Concert Review: Alceu Valença, Brasil Summerfest at SummerStage in Central Park

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Alceu Valença/Ernest Barteldes

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Alceu Valença

Brazil Summerfest at Central Park Summerstage

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New York City

 

On his first Summerstage appearance since the early 90s, Alceu Valença didn’t seem interested in showcasing his own hits but instead to spread the culture of northeastern Brazil, coming on dressed in a “cangaçeiro” (Northeastern Cowboy) hat, starting his set off with “Pagode Russo,” a song originally recorded by the late Luiz Gonzaga that describes a dream situation in which the narrator imagined himself in Moscow, where revelers danced like a “frevo” (A traditional beat from Pernambuco, Brazil) in comparison to the traditional Russian dances.

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Alceu Valença/Ernest Barteldes

At 73, he has not lost any of the energy of his younger years, and he kept things on a party-like mode throughout his set, mixing his own hits with older traditional songs – he is a captivating presence, and had the entire audience transfixed for its entirety. His band was incredibly tight – many of his musicians have been with him for over a decade, and they had many improvisational moments that were almost jazz-like, with the bandleader encouraging the musicians to extend their solos as part of the show.

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Drum Tribute to Marielle Franco/Ernest Barteldes

Early in the set, he jokingly talked about political issues in Brazil but quickly distanced himself from them – shortly before his set, a group of drummers did a short set from the bleachers in  commemoration of the first anniversary of the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco , a fierce critic of the impeachment of former president Dilma Rouseff, which is seen by many in Brazil as a far-right coup. Valença was clearly not there to make a political statement of any kind  but to share his music to a broader audience, not just the protesters in attendance that were holding signs against the current Brazilian government.

He included several of his classic hits from his long career – among them “Girassol,” (“Sunflower”), a slow ballad with a strong northeastern vibe and also “Coração Bobo” (Foolish Heart), a hit from his eponymous 1980 album. The crowd sang along with many of them, and some people danced to the more up-tempo tunes.

It was a highly memorable set – he is a not only a fantastic songwriter great performer and captivated the audience from start to finish, making this one of the best Brazilian-themed evenings I have had the opportunity to attend.

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Tribute to Marielle Franco before the show/Ernest Barteldes

Salif Keita/Courtnee Roze at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Salif Keita/Celebrate Brooklyn

By Ernest Barteldes

Salif Keita / Courtnee Roze

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Playing before a packed audience at the Prospect Park Bandshell, Courtney Rose took to the stage with electronic sounds and various samples, including Michael Jackson’s intro to “Thriller,” James Brown’s trademark screams and even sounds from South African acapella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and engaged the audience with her lively beats and percussion, getting them to clap along throughout the initial parts of the set.

But her act, which would be quite effective in a smaller venue soon got a bit repetitive and tiresome for a stage as big as this one, and one could notice the audience getting less and less interested and talking to each other as the set – which lasted for about one hour – went along.

Salif Keita came on stage dressed in a white outfit that included a bowler hat and was presented with the award as a new inductee of the Afropop Hall of Fame (which I had no idea existed), and shortly after the show began. His voice still retains his dramatic inflection, and seems unchanged in spite of all these years, only cracking during rare moments.

His fans were moving and singing along to the music – his band was impeccable in spite of being incomplete – some of his musicians had issues getting visas to perform in the US, something that has been plaguing international performers in recent years.

At one point, he challenged the Americans in the audience – “I’ve heard Americans can’t dance, so prove me wrong, you can try,” and led on with a fast-beat tune that got everyone moving. It was a beautiful set, and here’s hoping the rumors of his impending retirement are not true – Salif Leita is a jewel of the music of Mali, a nation that has given audiences more than their fair share of musical genius.

 

LAMC At Summerstage: Nathy Peluso and Ile

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

At Summerstage in Central Park

Nathy Peluso and Ile

New York, NY

July 10th, 2019

 

The heat and intense humidity in the air did not stop fans from flocking to Central Park for the first round of free shows scheduled at part of the 20th Anniversary of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, which featured Argentinean singer/rapper Nathy Peluso, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ile and Mexican pop singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana.

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Nathy Peluso/Karlo X. Ramos

Peluso came on stage with a small backing band featuring a mix of soul, rock and hip-hop – featuring the latter during most of the set. She had great energy on stage, dancing along with the instrumental sections of every tune. One of the highlights came with a rap based on the chorus of the Cher hit “Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” whose English verses she sang herself.

The set also featured an instrumental mambo which she described as “the wonderful sound” showcasing her backup band, to whom she gyrated throughout, finally confessing that she is “a mambo killer” as a (probable) excuse for not singing it.

After a brief break, Puerto Rican singer (and former Calle 13 member) Ile took to the stage backed by a large band featuring trombones, percussion, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and drums featuring songs with strong Afro-Caribbean influence quite distant from what she did with her previous group. Her opening song had a strong political message, pointing fingers at those who oppress and try to silence the voice of her native land. She followed that with “Invenclble,” a tune with a pop-meets-Latin beat that she described as something she wrote to embrace her hormones and the realities of being a woman.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes

She followed that with “Temes,” a bolero “against that patriarchy with the clear intention of destroying it,” with lyrics that repeatedly asked “why do you fear me?” in Spanish. Next came “Côncavo,” a bolero which descriptive lyrics that would probably be labeled “explicit” if it had been recorded in English, with subtle references to specific body parts and passions involving them.

Among the highlights was a tune that featured nothing but drums played by the entire group that highlighted the problems faced by Puerto Rico – she mentioned the recent arrests of top Puerto Rico officials over corruption charges, and ended the tune urging the audience to “stop voting for stupid people” without naming anyone in particular.

She closed the set with “Dejame Decirte,” a straight salsa written in collaboration with Eddie Palmeri – it was a great closing that highlighted Ile’s range, which goes from more folk-driven music to pop and pretty much every other Latin influence.

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Ile/Ernest Barteldes