Tag Archives: music

Lila Downs Concert Is Mini-Guelaguetza Extravaganza

How could each Lila Downs Concert be better then those that came before? The Best Ever is what I heard people say who have gone to many in the past. I don’t know, but Lila Downs knows how to dazzle a crowd.

Grammy Award Winner Lila Downs

The Guelaguetza Stadium on the Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca city was full on Friday night, July 27. We got there early to be sure to beat the crowds and that gave us a chance to settle into our seats and audience oggle.

Our diverse group from Israel, South Africa, Italy, Mexico and USA

Love this tapete — handwoven sarape

I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of friends at the last moment. They had an extra ticket and offered it to me. Thank you, Patrice and Neal! Seems that to snag a primo seat means standing in line all night and someone they know did that for them. I was happy to pay the premium.

Lila loves wearing indigenous dress (traje) from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec!

Beribboned and twirling figures with  hand-woven hats

I had some serious doubts about whether my shout out for tickets would yield results. I was not successful finding online tickets via Ticketmaster. Nothing materialized and I gave up … until a few days before!

Whirling dervish cowboy dancer devils

We were in the third row, far left of center, behind the mixing station staff. Not great for photos, but a fabulous spot for listening and watching Lila’s husband Paul Cohen on his badass sax.  Even Lila made her way over on occasion. I did my best to get photos, but the strobes and movement of dancers made the conditions very challenging.

Little girl Flor de Piña dancers

In the row behind me, he sang every word along with her

I think what was fantastic about this concert is that Lila brought us her incredible traditional play list, the oldies but goodies. Everyone around us sang along. AND, the performance was built around the dancing and costuming of the annual Guelaguetza event held on the last two Mondays in July at the same venue.

Tlacolula de Matamoros Delegation

Benito Juarez, iconic Zapotec president of the Republic: respect human rights

With Lila’s singing mastery, great musicians and representative delegations invited from Tlacolula de Matamoros from the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec from the Sierra Mixe, Juchitan women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, girls from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca near Veracruz giving us the Pineapple Dance, and groups that are masked, twirling and whirling, the show couldn’t have been better.

La Bandera, the Mexican Flag, iconic and powerful revolutionary image

Lila Downs and Paul Cohen have a strong commitment to social justice issues in Oaxaca and Mexico. Her songs tell the struggle of poverty, lack of education and health care, discrimination, disenfranchisement, pain and tears, hopes and dreams. Together, they have been a powerful voice for human rights.

Lila sings La Llorona and the audience goes crazy

Artist woodcut projected as stage backdrop to band

The dynamic visual backdrop to the stage were photos and video of migrant farm workers, artist woodcuts of peasant life, the work of artisans and craftspeople, marching soldiers with bayonet rifles, heroic President of Independence Benito Juarez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca.

Sax and trumpet with lots of marimba band back up

Saxaphonist Paul Cohen takes a break to enjoy the Flor de Piña dancers

The fun was mixed with the message that we cannot be complacent about politics and world events. Half the seats in the audience were available to adoring fans for free.

The Grand Finale included everyone on stage

Guns at the border — NO



Oaxaca Classical Guitar House Concert with Naeim Rahmani: You Are Invited

                      Classical Guitar Concert with Naeim Rahmani                                      Sunday, December 20, 5:00-6:00 p.m. at El Diablo y La Sandia B&B Boca del Monte, Callejon Boca del Monte #121, near Tinoco y Palacios and Allende, suggested minimum donation 50 pesos per person

Please share widely throughout Oaxaca.

Naeim Rahmani is an Iranian classical guitarist who recently graduated with a Master’s degree in classical guitar performance from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where he studied with renowned guitarist Rene Izquierdo. 

He is an active performer and performs regularly throughout the United States and around the world. In the summer of 2014, Naeim performed a series of concerts in the north of Spain along the route of the Camino Santiago. Camino Artes sponsored the concerts, all held in local cathedrals. The organization was created by Mexican luthier Federico Sheppard and supported by the town of Carrión de los Condes.

Most recently Naeim was a prizewinner in several competitions, including the 2015 Northwest Guitar Festival and Competition, the 2015 San Francisco Bay Guitar Competition and the 2015 University of Louisville Guitar Festival and Competition.    

His program is mostly classical music.

Naeim contacted me to help him secure performance venues in Oaxaca just before I left for California to be with our mom at end of life. Music has always been an important part of our mother’s legacy, so I was happy to help.

I put the word out and gratefully, Maria Crespo, owner of El Diablo y La Sandia B&B generously offered to host this concert. No reservations necessary. First come, first seated. Space limited.

This will be his only concert in Oaxaca this year!  Please come and support him.

Here is a sample of Naeim’s recent performance: http://youtu.be/jiq02LazYyw

Klezmer Music in Puebla, Mexico: Who-da Thunk It

We are wandering around the Saturday flea market at Plazuela de los Sapos in Puebla, Mexico, in and out of aisles filled with rusted iron butcher hooks, old painted pottery, antique furniture, glitzy glam rhinestone jewelry in dazzling day-glow colors, brass hand bells new and old, religious relics, doll heads, ancient detritus of Tia Maria’s kitchen cupboard.

Then I hear it. The sounds of a band draw me to them. I can’t quite name the music although it sounds familiar.  We stand around listening. Put money in the violen case. And, ask, what kind of music is this.  Oh, it’s klezmer, says the percussionist.

Here is what we found: Tate Klezmer Band.

Is anyone in the group Jewish? I ask, knowing that Mexico has a history of Conversos, hidden Jews, who came from Spain during the inquisition, forced to convert to Catholicism and  kept their religious practices secret. No, she says. We play it because we love it. It’s lively and makes us feel happy, like dancing. It’s the music of weddings, she says, and they continue to play.

All are students in the music conservatory.  I want to invite them to Oaxaca to play at my next party!


Oaxaca Matria Therapeutic Art Garden: Cultural Center for Music and More

Matria Jardin Arterapeutico is the manifestation of artist Maurico Cervantes’ imagination.  With the help of many, many others plus foundation funding, a decayed, roofless 17th century colonial building in Oaxaca’s historic center has become a cultural mecca.  It is at once a moveable art installation, organic garden, educational teaching center, music and arts venue, and inspiration for innovation — a fine example of what to do with aging space with great bones.

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Despite a late Sunday afternoon rainstorm (much needed, I might say), Matria hosts Sandmann and The Voodoo Cat, a three-person cabaret-style ensemble for our listening pleasure.  Tucked inside the only area with shelter from the sky, Kati Sandmann (vocals, guitar), Dabeat Morales (percussion), and Ricardo Chavez (guitar) perform as if the 40 of us is a sold-out audience of hundreds at Carnegie Hall.

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Their range goes from blues to folk to swing to rock with a hint of jazz. Kati’s voice sounds like Edith Piaf or Lotte Lenya, extending from alto to alto soprano.  She sings multi-lingual in German, French, Spanish and English. It is at times atonal, dissonant and altogether appealing.  I hear Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht, Bob Dylan, Jacques Brel, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Ray Charles.

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Not too long into the concert the skies opened and out came the umbrellas. The band played on — unflappable.  We stayed, enraptured with the sound, and the rain coming through the porous roof.  At this moment, church bells sound calling people to Sunday evening mass.  The bells blend perfectly with the music. Two standing ovations brought two more songs before the concert ended. When in Oaxaca during the summer, the best advice is to carry a paragua when going out.

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The concert ended.  The skies cleared. I returned to the courtyard, rain reflected on organic food, in mirrors, in the bathtub lily pond encased in an old bed frame.


Lots of ideas here for gardening and imagining and meditating.

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Matria Jardin Arteterapeutico, Murguia #103, between Macedonio Alcala and 5 de Mayo.  Check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.

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Modest Organ with Big Sound: San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca

San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca is an agricultural town.  Farmers grow organic crops throughout the seasons: corn, squash, runner beans, garlic, garbanzos, flowers, and alfalfa.  Mostly, Tlacochahuaya is renowned for its 1678 Baroque organ housed on the balcony above the 16th century gilded Dominican church sanctuary.  It is a historic treasure.

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It is eleven o’clock Sunday morning and mass does not begin here until eight o’clock tonight. The circuit priest, who is based here and lives in the cloister, makes his rounds to serve nine villages in the Tlacolula Valley, serving mass at various times during the day.

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Moises Garcia Guzman and organist Soledad Hernandez Mendez invited us to see and hear this beautiful instrument.   To get there, we climb a narrow, steep-stepped, stone stairway that winds from first floor to second.  I remember similar in Rome and Paris, dark, damp and eerie.  The steps spiral from the interior wall like an accordion.

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He describes the instrument as a modest organ with a big sound.  Moises, born and raised in Tlacochahuaya (say..T-Lah-Koh-Chah-Why-Ya), lives in Los Angeles and works in the high-tech industry.  A speaker of Zapotec, Spanish and English, he has dreams to return home to teach.  He loves this place, and I see why.

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Moises explains the church and organ history as we stand under the dome in the center of the space.  The organ sounds echo, reverberate from walls and ceiling, penetrate through me as if I am a porous receptacle, wrap me in comfort.   The space is filled with so much sound that I cannot hear the words others are speaking just a few feet away from me.  It is ethereal and meditative.  I am reminded of Bach and Pachelbel.  Soledad makes the ivory keys dance.


Known as an Organo Iberico, the organ was built in Oaxaca with Puebla influences.  It has carderitas — big hips that flare, says Moises.  It was constructed this way to contain the bellows.  First built as a portable organ, the bellow controls were later moved from the side to the front when it was given its permanent place here.  The organ was fully restored in 1995.  The painting is exquisite.

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The church is undergoing continuous restoration.  We are surrounded by frescoes, most of which have been renewed.  Yet back in the cloister and in some corners of the church, I see originals, shadows of their once prominent beauty faded, yet still glorious in design and remnants of color.

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We sit on the adobe half-wall of the cloister.   One priest still lives here.  Once, this was the center of Dominican Catholicism for the entire valley.  Though the town is smaller than many that surround it today, Tlacochahuaya retains its prominence as the the regional parish.  After the conquest, it was the center of Spanish priestly and aristocratic life.  Crumbling haciendas and a coat of arms given to Tlacochahuaya by the Spanish attest to the glory days.

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Moises and linguist Brook Lillehaugen talk about the influence of Fray Juan de Cordoba, who lived here in the cloister, translated Zapotec to Spanish, and created a dictionary.  There were many priests who translated and made dictionaries, she says, but none compare to the one by Fray Juan de Cordova.

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As we complete the church visit and before we walk to lunch, we stop to look at the edifice of stone construction.  See the metate embedded into the wall.  See the Danzante carved stone there, too.  The church was built from stones taken from the Zapotec temple at Dainzu.

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Yet, the original Zapotec religion survived, was adapted, hidden in the iconography of the crucifixion and the new religion.  Moises points to the figure of Jesus on the Cross (above left).  Do you see the face of corn goddess there on his chest? he asks. How his ribs look like ears of corn?  The figure was sculpted by locals and worshipped by the faithful.  They say the priests never knew.

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In 1926, Southern Baptist missionaries came to Tlacochahuaya to establish a foothold in the region and built a now decaying adobe sanctuary.  Today, religious beliefs are diverse and many Christians of various denominations live side-by-side with the predominantly Catholic population in towns throughout the valley.