Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


The Music of the Island

My friend, Jack, from remarked not so long ago that in Tenerife anything other than salsa was considered to be alternative music.  It definitely was that the only music I heard in Tenerife’s south 20+ years ago other than the cover bands/groups/performers of the bars in the tourist areas, but happily the times they are a-changing, and the other day I was thinking about the mixed-bag of music I’ve heard so far this summer, and also what’s to come in the near future.  As with so much here, the first word which springs to mind is, again, diversity. I’m partial to many types of music, but know more about some than others.  That said, I’m not sure it’s necessary to understand the technicalities of music to feel it in your soul.  Some touches my soul.  Some doesn’t.

The full moon shimmered over the Auditorio as we left in June – the eclipse was the following day I think.  Not an especially good photo, taken with my Blackberry, but maybe gives you an idea of the atmosphere.

The day before the lunar eclipse my soul was most definitely touched.  My musical summer began in Tenerife’s stunning Auditorio Adán Martin.  I’m privileged to know a young man called Patricio Gutiérrez Pérez, who is also a volunteer with Cruz Roja.  He’s professor of violin at the Conservatory of Salamanca, but he was born in Tenerife, and returned to perform in the Auditorio in June for their celebration of Spanish classics….a wonderful, emotional performance which included work by Joaquín Rodrigo.  I’m woefully ignorant about classical music, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because the whole genre has always seemed so huge and complicated to me, but I am a little familiar with Rodrigo, and this night was very special.

Just a few days later, a complete contrast – Santa Blues, the capital’s annual bluesfest. Last year I managed to get there all three nights of the festival, but this year only once. It was, as it always is, a thrill to know that artists of this calibre come to Tenerife.  End of the day, compared to other stuff, it really isn’t that well attended, other than on the Saturday night, when the drunks turn out for free stuff, so it really is a credit to the Town Hall that they continue.  If I were a cynic (who? me?) I would guess it profits the nearby bars and restaurants, and maybe brings people into the area (i.e. blues fans from other parts of the island) who might not otherwise know about it.  The Calle Noria district of Santa Cruz is a popular nightlife venue, with great eating and late night entertainment, and it’s a bit magical to stand there, under the branches of a flamboyant tree, swaying to music touching your soul, fanned by a cool breeze from the sea.

The Auditorio swathed in green light in honor of the Festival’s sponsors. 

July brought the annual Heineken Jazz Festival to Santa Cruz, and whilst most of the events were out of my price range the one I most wanted to see, in any event, was free – Yay!  A memorable and utterly spellbinding night of Afro-Jazz which utterly surpassed all my expectations. In truth I wasn’t sure about such a fusion, probably that’s because I don’t understand the technicalities, again.

I’ll risk wrath here, and say that jazz doesn’t always move me, when it gets too complicated I kind of tune out, but, like the fictitious art aficionada, “I know what I like”, and the energy which Naya Band brought to stage to open the concert was, simply,  infectious.  They fused more than just jazz and music from their native Senegal, they touched on blues and reggae too, but, then afterall, didn’t it all begin in Africa? At the end of the day, isn’t all – just – music?

Fatoumata Diawara strolled casually onto the open-air stage alongside the Auditorio. Slight but colorfully dressed, her entrance was almost shy.  For me she had a lot to live up to because I’d been watching her on YouTube, and it wouldn’t have been the first time a live performance disappointed me, but what she did was totally, totally blow my mind.  I go back to “feeling” the music because she sang in languages I couldn’t follow, most movingly in Bambara – specifically a song about female circumcision – not a topic for a song you may think, but then our western music has been dominated for so long by songs about unrequited love that we forget music as a message, as communication, as a release from pain or a celebration of happiness.  I couldn’t, of course, understand a word, but the music, and the voice as instrument, were laden with anguish and pleading.  They didn’t really need a translation.  Not that it was all anguish by any means, you can see the joy of music in the photos below.  In West African countries it’s a tradition that dancers from the audience join in, making events into a party.  This audience was mostly jazz lovers, sadly, there weren’t as many Africans in the audience as I expected from previous events, but a couple,including a friend, jumped onto the stage to groove with the tradition, and both would have brought down the house –  had it not been outdoors!

Problem for me is that so many of these great events are in Santa Cruz.  It isn’t that far, just under an hour, but it restricts the possibilities of a night’s enjoyment – only one beer for instance, when watching outdoor concerts, and having to leave early in the case of this concert.

Sunday afternoon jazz in Finca del Arte in Chayofa

However, there have been occasions closer to home.  Lavabar has had some great nights, most of which I couldn’t get to, but memorably a night of haunting folk and laid-back jazz numbers by  El Mar Origenes.  The only description I can think of is Eva Cassidy – and no exaggeration, this girl has the same purity of voice and the same gentle intensity.

Summer is also when the new Carmen Mota show opens in Las Americas.  Like last year, the show was much more concentrated on dance than on spectacle.   I much prefer it this way.  If it isn’t pure flamenco enough for some, then they are missing out on the sheer enjoyment.  It’s aimed at the general public, including foreigners, for one thing.  It’s beautifully presented and the dancing is breathtaking.  Think Spanish/flamenco “Riverdance”, and you’d be close.  The in the early years the shows were more of a combination of dance and carnival, but carnival is not something we are short on here!

 One warm Sunday afternoon I went to Finca del Arte to listen to the jazz.  I have mixed feelings about this venue, but certainly not about the music.  It’s just a shame that most people go to chatter and not listen, but I suppose that performers in eateries get used to that?  The other problem is that the tables closer to the band are in full sun, and obviously it’s much nicer to sit under the shade of trees.  Maybe the place depends on the day.  I’ve had some very pleasant afternoons there in the past, but I’m not in a hurry to go again after this day, but not the fault of the music!

Another phone photo, sorry about the quality.  More than an air of a young Joan Baez about El Mar Origenes.

Folk music takes many forms, of course, having grown up with English/US folk music I sometimes forget that the incredible music/dance I saw a couple of weeks ago is folk music in its own country.  The longer I live in Tenerife, the more I come to love the traditional music here.  Many of the old traditions have been revived in recent years.  In the groups parading at romerias there is, for instance,  almost always someone playing bones, like this guy.

Last, but no way least, one of the most memorable days of this summer for me ended with this impromptu performance by a local parranda (musical group/minstrels) which I’d lost when I first posted about them.  We were on the tram, returning to Santa Cruz, after they’d already sung all the way on the outward journey, and then sashayed the streets of La Laguna.  An unforgettable bunch of ladies!

Autumn is poking its way into our lives, not so far as weather goes here, but certainly life is changing.  Autumn means less outdoor events, more formal ones, the brief opera season in Santa Cruz, and the music of Christmas.  Lots to look forward to in Winter too, though for me a big plus in these summer events has been that the majority have been free, the price of a drink or very affordable. These are just my personal experiences this summer, there has been an awful lot more going on for those who could afford it. The island certainly has come a long way in the last 20 years.



Santa Blues 2011

Don’t you wonder why it is that life is always feast or famine?  There’s nothing going on for a month, and then you have 3 events from which to choose the following weekend?

The summer solstice here really does herald the beginning of summertime and all sorts of al fresco events and concerts, and, before you ask, yes, there are outdoor events all year round, but I suppose the planners want to be totally sure of good enough weather, and, of course, lots of the events and festivals are down to traditions too.

The Santa Blues Festival is a new tradition.  I think it’s in its 7th year now, and I look forward to it all year, although getting to listen to live Blues gets a bit easier as time goes by. As I mentioned last year, when we first came to live in the Canary Islands I didn’t hear a Blues riff, other than my own tapes, for years and years. And the feast or famine thing? In addition to Santa Blues, last night there was a Blues night in a bar about twenty minutes drive from here too.  Had I been able to go up to Santa Cruz either Thursday or Friday I might have been tempted to find out what that was all about, but a migraine plus a reaction to some antibiotics I taken for the final part of my dental treatment had me in bed most of the day Thursday, and not feeling too bright on Friday either.  Plus I had to be up extra early yesterday morning, but that’s a whole other story.

I’d already missed Thursday night’s bonfires for fiesta de San Juan, one of my favorite celebrations here, so despite the super early start to the day I didn’t think twice about zooming up to Santa Cruz after a bit of a siesta yesterday.  I love crisp and bright early mornings, and I love balmy summer nights and yesterday I was able to enjoy both – obviously I was born in the wrong country, this afternoon siesta lark is me down to a T! Jumping ahead to Santa Blues (I’ll come back to the reason for that early morning tomorrow.  It’s a longer post, and I’m still a bit tired from the late night!) – I’m always surprised when I arrive that there aren’t more people, though a part of me is secretly happy because I can be grumpy in crowd situations.

Local band Three Bones were halfway into their act when we got there a bit late.  I say local band, because they were billed as being from Tenerife, but if I’m not mistaken the singer said that it was their first time playing here, though when I checked, I see they played in Fuerteventura recently, so perhaps they are Canarian rather than from this, particular island.  Whatever, they were very good, and  popular with the audience, singing in French and English as well as Spanish, and with huge enthusiasm in all three.

By the time Zac Harmon and his band appeared, dusk had given way to  dark, but the crowd had swelled, so that the breeze which occasionally wafted the banners behind the band had no effect on us, but if it was warm in the audience, it was HOT on stage.

They launched full tilt into consecutive instrumental numbers which had the crowd with them from the first beat. The set was all about upbeat, raunchy numbers, with lyrics very much in second place, and packed with classic numbers like Mannish Boy and I Got My Mojo Workin’.   I realized that, of course, this was the way to play this kind of gathering.  It dawned on me when I heard people trying to sing back the words “I got my mojo workin’,” it came out nothing like that at all.  People were there for the music, not the words. It also worked when they introduced a reggae number Bob Marley’s “No woman, no cry”, everyone knew the chorus.

Zac Harmon is not only a terrific bluesman, but he knows how to work an audience too, remembering to play to the folk at the side of the stage as well as those of us out front.  We shuffled our way from a couple of places back to right in front of the stage.  It’s always an exciting place to be if your ears can take it, but Harmon made it especially so, as Maria said afterwards, there were plenty of times when you felt as if he was singing just for you.  Definitely a far cry from last year, when I was standing towards the back where, on Saturday night, all the young bucks out to get drunk gathered.  Last night they were not so obvious until the last couple of numbers.

Con-summate professionals that the band were, they covered for Harmon when he broke a guitar string and disappeared backstage for quite a while to try to fix it, and at the end they pretended to leave the stage, but turned  for an encore without stirring up the audience too much.  The second time they pretended to leave a bit harder, but returned for a second encore, and promised two songs.  The second one turned out to be a Spanish popular song I didn’t know, though everyone else clearly did.  It was clever.  It left the crowd happy that they’d done a Spanish number, but it lacked the intensity of Blues, and it took the atmosphere down a notch.  It was a signal it was over, and most people realized that.

The only thing which slightly puts a damper on going to anything in Santa Cruz is the drive back.  I know in the States and in Australia people are used to driving hundreds of miles and back on the night for a concert, and I don’t complain about the driving itself.  It’s just that standing in the warm summer air listening to a throbbing blues beat is so much nicer with a cold beer in your hand, but after so many years without Blues, how could I possibly complain about that!


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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Addendum to Last Post :=))

I was feeling a bit bad about not snapping on Saturday night, so taken was I with Kenny Neal’s performance, but Pablo sent me loads of super pix  yesterday.  He was much more focused about taking photos, and also remembered to take a zoom lens!  So here is the unforgettable Kenny Neal.  I chose this pic of all the ones which Pablo sent, because the man is just enjoying himself so much.  He has one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen in real life.  His entire performance was so full of good energy as well as incredible talent!

His entire band is family, and he shared the spotlight with his nephew for two marvellous, foot-stomping numbers, which harked right back to pre-electric blues even.  And do you see that smile too?  Must run in the family!

And this was Colleen and I yelling for more!


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.