Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Singing the Blues in Los Cristianos

Do you ever wonder why we are attracted to certain things?  Music?  Places? People?  Why do I like pasta and you like curry, for instance?  I’ve mulled over why Blues means so much to me thousands of times since I heard that first, plaintiff riff almost 50 years ago.  I like jazz, but it doesn’t make my heart skip a beat.  I’m learning to like opera, and there is the odd time when the purity of a note makes me want to cry.  There are some pieces of classical music, and there are some pieces of rock music which thrill me, but nothing else comes close to the mixture of happiness and soul searching and intense emotion which Blues brings out in me.  When I listen to Blues I feel at home.  Goodness knows why that should be, my background couldn’t be more WASP, but I’ve stopped asking myself now.

For years, the only Blues I heard was on discs, despite the Santa Blues festival, it truly isn’t that popular here.  Then, one night in 2003 or 2004 I went to an open air concert in El Fraile, which is where I first heard local band Cotton Blues, belting out Stevie Ray Vaughn like they were born to play the Blues.  I distinctly remember being on cloud nine, logging on and telling friends the minute I got home.  Since then there has been a bit more, mainly at the annual festival in Santa Cruz, but I still had no idea where to go to hear Blues played on a regular basis in the south of the island at least.  Now I know!

Let me tell you a bit about the venue first.  LavaBar opened last year, and for the brief time I had left in Los Cristianos then it was my local.  It’s situated close to the International School of Languages in Los Cristianos, and that site was chosen carefully by owner, Geert Huylebroeck.   Geert, who is Belgian by birth, but international by inclination,   is a lover of languages (he speaks five that I know of, maybe more), art, and especially music, and I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing him for several years now.  The subtitle of the bar is “Language Variety”, and daytime, it  is a place for cultural exchange via language.  If you’re learning Spanish, for instance, you can stick a note on the wall saying that you would like to practice speaking with a native speaker who, in return, is learning English, so you help each other out.  Hence the site near the language school.  If you call in during the day for a cup of one of the amazing choices of teas and infusions Geert offers, or a lush cappuchino and pastry, the tables are full of people chatting in what seems like every language under the sun.

If you pop in in the evening however, there is no telling what cultural delight might await you.  Every weekend is a feast for eyes or ears or both.  Other than music events I’ve been to poetry readings, photography exhibitions, dance demonstrations and art exhibits, all aimed at encouraging local talent.  You can see the latest exhibit on the walls in the background of the photos here.  This one was due to change today.

So, last night’s performance was by local Blues aficianodos Marcelo y Marcelo, and all I can tell you is that, at the end of the night my comment was that I didn’t think, had we been in Texas, we could have heard better Blues.  These guys don’t just sing and play, they live each set as if it is their last.  There were times when I got a lump in my throat, which is the way good Blues affects me.  They played from around 8.30 to just after 11pm, with a very short break, but for me they could have gone on all night!  Because this is a venue one can accurately call “intimate” the full passion of their playing so close-up was electrifying, and because they could laugh and joke with their listeners between numbers, it had the air of jam session, but with the quality of highly polished performance.  Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

The bar is welcoming and attractive, as you can see, but not too big, so there are times when it’s standing room only.  Happily it was just short of that last night, but from the thunderous applause from the Blues lovers present, you would have thought there were ten times as many. It’s the sort of place where, once you’ve been, you are remembered, and have no hesitation in calling again on your own.  One young man wandering by last night heard the music and stopped, and was made really welcome.  He stood shyly outside on the terrace, listening, to begin with, but when a place became vacant at the bar he took it with alacrity.  It has to be the best place in Los Cristianos to meet up with people if you are travelling alone.  OK lone travellers would usually not find themselves in Los Cristianos, a tourist trap, but if it’s well worth a visit to come to LavaBar, and it’s a handy base for travelling about the island too.

Usually performances are Sundays and Fridays.  It’s the sort of bar you find usually in bigger towns and cities, most often university towns, aimed at promoting art in all its forms.  You won’t find your Elvis or Bon Jovi impersonators and the music is music for listening, not for background music.  Frankly, I write with reluctance, it’s one of those places you really would like to keep just for yourself, but it deserves to be applauded and recognized so hence my ramblings.

If it’s Blues specifically you’re looking for, you can check out the Web site for up and coming events, or if you find yourself in the area, just drop in and give it a try……..I hasten to add that I write here, as my friend, Leslie, says, “from my heart”.  I know I might sound like an ad, but I can assure you nothing has, nor will, cross my palm :=)


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Just An Average Saturday night in South Tenerife

It’s an odd thing.  I go to an Indian festival last weekend an end up with photos of a Canarian folk group, and this week I go to a local village for their folklore festival and end up with snaps of a troupe from Costa Rica.  That is, most definitely, typical of life here in the south of the island.  It’s a cultural melting pot.

And what a melting pot!  Saturday night offered three cultual experiences any one of which would have been worth writing up here.

I’m going to kind of work backwards for mysterious reasons of my own, and the pictures here won’t be great because we were sitting quite a long way back for this one, and it wasn’t really prudent to spoil people’s enjoyment of the performance by moving around.

Event Three, then,  was the annual folklore festival in Las Galletas, a small village, a cultural melting pots in its own way, but still at heart the fishing village it was until very recently.  In the last few years it’s had a makeover and now sports a very attractive, new harbor, and many more leisure boats than of yore as a consequence.  Still, on my own, personal rating it scores much higher than most.  It’s attractive and doesn’t detract from its former incarnation.

We arrived a little late, having been delayed a bit by the previous event, and as we passed the fairground melodic Canarian folk music wafted down the street on the back of an excellent sound system (if that’s the right expression).  A male group of singers and musicians occupied the stage, dressed in traditional Canarian costume, above, Los Amigos de Punta Rasca.  The nearest comparison I could make from personal experience is a Welsh male choir, which British friends will “get” but I don’t know if anyone else will.  Although local music often features female soloists, the musical group is generally made up of men, all of whom seem to be in possession of fine tenor voices.  They didn’t stick just to Canarian music, though, they presented us with music from South American countries too.  It was typical of what I had expected to hear.  There has been a great revival of interest in traditional music in recent years, and like the young men in Chirche last weekend, it was great to see that the traditions are in safe hands.

Next up was a small band and dance troupe from Costa Rica, Turichiqui,  who were wonderfully colorful and flamboyant.  I could have watched them all night as the girls swirled their enormously full skirts, like peacocks strutting the stage and showing off for the men (yep I do know that peacocks are male, but nature doesn’t provide many, if any, similies which spring readily to mind, where the females are the more glamorous!)  Not, mind you, that the men were any slouches in the glam department either, with their bright, silky shirts and white stetsons, but my goodness those swirly skirts were what little girls’ dreams are made of, and they looked like so much fun!

By the time they had finished,  it was close to midnight, and a group of local folk dancers took to the stage.  We were plum tuckered out by then though.  We had a small child in our party who had been bopping away with the dancing to an amazing beat of his own, but by then had fallen asleep, and so we wound our ways home.  It would have been nice to see the night out, but I still had 20 minutes or so to drive, and didn’t trust myself not to fall asleep!

It’s not an easy thing to get used to this nightlife, and I’m not talking about wild nightlife and discos, just the simple sitting in street cafés, especially at this time of year, including children of all ages, at that time of night.  OK the fair was in town, but still, at this time on an average summer Saturday there would have been lots of people on the street.  To live this way, to eat at 9 or 10, and then go out for a stroll and a drink, to meet up with neighbors and friends makes a siesta a necessity, and although I do it at times I’ve never been able to make it a habit.  It’s the most wonderfully friendly and relaxed way to live, though.  It’s part of what makes summer what it is here.  It’s all lived outdoors.

Second treat of the night was entirely different (and, yes,  I admit that contrast and diversity turn me on).  Every summer for (if I remember correctly) the last 18 years, the University of La Laguna has held a Summer School which takes place in Adeje.  Adeje is the municipality probably most-visited in Tenerife – the majority of Playa de las Americas lies within it boundaries, and the newer, posher resort areas of Costa Adeje and Playa de Fañabe, but its heart is in the village of Adeje about 10 minutes into the hills, and one of the original Guanche menceys, or kingdoms.

So, Friday lunchtime I got a text message from Cristina to say that the keynote speaker at the inauguration of the summer school was to be Baltasar Garzón (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltasar_Garzón).  To anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, the English press often refers to him as “Spain’s crusading judge” (although the word crusade might be inadvisable these days!).  He it was who almost succeeded in getting Pinochet extradicted to Spain to answer for his crimes.  He has also had no fear in issuing warrants for drug barons, terrorists (famously Bin Laden), and politicians of both right and left, all of which has made him a very controvesial figure, with both friends and enemies on both sides of the political fence.  Currently he is suspended pending investigations into his attempts to discover the truth about  burial sites from Spain’s bitter civil war.  It wasn’t that long ago, of course, certainly within my parents’ lifetimes, and feelings still run high, partly because there are so many unanswered questions, but I don’t mean to get embroiled in that very complex subject here.  Garzón is a fighter for justice, regardless of politics.  He had a brief foray into the profession, but it didn’t last long.  Everything he said, and the way he said it, Saturday night confirmed to me my own impression which was that he was disappointed that politics didn’t give him a platform to fight injustice, which is clearly his passion.

He spoke for over an hour without notes or teleprompter, partly because no-one had informed him what the theme of the summer school was!  So he used his experiences and beliefs to link to the theme of biodiversity (an irony given the recataloguing of species the autonomous government has set in place in order to be able to build a huge, industrial port in an area where there were protected species).  That in itself was a feat to be admired.

I don’t know about you, but every now and then I am awed to be in the presence of some great person, be it a musician, a politican (rarely but has happened), an author, or a crusader, like Garzón.  I felt like this when a watched a debate which involved Federico Mayor Zaragoza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federico_Mayor_Zaragoza) and Sami Nair ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_Nair) a couple of years back, I felt the same when I saw Eric Clapton and when I saw Youssou N’Dour, and there have been a couple of authors I was positively shaking when I met.  It kind of reaffirms your faith in the world when you have been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity for a while!  It might be their talent or their ethics, as in this case, which knocks you sideways, but it’s a reminder that there is hope and decency, and something above the average if only we seek it out.  For m,e the added delight was that he came across as thoroughly nice too.   I hadn’t been expecting that.  On tv he always seems quite austere, but he was friendly and afterwards signed books for people and happily posed for photos.  That would have made me happy for the night even without the rest of it!

The first of the treats was entirely unexpected, and every bit as awe-inspiring in its own way.  We arrived a little early at the cultural center in Adeje to find out just where it was and whether we could go, and we intended to then go and have a drink in one of the atmospheric street cafés which line the village’s main street.  However, we were just bowled over by what we saw when we arrived, which was an exhibition of “street art” by local sculptor Julio Nieto (http://www.julionieto.com/).  These pieces, most of which are shown below, are made entirely from metal, and I understand that each one took a year to complete.  There are seven in the series so seven years’ work adorning the streets of Adeje. Previously they have appeared in Santa Cruz and Los Realejos.

This was my favorite – Icarus, as we  know from Greek legend, flew too close to the sun, causing his wings to melt and his fall to earth.  As you can see, depicted with almost all of the feathers gone from his wings, and about to tumble to his fate.

It was hard to choose a favorite between Icarus and this one, though, which is entitled La Llamada, which translates, really as The Call, which doesn’t impart nearly so much longing into the title as it does in Spanish.  No wonder sailors fell for the charms of sirens if they looked like this.  And, can anyone tell me, just how it is possible to make pieces of metal resemble the charms and the muscles of an elegant human body this way?!

This island is dotted with several striking and beautiful sculptures of various styles, and at first glance the one above seemed to represent a typical villager, on closer inspection, however, we could see that the figure depicted was comprised entirely of “fish”, even up to the squid “hat”.  Very, very clever, and lots of fun…….. look at the sculptor’s website if you want to see the detail.

The remaining two are entitled The Voyager and And Alice?  Despite being very modern works of art, they are not at all obscure, and I didn’t need to think over much to work out the meanings.  One of the negatives about street art is that the background doesn’t always lend itself to a decent photo, so I deleted the rest.  If you like them, really, take a look on the website, because photographed in good light and background they look even more impressive.

I think I ran out of words now.  Three really different events on one, ordinary July night…………it isn’t always true, but there have been times when I wouldn’t be anywhere else on earth!  What I didn’t mention was the balmy air on my skin, the sharp smell of good coffee as we passed the street cafés in Adeje, or the hum of excitment around the travelling fair in Las Galletas, even without the events taking place, any of those things would have stirred the imagination and the heart.


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Santa Blues too good for Santa Cruz?

I remember the first time I walked into a Blues club, and the butterflies which began to rise and flutter in my stomach, as one of those rich, spine-chilling riffs bounced off the walls of the room as I entered. I was 16 or 17, had come to Blues via the beatnik atmosphere of a folk club which used to meet over a local pub in Blackpool. This Blues club was, I think, short-lived, even though I am talking about the mid 60s, when Eric Burdon and the Animals, Eric Clapton in his many incarnations, the Stones, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and other bands were beginning to acquaint us, of the North West wasteland, with the music born of the anguish of Africa, of the misery and hope of slavery, and the failed promises of Reconstruction in the US.

It was apt. It was the time of the freedom marches and the eloquence and inspiration of Martin Luther King, and the music spoke of the pain and the injustice, as well as of broken hearts and sexual innuendo. Maybe it’s because, to the majority of the audience at Santa Blues, that’s all just a part of history now, that there lacks the atmosphere and intensity of audience reaction one finds in other places. I noted that it takes the consumption of a certain amount of alcohol on the part of the crowd before it starts to move or dance with the rhythms. It also has to be noted that these concerts are totally free, so a certain amount of people are there for that reason only, and aren’t familiar with the music, let alone its history.

Blues, clearly, has a small but very loyal following in Tenerife. After my arrival in 1987 the only Blues I heard was recorded, until a friend and I stumbled, almost accidentally, on a concert sponsored by the local authority in 2003 in El Fraile, Arona. El Fraile is an immigrant neighorhood, which, I presume, is why that setting was chosen by some weird logic, but the majority of the immigrants, at that time were South American, and the music was as strange to them as to locals. My friend and I sat, spellbound by the music of a local band called Cotton Blues, who were seriously good, and who allowed other musicians to jam with them, which added to the richness of the music, and the atmosphere, despite the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the small crowd. I remember a duelling-banjos-style number in which it took two guitarists to produce a sound which gave more than a nod to the memory of Stevie Ray Vaughan, but produce it they did! After that the venue moved to the next village, only a ten minute walk away, but with a more appreciative audience. To be best of my knowledge it didn’t happen this year, presumably a victim of La Crisis. If it did my bad luck that I missed it.

The setting in the church square of the parish church of Santa Cruz

The Santa Blues festival in the capital is in its 6th year now. It began as a month-long celebration, with concerts on various nights throughout the month, but has changed format for at least the last 3 years, and now occupies 3 nights at the end of June in the plaza de la iglesia de la Concepcción, the parish church of Santa Cruz, which sits at the beginning of the wonderful Calle Noria. The stage used to face down to the street, but now faces outwards to the main road.

On Thursday, Colleen, Mari and I arrived a little early, being unsure about parking, I knew that there were road works close by, but in the end we parked on the harbour front with ease, and had a short stroll around the district, before heading back to the plaza.

Colleen and Maria resting on the bank of the barranco

The audience was sparse as a local group, Rojas Blues Band and Esther Ovejero, opened the night, and the festival, with a curious lack of fanfare or introduction. What they lacked in polish and style this group more than made up for in enthusiasm, and they kept us well entertained until the festival’s first treat, Larry McCray and his band. McCray was a new name to me, although he is clearly very well known in his sphere. His Blues is of the Hendrix legacy, and whilst I do enjoy it, it’s the older stuff which really gets me going. Still, it was a great night, the audience eventually warming up, and the moon arising from the ocean into a clear sky adding to the ambience, as we bopped. Colleen and I had no doubts about wanting to return the next night, Maria, sadly, was off to Barcelona the next day. It’s around an hour’s drive for Colleen, a bit less for me, so it’s a consideration.

Friday night we realized that we could leave a bit later, which gave me time for a necessry siesta before leaving. Since I’d been up early to take Austin to the airport, there hadn’t been an awful lot of sleep, but as driver Thursday night I hadn’t had a drink, so a siesta neatly compensated, and I was raring to go by 8pm. Despite the fact that Spain were playing Chile for a place in the next round of the World Cup we found the roads surprisingly not that quiet, but the plaza almost deserted when we arrived in Santa Cruz, and we parked even closer to the venue. Despite the marketing for this event hugely lacking on many fronts, someone had had the wit to channel the match to the screen which usually displays advertising during the performances, so we were able to watch the final moments.

Ann and Colleen watching the end of the game

Seemed, however, that there few soccer fans around, as this guy was the only one who seemed to be celebrating the win!

Events beginning late is more or less expected here, so add the soccer to that and we began at 9.30 eventually with the Johnny Pérez Band from Cataluña, who were absolutely excellent, and deserved so much more than the scattered applause they received.

I do wonder about audiences here. A Canarian friend once explained to me that there is no history of showing appreciation or enthusiasm, and it isn’t unusual for nothing more than polite applause at the end of a performance. That friend is very well travelled, and we were at a classical concert at the time, and it was some years ago, but it disappoints me that things haven’t changed much. Friday night there were lots of people who simply stood and watched, never moved, never applauded. They might as well have been watching a politician pontificating, or a demonstration of the latest implement to chop carrots.

Happily for Sandra Hall, who headlined Friday, by the time she concluded her stunning performance, drink had raised the enthusiasm bar a bit, and there was a fair amount of whistling, and ululating as well as clapping and shouting, which is not to detract from her rapport with her audience, despite not speaking Spanish. She draws her performance from the rich reservoir of blues and soul, and warmed the crowd up considerably when she dragged a random guy up onto the stage to dance a very suggestive dance with her, in the real tradition of juke joints and music and sex as escapes from a hard life. She did one encore, and I am guessing that because of the late start the hours of a noise abatement type law were already exceeded. Always leave an audience panting for more I guess. I certainly was!

Sandra Hall and random guy

The Empress of the Blues

Saturday we left even later, and yet still had a wait before the music began. This time The Tina Rioro Quartet warmed up the audience, and indeed the welcome was warm. Tina informed us that it was her first professional performance, and she clearly had friends and fans in the crowd, which called her back for an encore, the first time over the weekend this happened for the opening band. She clearly has potential, and struggled valiantly with both a tight dress which kept riding up a bit too far (someone get the girl a stylist!), and a spectacular excess of dry ice, which, actually, hide the group from view at times. Her girlish enthusiasm spilled over with each number, but the band lacked both warmth and energy. As, presumably, amateurs they will, hopefully, learn as they get more gigs, and perhaps relax into their music.

It doesn’t always happen that the best is saved until last, but this year Santa Blues did just that. It’s a measure of my huge enjoyment of Kenny Neal and his band that I don’t have a single photo to show from the event. I was as rooted to the spot as it was possible to be in that sort of crowd. His spellbinding style was matched only by his own clear enjoyment of playing. One look at his wide smile and you couldn’t help but smile yourself …. if you weren’t already of course! His music is modern Blues at its best, with huge respect to the traditional and just a hint of bluegrass. His band, in the best griot tradition, comprises only family members, and his nephew also treated us to a couple of pieces, which were pure Blues of the very best pedigree. Their fast-paced numbers had almost all of us tapping and bobbing, and when they slowed down the tempo you could feel your soul leap. I could have listened all night and then some.

The only spoiler on this last night was the audience, or some of it at least. Although it was, overall, more receptive and appreciative than on earlier nights, there was a large element of Saturday-night-out-on-the-towners there who chatted, argued and generally displayed a total lack of respect both for the music and other people who were trying to listen. During the upbeat, loud sessions they were drowned out, but when the pace slowed they really were an embarrassment, when Kenny Neal announced that the band would be signing autographs after the show I felt like going to apologise. In the event I didn’t, we had a long drive for the third night running, though happily for us, Colleen’s husband, Pablo, was doing the honors this night, and so we wound our weary way home listening to Blues on the car stereo, and wishing we could hear more of it live.


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Summer Nights

Even though we have a year round pretty even temperature, Summer here is special. There is so much going on that at times it makes me dizzy, and far too much to keep track of!

Last night and to night were typical examples!

Last night as I parked up at the end of my street, I heard what has become to me the unmistakable sound of Senegalese drumming. Puzzled, I jumped out of the car and pottered over to the village square, where I could see a little crowd had gathered, and sure enough on the small stage there was a Senegalese band, just starting up. I decided to watch for a while, despite the tub of Ben and Jerry’s in my bag. This music is just so evocative, so rich and comes from the soul. I’ve seen this band before, and I was annoyed that I didn’t know about this performance so I could have invited friends over! They do the range of music from its origins to present day, with dancers demonstrating traditional and modern dances. In Senegal tradition dictates that the audience participate, so I was thrilled to see a young friend jump up onto the stage. Abdul Aziz is a terrific dancer, better than the professionals, in fact. When he jumped down he spotted me and came rushing over. I haven’t seen him in ages so it was great. Then someone else rushed over, and I realized it was Carolina, who I thought was in Guatemala. She just came back from teaching there, so it was so nice to renew that acquaintance again. So, I pottered home eventually with melted Cookie Dough, but a wide smile on my face.

Tonight held yet more surprises. Helen and I had tickets to see “Hamlet” in the Teatro Guimerá in Santa Cruz, and we decided to go a little early to take at look at the revamped main square, La Plaza de España, which was reopened to the public after being boarded up for months and months. We were delightfully surprised by effect. What had been a traffic snarled and rather outdated area has been transformed into a very pleasant open space, which invites you to wander and linger. The center piece is a pool, which resembles a shallow lake with white sand. The sand is only concrete, but very effective, and when we arrived kids were cavorting in the water. On a hot, hot evening it all looked very cool and fun. Just before 7 the police ordered the children out of the water, and a quite spectacular water spout rose to an amazing height from the middle of the pool. We had a sandwich in a street cafe and watched the fun.

“Hamlet” was excellent. Rather a shock to this English system to see a favorite and well known work in Spanish. I couldn’t comment on how the translation worked, because I will never speak Spanish well enough to be able to appreciate the equivalent of Shakespearian English. My impression was that they didn’t try to do that. Some scenes were cut or shortened, but this must be a touring production, so not a surprise. Juan Diego Botto as Hamlet was interesting. I felt none of the ambivalence I often feel about this character. One moment I am so in sympathy with him usually, and the next I am thinking “What a wuss”. But Botto played him as more macho, with a plan, not so haunted. Claudio and Gertrude were good, solid, conventional performances, and Ophelia was her usual, irritating self, so I guess they were all par for the course. We were in the “gods”, money being tight at the end of the month (not to mention a little treat I have in store for tomorrow), so we came out with aching knees and necks! But well worth it!

As we walked from the cafe to the theatre we came across this little band being escorted by the police
We did wonder why they deserved a police escort, but as we walked further on we came across this group, and my favorite street, Calle Noria, lined with folding chairs.
It was then that I remembered reading in a local paper about a re-enactment of the abortive English bid to capture Santa Cruz led by Horatio Nelson in 1797, and we had walked right into the middle of it! Why does everything happen at once we wondered, but hurried off to the theater. To our delight, when we emerged it wasn’t all over, the British were making their last stand in the square just adjoining the theater! So we stopped to watch for a while. Lots of old muskets being fired, and guys rushing about in superb costumes. I’m kind of glad that England lost though. I love Santa Cruz just the way it is!

Here’s a link for history buffs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Santa_Cruz_de_Tenerife_(1797)

So, here I sit, an iced Jack Daniels sliding smoothly down my throat, the waves lapping the little beach opposite (for a change the bar downstairs is quiet), listening to Jammu Africa, and feeling most mellow. If I tell you that tomorrow I am going to see Mario Vargas Llosa peform his interpretation of A Thousand and One Nights will you be jealous?? Sometimes there is just toooo much!

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