Tag Archives: music

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-9 TalcochaChurchMoises-13

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-19 TalcochaChurchMoises-12

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-20  GirlStairway

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-15 TalcochaChurchMoises-14

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.

OrganPortrait

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-28 TalcochaChurchMoises-30

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-29 TalcochaChurchMoises-25

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-7 TalcochaChurchMoises-36

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-32 TalcochaChurchMoises-33

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.

TalcochaChurchMoises-23  TalcochaChurchMoises-27 TalcochaLunchMoises

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.

TalcochaLunchMoises-2 TalcochaChurchMoises-34

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.

Lila Downs Dazzles at Latin Grammy Awards

She is ours — Oaxaca’s goddess of song and lyrics. Lila Downs went on stage to perform at the 13th Latin Grammy Awards on November 15, again recognized for what she has contributed to the music world.  The Examiner article says it all. Accolades, too, to Paul Cohen, Lila’s husband, producer and collaborator.

Here are two photos I’ve taken of Lila in recent years.  Enjoy.

Above: At her Day of the Dead concert in 2011 at the Guelaguetza Auditorium in Oaxaca.

Below: At Las Cuevitas chapel, January 2 in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The poncho was woven by Erasto “Tito” Mendoza in the Saltillo style.

Oaxaca Lending Library “On The Rocks” Concert Shakes ‘Em Up

What do expats, snowbirds, Norteños and extranjeros do for fun in Oaxaca [besides learning Spanish]?  The Sunday afternoon concerts hosted by Jane Robison at Casa Colonial are one way to get together, shake-shake-shake to 60’s and 70’s classic rock, drink Margaritas, swill some Victoria, slurp an agua de jamaica and support the good work of the Oaxaca Lending Library.  Admission: 60 pesos.  Contact the Oaxaca Lending Library for schedule!

  

Mick Jagger could learn a few things from Kimberly Reyes [on vocals and percussion].  Her trained voice is clear with great range and she can really move, inspiring the crowd to get up and dance.  And, we did!

On The Rocks organizer Kurt Hackbarth on keyboards is a playwright and author who has a work in production in the city.  He also teaches playwriting in Spanish to local aspiring writers. Electric bassist Bill Stair hails from the U.K., Oaxaqueño Luis Santos is on drums, and electric guitarist is Rafael Gonzålez Lumbreras is from Mexico City.  The band definitely represents the multiculturalism that makes Oaxaca so great.

 

On Saturday mornings the Oaxaca Lending Library is a hub of activity.  Children gather around tables to learn English using hands-on coloring tools, coached by volunteers and parents.  Adults are in dyads to talk back-and-forth in English and Spanish, locals teaching visitors and vice versa.

 

The Library is also an extraordinary resource for jobs, volunteer opportunities, things for sale or wanted to buy.  Workshops, trips and event posters cover the bulletin boards.  A complete library of books, videos and CDs in Spanish and English are available, too.  Along the edge of the room, young mothers hold newborn infants close to them, swaddled tightly.

 

Education is central to the OLL mission and extranjeros seem to enjoy supporting this while having a good time, too.

Resources:

Oaxaca Lending Library, Piño Suarez near Llano Park.

On The Rocks, classic rock band for hire, contact Kurt at (951) 203-2749 or Kimberly at (951) 513-5574.

Casa Colonial, Miguel Negrete #105 at the corner of Division Oriente (extension of Morelos), house with the purple door.  This is a magnificent hacienda on incredible grounds covered with old growth bougainvillea, agave, cactus and shade trees, filled with original Oaxaca art by some of the now deceased folk masters, and a comfy living room with a complete library in English and Spanish.  The Swiss mining engineer who built the adobe hacienda long ago framed the fireplace with mineral rocks. Owner Jane Robison opens the Casa to support community endeavors.

 

Oaxaca Weaver-Musician Keeps the Traditions

Secundino Bazan Mendoza began weaving at age 13, his daughter Ester Bazan Contreras recalls. It could have been earlier, but Ester is certain he learned from his uncle who took him in at age 6 when his mother died. Secundino is now almost 85 years old. For the past 53 years he has served the Church of the Precious Blood in Teotitlan del Valle, playing the traditional Zapotec flute and drum (tambor) and leading processions held during festival days. Until last year, that is, when he fell and broke both his arm and hip.

Blanket woven by Secundino Bazan Mendoza

What Secundino weaves is unique — the traditional Zapotec blanket or serape, lighter in weight and softer than the sturdier floor rugs (tapetes) that most of the village weavers produce today. Soon after the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca in 1521, they introduced the European floor loom and churro sheep, then taught the men how to weave with wool. The Spaniards needed horse blankets and wool clothing for warmth.

The blanket that Secundino wove (shown above) is one of only two that he is able weave each year. Family and friends feared that after his hip break he wouldn’t be able to weave again. The floor loom requires standing 6 hours a day.

The blanket is actually two pieces of cloth, mirror images, that are sewn together in the old style before looms were built to weave a wider single piece of cloth. It could have been a horse blanket or serape. The wool is all natural [Ester says natural wool never fades in the sun] and comes from sheep raised in the village of Teotitlan del Valle. It is softer, finer and lighter than the wool from sheep raised in the higher altitudes — perfect as a bed, rather than floor, covering. Secundino cleans and spins the wool himself, all by hand. He beats the wool against rocks in the river to make it even softer.

Here is a video made by Annie Burns, who captured Secundino during his recovery. A group of friends from the U.S. made contributions to help buy the wheelchair. The video shows the rug pictured still on the loom, along with Secundino’s family and the instruments he plays.

Come to Teotitlan del Valle for a weaving workshop this spring to learn this technique.

A Night with Lila Downs in Oaxaca — Up Close at the Concert

As soon as I heard that Lila Downs was performing in Oaxaca, I ordered two (muy facile), never imagining that I would end up in front row on the rail right next to the stage.  Que milagro!  Though my bags were checked at the gate, I managed to smuggle in my camera.  All the signs said no cameras allowed.  Fortunately, la prensa (the press) were seated right next to us with mega lenses in hand and I was able to easily blend in. Que milagro!  Lila is an incredible performer and vocalist.  She is also socially responsible and committed to her Oaxaca and Mixteca origins.  It was a wonderful concert.  The entire Guelaguetza stadium was packed and the energy was electric.

Color strobe lights changed the atmosphere from yellow and red to blue and green and all hues in between.  A “smoke” machine created stage mystery.  Lila added shawls, a hat, and a Tito Mendoza woven tapestry poncho to her repertoire as she interpreted each song.

She really knows how to connect with Oaxaca and her people.  I took over 450 photos and wore down my battery.  A photo extravanganza for sure.

 

The audience was enthralled.  There are many foreigners in the city now to enjoy Dias de los Muertos.  The stands were sprinkled with extranjeros. And the band played on!

 

       

Even with my long lens the environment was challenging.  Her white dress. Constantly changing colors and movement.  Being a novice shooter.  I didn’t have my tripod and camera shake without it is predictable. Even though  I balanced the camera on the rail to provide stability, you can see that many of my shots are imperfect. I was just grateful to be this close and personal.