Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 28
¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara! brings top-notch performers to local families
BY JOE PAYNE
Music has the unique ability to connect people across cultures, generations, and even borders. It can also provide a snapshot of a place, people, or society.
¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara! is a consortium of organizations that banded together to provide an annual season of music as diverse as the population in Santa Barbara County. Importing artists from as close as Los Angeles and as far away as Puerto Rico, Viva’s mission is to bring world-class performers to the county’s working Hispanic population with a heavy emphasis on youth outreach.
Headed and funded by U.C. Santa Barbara Arts and Lectures, the program relies on voluntary collaboration from the Marjorie Luke Theatre in Santa Barbara, the Isla Vista School, and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center. Each locally based organization provides a venue for performances and organizes with local schools to provide assemblies as well as opportunities for public workshops.
This being the ninth season of ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara!, organizations like the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center are more than prepared for the five intensive, volunteer-driven weekends that will happen throughout the year.
“There is no paid staff. We rely totally on our volunteers and community to make these shows happen,” said Karen Evangelista, executive director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center. “Our volunteers are families, youth groups, and the Youth Corps of Lompoc, which is a life skills program.”
The youth corps, she said, helps usher and do other volunteer work.
The concerts, assemblies, and workshops happen over a four-day period, with Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, and Guadalupe each getting a day with the various ensembles that Viva brings in. Organizations like the Marjorie Luke Theatre and the Isla Vista School already have a brick-and-mortar venue, but Evangelista’s organization has to secure one. The city of Guadalupe has been helpful in providing the City Hall auditorium as a venue at which the groups can perform.
“Our city officials participate in this as well,” Evangelista said. “Our previous mayor made an effort to come to every single concert. … That was important for the community to see: that city official there thanking them for coming.”
The family concerts are free in order to better serve the working class community. Viva began with the stated purpose of bringing professional-level ensembles to communities that otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy a show by performers of that caliber.
“The intention of the program is so people can come out and the whole family can attend,” Evangelista said. “These are areas in our communities and cities that are working communities where the families don’t have the ability to go to Santa Barbara for a concert.”
Evangelista is referring to the first performing ensemble this season, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán, which has only performed in the area at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The ensemble, which is made up of 14 professional mariachi musicians from Guadalajara, Mexico, has performed with the Chicago Symphony and San Francisco Philharmonic, and at venues across Europe and even Korea.
“Most concerts, when you enjoy a performance, you don’t get to meet the artists or get a picture or an autograph,” Evangelista said. “With these concerts the community gets to do that. … It is a very close-knit outreach program.”
UCSB Arts and Lectures spares no expense in the artists it procures. Though the ensembles accept less money than they normally would for an intensive bout of performances, they still make the long trip to Santa Barbara County, often with a group much larger than a standard band. For example, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán is 14 members strong, making it a mariachi “show group,” explained Laura Sobrino, the group’s U.S. representative.
“The current members, four of them are brothers,” she said. “Mariachi has been traditionally handed down from father to son, so many of them have grandfathers that were mariachis. That is part of why they are such great musicians, because they come from that dynasty.”
The four brothers, who inherited the ensemble from their uncle and father, originally come from Tecalitlán, the group’s namesake. They specialize in the Jalisco style of Mariachi, but with their own arrangements and many originals, Sobrino explained.
Mariachis are well known for having hours of music and lyrics memorized. They must also be completely in sync with each other—all 14 members, in the case of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán.
“One of the hardest things to do, as a mariachi myself, I can say you really have to click on stage,” Sobrino said. “You can’t just have a rehearsal and get on stage. You have to be able to connect, and the 14 of them, they really connect.”’
Sobrino has performed for ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara! with the all-female Mariachi Mujer 2000.
But even for groups that are used to performing upwards of four hours at a time, the intensive days of assemblies, workshops, and performances can be tiring.
“It’s a lot of work because there is so much the community is thirsty for,” she said. “As a professional—and I know Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán feels the same way—you want to do your best at all times.”
The generosity of the volunteers is often equal to that of the performers, who understand the importance and power of youth and community outreach. In one day, the ensembles may perform for as many as six audiences of kids and families.
“We don’t really have a green room for them,” Evangelista said. “I try to dress it up by putting table cloths and some flowers on the tables, but at the City Hall, our green room is our City Council room.”
While the volunteers provide the artists with as much as they possibly can, the artists are busy doing the same for their audiences. The school assembly performances are a special part of the weekend for the performers, who hope to inspire the next generation of artists.
“Once you get that sense of awe and see the kids checking out the instruments and the basics of the music … it is an amazing experience,” Sobrino said.
Another thing that makes traditional Mexican folk music special, Sobrino explained, is that it has the unique ability to bridge the generational gap within families.
“It’s no joke, having it in your blood from way back when, even if you were born in the United States like I was, you feel a connection to your family and your past,” she said.
That is the essence of ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara!: connecting the community where it begins—within in the family—and then spanning outward.
“I think that’s what those kids feel,” Sobrino said, “because they are going to go home and say, ‘I learned about such and such a song,’ and their parents or grandparents will immediately know what they are talking about. So it starts communication in the family, not just culturally and across nations.”
Evangelista said the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center has taken steps to bring Viva to youth correctional facilities in the area, organizing performances for incarcerated youth who are on good behavior. One year saw an unexpected bit of generosity from a musician in the band Pistolera after doing a performance and workshop at the juvenile hall.
“They were able to allow the kids to sing with them and let them play their guitar,” Evangelista said, “and to my understanding, one of the performers was so touched, she made sure that—for one of the youth in the facility—there was a guitar waiting for her when she got home.
“That in itself, that kind of true generosity, is a true depiction of what this program is all about,” she added.
UCSB Arts and Lectures makes sure to book a diverse lineup of performing ensembles, including musical as well as dance groups from south of the border. Many of the groups are uniquely Latin American, blending folk and popular styles from several countries and cultures.
“I think, culturally, music tells a story,” Evangelista said. “It’s almost like food; it brings us together, it connects all aspects of our lives and cultures.”
¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara! features a performance each month through March, excluding November and December. Los Vega is the October performing ensemble, which features jarocho-style music and dance. Played mostly on jarana and requinto—small guitars—the music includes the percussion caused by the dancing feet of one band member.
La Santa Cecilia, named for the patron saint of music, exemplifies a true melting-pot style to be shared in early January. Named “Best Latin Alternative Band of The Year” by L.A. Weekly, La Santa Cecilia blends American sounds like rock ’n’ roll with Pan-American styles like cumbia, bossa nova, rumba, bolero, tango, and even klezmer.
Perla Batalla is a famous singer who first became known as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen. She has since created a rich series of solo albums from which she will draw for her performances in February. She will be presenting a program of songs from Mexico’s Golden Age, including songs by Augustín Lara.
The season closes out with Plena Libre, hailing all the way from Puerto Rico. The 12 musicians in the group derive their style from the plena and bomba styles of Puerto Rico, including choreography inspired by folk traditions that help provide a snapshot of Puerto Rican culture and heritage.
“UCSB as a promoter has an interest in going out to the community and asking, ‘what do you want to hear?’” Evangelista said. “So, over the years, the various regions have been represented, and you see the people from those regions. It can bring them back home.”
Contact Arts Editor Joe Payne at email@example.com.
Mariachi Nuevo Tecatlitlán performs "Sones de Veracruz" live. The group will open the 2013-2014 season of ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara! on Sept. 21 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. at the Guadalupe City Hall auditorium.
Los Vega performs "Las Poblanas" from their album, En tonos muy diferentes. The group will bring jarocho-style music and dance to Santa Barbara County in October.