Last week was one of the most exciting ones of my year so far. On the one hand, I just booked my stay in Crete and got plane tickets for my European summer adventure. On the other hand, I decided to stop repressing certain feelings and ideas and fight for certain dreams that once seemed to be in the palm of my hand. It has been the most creative time of the year for me, and that certainly put me in high spirits to enjoy everything the city has to offer.
After writing articles for TheRichest, Elite Daily, some attorney blogs, and what not, during the day, I was usually up for dinner and a show, and shows were not lacking. The 8-night week began last Tuesday, when my sister got us both tickets to see the Benefit Concert for Dino and Dolores. Dino is a Uruguayan music legend, who also happens to be one of the local residents affected by the tornado in Dolores.
I wasn´t planning to go to that concert. I tend to have an aversion to the whole idea of charity and benefits. I believe the fight is elsewhere. We need to fight for and contribute to a state that does not allow situations where such charitable events are needed. But I am so glad I was there.
The Adela Retta theater, where the concert was held, reminded me of the Met in New York. I had already been there, but my sister hadn´t, and she was really impressed by the architecture and the organization. In a city where local musicians are often left to play at tiny bars with poor sound quality, it is always a treat to see massive Uruguayan talent shine in a big theater with balconies like the Adela Retta or the Solis. When all the seats are taken and the audience is as thrilled as it was that night, it´s just sheer nirvana.
There were a lot of artists on stage that night, and some introductions by two anchormen. I was impressed by the way the storytelling was weaved into the songs and the participants` identities. The show was carefully planned as an emotional journey, and it totally worked, even for one as averse to what we in Spanish call “easy tears.” In a way, the story being told was that of Dino´s musical career, which is also an important part of the history of Uruguayan music.
I was moved to tears by Fernando Cabrera, which usually happens to me when he opens his mouth to sing one of his best songs. I found myself being tremendously moved by Falta y Resto, although Uruguayan murga is not one of my favorite musical genres; but a perfect song is a perfect song, whatever the genre. I was tremendously pleased to see one of my favorite Uruguayan bands, Los Kafkarudos, get one of the biggest ovations of the night, and I was also moved to tears by Numa Moraes, someone I probably had never seen live before.
One of the things that impressed me the most was the amount of fabulous, soulful guitarists this land has given us. My favorite one, Nico Ibarburu was also onstage, but seeing all the older guitarists I had never seen or heard little about, I realized about the true dimension of Uruguay´s musical talent, a vast scenery overflowing with unique treasures from all the corners of the land, not just the capital, just waiting to be discovered.
Monica Navarro was the female star of the night. I somehow had usually heard her more rock-girl side, and I was completely disarmed by the sweetness with which she rendered Mandrake Wolf´s Miriam entró al Hollywood, right after the MCs set the scene by telling the story of how Dino had met the love of his life.
It was a pleasure to watch the stagehands swiftly handling all the complexities of such a challenging series of performances, and the choice of having no drum set onstage and focusing mainly on guitar music was a total hit. The very heart of Uruguay was on stage that night, and I suspect the better half of it is made of guitars.
Photos by Alvaro García Illarze
After the emotional journey ended, my sister Fabi and I bumped into some of the musicians we knew and got some tasty backstage gossip: our favorite story is that there was no alcohol in the backstage area, something no one in the audience might have imagined. I thought about what a brilliant idea it was that Guzmán Mendaro, whom we have known for many years as a rock guitarist, joined Alejandro Spuntone to make a duo of guitar and voice, which my sister is a big fan of and whose performance I really appreciated. I thought about the fabulous songs of Los Kafkarudos, and their philosophically meaningful lyrics. And about Garo´s soulful solo project. One might have thought that night alone was proof enough that Uruguay has too much talent to handle. But there would be much more.
Tango, Piano Bar, and more
After the show, we had a drink and delicious pizza at Bar Brecha with Kafkarudos member Alejandro Ferradás, also an incredible songwriter. Tuesday night may be the busiest night in Montevideo nightlife, judging by what we found everywhere we went. First, all of the Kafkarudos were supposed to have some pizza at Bar Girasoles, but it was poetry night, not very conducive to conversation. Bar Brecha had a tango night, people were dancing, and there would be a show later. El Mingus, one of our favorite places,. had Hernan Peyrou´s piano bar night; a total treat because somehow he always plays all my favorite songs with delicious gusto. Our night ended at Martes on Fire, a now established jam. I used to love it, but now the band there always plays the same songs. After trying out several singers, they stuck with a good one, but I don´t find life there. In spite of the virtuosos in the band, which include some of my favorite players, somehow nothing happens or just not enough local music happens. I really regret that, because it is in every other way a great place to be. In my view, the Martes on Fire band is in desperate need of s singer who can be as creative with vocals as the band is with their instruments.
Candombe Jam & Los Cuerpos Guest Appearance
So, Tuesday was busy for us, but then came Wednesday. The candombe jam had moved to my neighborhood. I had kind of been singing Rada and Jorginho Gularte at home every day, and just couldn´t wait. Double treat was that although few people came to see the show, the better part of the audience was made up of musicians who came with their instruments. Nino Restuccia was on bass, which is not always the case with that jam and was a very lucky coincidence.
The best candombe tunes were played with passion and soul. I don´t know if it was because we were in the birthplace of candombe, in Barrio Sur, but it was one of the best candombe jam nights ever. At one point, there were four or five wind instruments on stage, and though I am not a fan of brass-y music in general, the Mateo, Rada, and Opa tunes sounded amazing. Los Cuerpos, well, half of them made a stellar appearance, and I was reminded of why I was so excited that such a band existed: a young band creating new and great candombe music & lyrics. That was the third time in the week that I crossed paths with the pianist from Mingus, who also happened to be the accordion player from the Dino benefit, and the lead singer/pianist/guitarist of Los Cuerpos.
The jam was so powerful that I ended up writing a poem about it, which is dedicated to Christian Fattoruso, someone who might have appreciated that night as much as I did.
On Thursday, I actually attended a private party, so, nothing to tell in the way of live music, but it was still a night out. By then, I had already began wondering when I was gonna get a night in…
On Friday, I cooked for my sister and some girlfriends, we sang some Sting and Johnny Cash karaoke, and then headed out into the night again. We ended up going to one of the few places that plays music we enjoy dancing to, and danced the night away. I also gave a lecture on true love to a boy who chatted me up for hours, but to no avail. When the taxi driver who took me home told me it was 7:30 AM, I was incredulous.
By Saturday, I was kind of beat. I did some work, recorded some songs for someone who has created many beautiful tunes for me, and really thought I would finally get my night in. But my friend Marialis called me to invite me to see Fede Graña y los prolijos. To me, that kind of band name is already like bad news. It tells me its a kind of band with mediocre players and “cool” sounding lyrics that are, at heart, also mediocre; the kind of low fi band millennials swear by. Alas, I was surprised.
Fede Graña y los prolijos is a really cool band. They like to mix styles, they are not mediocre players, and really, they are super fun to watch. After Fede Graña and then Sirilos, another band for millennials, presumably, we polished the floors dancing like mad to some of the coolest Latin songs ever. On Friday, we had stepped briefly into a place called something like NOX, and were appalled by the uninteresting tunes by dull hitmakers like Marama and Rombai. We simply couldn´t stomach the monotony, and we left. But the DJ at Bluzz Live actually played Latin music that has great beat and variation, and beautiful melodies, and everything a song needs to have to get you dancing. With nights like that, who needs a gym?
LOS CUERPOS at El Mingus, twice
For Sunday night, I had made a reservation to see LOS CUERPOS at El Mingus. The first show was so good, that we stayed for the second one. The songs that are not on their first CD, which I didn´t know, were utterly delicious. Hernán Peyrou´s voice was disarming, the drummer and the percussionist´s enthusiasm was contagious. The whole band sounded incredible. It was a proper band. Not just some friends who got together to play music. These are people who take their music very seriously, and I personally see them as the inheritors of Mateo, of Rada, and Jorginho. I was moved to tears by one emotional song, and found myself singing the choruses of several. I remembered the first time I had seen Los Cuerpos at Mingus a few years ago, just randomly, not having planned to. I thought they were great then, but I would have never anticipated their brilliant present and auspicious future. One charming aspect of their performance was a guest appearance by Peyrou´s son, Nico Ibarburu´s son, and some other little guy I don´t know, rapping about wanting a lollypop. with those guys waiting in the sidelines, Uruguayan music is covered for at least another half century.
So, if you count the shows I saw between Tuesday and Sunday, there were 8; 8 nights in barely a week. I just did the piano bar and the candombe jam this week. The piano bar was heaven. The candombe jam has been suffering from moving around and finding it hard to connect with an audience, but luckily, starting in June, it will move to El Tartamudo, an ideal venue for it. I would like to see the candombe jam, grow, get more professional, charge more for tickets (currently under 3 dollars), and make it possible for musicians to rehearse. It would be nice to see it happening at a place with good sound, and it would be wonderful if foreigners could discover it.
For a couple of years, I lived far from Uruguay. I moved away for love, and I will never regret it. But when I was dancing to La Mama Vieja at the jam or listening to a brand new candombe song by Los Cuerpos, I realized there is no other place I´d rather be. I´m partial, it´s a given, but I believe there is nothing like Uruguayan music anywhere else in the world. Our only problem is just excess of talent. There are probably worse problems to be had…
BONUS: One of the greatest Uruguayan music albums of all time, for your listening pleasure
NOTE: I tried to include links to music and official pages. Follow the artists on social media to receive info of upcoming concerts.