says, quickly went hand-in-hand in her life.
"We have a saying back home: 'You have to sing so you don't cry.' So if you feel like crying, you could sing. I really think there's truth to that because there is music for every mood, even when you're mad." she said.
Quinones was influenced by the romantic popular music from the 1940s and '50s that her mother had heard as a teenager and loved so passionately. She still sings many of these same vintage songs today as a professional performer.
"When I was about 12 or 13," Quinones recalled, "one of my sisters and I every evening after my mom would go to bed would listen to her records over and over again. We would just sit there, listen and sob or sigh and say, 'Oh, my God! That's so romantic!' We ruined most of our mother's records playing them over and over."
Chavez and Quinones have presented vintage romantic Latin ballads, mostly pre-1960s material. Their first focused presentation of this romantic genre, Quinones recalls, was several years ago at Hartford's La Paloma Sabanera, an appearance graced with a packed house and a robustly enthusiastic feeling for the music.
"La Paloma was jammed, every chair filled. People were even standing and calling out the love songs that they wanted us to sing. It was great! I love being up so close to the audience. It feels really good," Quinones said.
"As a musician or performer, I think the big thing for me is that I want to elicit emotions. I'm hoping that people at Japanalia connect with it and that the songs will evoke memory."
CARLOS HERNANDEZ CHAVEZ and Graciela Quinones perform Feb. 9, 8 p.m., at Japanalia, 11 Whitney St., Hartford. Tickets: $40 stage-side table seating; $25 general seating. BYOB. Reservations: 860-232-4677.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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