It’s virtually impossible for one person to try and catch all the acts at Summerfest in San Jose, one of the nation’s most important live music events, featuring 100+ performances of the best in jazz, blues, R&B, funk, New Orleans and more, but we tried. Silicon Valley Latino was proud to be a media partner at this year’s event and Summerfest 2018 did not disappoint. Witnessing all the diversity in the audience for this music festival is so exhilarating. Watching fans of all ages and ethnicities practicing their salsa moves. The young and old moving to the unconventional swing of jazz. Music aficionados rubbing elbows with curious first time attendees, Summerfest had it all going on!
With 12 stages, plus other attractions approaching its 30th anniversary in 2019, Summer Fest is THE preeminent music festival in San Jose. In recent years, the Fest has become renowned for its top-flight lineup of breaking international and Latin artists, presented on stages throughout the event. The Jazz Beyond programming presents young jazz artists pushing the boundaries of the art form, many influenced by the hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul and electronic music. There’s something for everyone and, even with its awesome scale and breadth, the Fest has remained one of the most affordable events of its kind. SummerFest as it’s now known was once known as the San Jose Jazz Festival. But the festival still promotes that spirit of celebrating the artists. Artist’s that push the boundaries of what is music of the spirit as we like to call it. Its platform is a celebration of music lovers and performers alike.
Friday Night on the main, ConFunkShun brought the crowd to its feet while I enjoyed some sultry vocals at The Hammer Theatre with torch singer Jane Monheit. The kick off night offers choices late into the evening with local venues staying open late. Some performers kicking it in at 11:00 pm. Saturday is wall to wall music beginning at noon. Earlier that afternoon the Blues Stage was alive with the New Orleans vibe of Zydeco music with Andre Thierry. But that’s the thing; we missed what we heard to be an amazing performance by Sandy Cressman and Homenagen Brasileria over at Café Stritch at the same time. Sarah McKenzie gave a spirited performance soon at The Hammer Theatre. But the afternoon rocked at the Salsa Stage as The Boogaloo Assassins stormed through a feverish set of dance music that set San Fernando St on fire. Back on the main stage Johnnie Gill was set to perform for the captive audience. We head back to the Blues Stage to take in the utter Cajun joy of The Soul Rebels. Later the mesmerizing Cuban drumming of Yissy and bandancha pack the intimate El Taurino Stage.
Day Three of Summerfest and honestly, I am exhausted. The notes are the starting to blur, the faces are starting to blend together, but the vibe is still exciting. Sunday’s audience, delirious yet still moving to the rhythms of the street. With the beautifully haunting almost mystic rhythm of Changüí Majedero, dancers appear floating down the boulevard. The cooler weather Sunday soothed the languid souls. The narrative of the lyric is not simple; the rhythms are complex and haunting.. A heartfelt spirit that transcends love, romance and dancing, it speaks to a deeper layer inside of us. That humble spirit, acceptance, and honesty.
Of course we could have visited the swing stage and gotten swing lessons, or spent more time in the British Airways Music Lounge, but like we said, this festival is nearly impossible to fully cover. Oh yeah, crossing over to the food court Sunday afternoon, the legend himself Herb Albert is on the main stage. We just have to stop, eating will have to wait.
The job Jesse Cutler and the SJZ crew do over this weekend is phenomenal. We had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Betto Arcos who procured the Salsa stage this year. Wow, what performances. Always guaranteed to be an ecstatic annual celebration of diverse Latin styles, the Salsa Stage is one of San Jose Jazz Summer Fest's musical and social pillars. For 2018, the stage's bookings are in the incredible hands of beloved national radio personality, Betto Arcos. Whether it's the traditional sounds of Changüi Majadero, the modern timba styling of Rumbankete or the Stage's titular salsa courtesy of Orquesta Son Mayor, Arcos has San Jose Jazz Summer Fest patrons covered for the most anticipated epic Latin dance party of the year.
A radio journalist, DJ, educator and concert producer, the Los Angeles-based Arcos can be heard on NPR's “All Things Considered,” PRI's “The World,” and he’s hosted the influential “Global Village” program on Pacifica Radio’s KPFK for nearly two decades (1997- 2015). Arcos was recently a professor at Loyola Marymount University (teaching art, culture and broadcast journalism in 2016 and 2017) and is the host of the popular podcast, The Cosmic Barrio. His work as a scholar led to contributing to the anthology, The Tide Was Always High: The Music of Latin America in Los Angeles (University of California Press, 2017).
"None of the bands I’ve booked had performed at Summer Fest before, so it’ll was a first for them and Northern California fans of Latin music," says Betto Arcos. "The common denominator here is dance music, but each of the artists are so different and very representative of what's hot right now in L.A. We’re bringing these bands north to interweave with the amazing acts on the Bay Area salsa and Latin music scene."
Bruce Labadie, Artistic and Festival Director, adds, “Betto and I met some years ago and I’ve always been impressed with his knowledge of Latin artists and expertise as a renowned radio host. He brings knowledge from the potent Southern California music scene and an intense curiosity about Northern California acts and tastes. His point of view will be invaluable as we continue to present as many artists from Spanish speaking countries into our programming as possible across all Fest stages.”
Foundational to the roots of Afro-Cuban styles of salsa and timba, changüí is an Eastern Cuban musical form that originated in the 1800s in the Guantanamo region. Led by Los Angeles native Gabriel Garcia, the foremost Changüí Majadero brings an urban – and urbane – 21st Century perspective to this traditional genre. Changüí Majadero has appeared on many of the world’s greatest stages including Lincoln Center, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and at Dodger Stadium.
Whereas Changüí Majedero performs vintage Cuban dance music from hundreds of years ago, Rumbankete presents an eclectic mix of modern dance music. Emerging in Cuba in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, timba was formed with the amalgamation of funk, jazz, improvisation, and musical styles such as rumba. The two primary singers/composers of Rumbankete grew up in Havana during the heyday of timba. Along with eight powerhouse musicians, Rumbankete’s 10-piece ensemble makes it impossible to stop dancing once the music starts.
The most revered Los Angeles-based salsa band, the 10-piece Orquesta Son Mayor have performed at prestigious venues such as the Hollywood Bowl and have shared concert billings with the likes of Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Chucho Valdes. Led by Southern Californian dance institution Eddie Ortiz, Orquesta Son Mayor features Ortiz along with his three brothers who’ve consistently headlined the biggest salsa events for more than two decades across Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Bay Area. Born in New York in the early 1960's, boogaloo is the alchemy of Cuban rhythms and R&B. Boogaloo Assassins are a next generation phenom writing original music inspired by 60's classics. After releasing their debut album, Old Love Dies Hard (2013) Boogaloo Assassins quickly garnered airplay from tastemakers such as KCRW 88.9 FM and DJ/producer/label head Giles Peterson. In 2016, they signed a licensing deal with the famed Fania Records salsa label.
All the ingredients to this year’s Summerfest left us all hungry for more. And with 2019 being the 30th anniversary of this great event, I’m sure the SJZ crew will find a way to take this to another level high above the stratosphere.
Author: Adam Mendoza Silicon Valley Latino
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