Tonight's Music Kitchen represented a wonderful foray into a new area of chamber music. I presented Kalunga, an Afro-Latin Percussion Quintet led by Javier Diaz, and the ancient rhythms and soaring song chants did not fail to seep into the soul of everyone present. In fact, the group's name comes from a Congolese word meaning "the line which separates the spirit world from this world," a kind of metaphysical horizon. The group has a rich orchestration of timbres which fill their arrangements with a wonderful expression of unique melodic and rhythmic counterpoints. The instruments in the group are conga, traditional African Xylophone, steel drums, cajon, shekere, something similar to a cowbell but open on the sides, plus voices.
Prior to the performance, there were almost no familiar faces today. But still, a young lady remembered me as a violinist and was hopeful that I would be playing today as well. I assured her that she was in for a special treat tonight. As Kalunga was playing their sound check prior to the performance, several ladies were already moving to the music out in the living area. And another, when I asked if she would return at 7 to hear the concert, she said rather, "I'm not leaving." She then went on to tell me the full list of instruments she played in grade school, some 10 or 12 ranging from the cello to drums to trombone. So, "I guess you like music," I said with a grin. "I LOVE music," she replied wistfully. "It's been a little while since I've played, since I've been able to afford to buy an instrument. So, now I use the one I carry with me all the time," she said, patting her chest.
The performance also began in a unique way for Music Kitchen audiences; they processed into the room, playing a piece all on shekeres and chanting a unison song. The room was in rapt attention, but as in all performances that I have played or observed, the listeners were not yet ready to give themselves over to the experience. The second piece was based on a West African traditional invocation of the spirits that assure safe passage, or that an ensuing event will go well. Though Javier cited it as a reference to all the musicians remembering their complex rhythms and solo lines, it was no doubt a poignant way to begin a performance at a homeless shelter and a very effective way to begin putting the clients at ease. It wasn't long before that occurred. With the introduction to the third piece, a young lady said, "Now that's it right there," and it was almost the release that everyone needed to really let go- Little by little, each person in the room began to move with the music in some small but undeniable way. The first question was asked of Sebastian, playing congas and cajon; a listener wanted to know how long he had been playing, because for her that is all that could explain his deep immersion into the music. But his answer was much more profound, he said, "You know how you meet a new friend and really you've just met them, but you feel like you've known them your whole life? That's how I feel about music and playing my instrument. When I'm playing, everything around me disappears." You could sense from many of the listeners a collective sense of wanting to have something like that in their lives.
And yet, for at least tonight, that escape was the enchanting melodies and rhythms of Kalunga. The group went on to perform a piece based on North African themes, with a soaring chant reminiscent of both Flamenco and the minaret, complete with exotic quarter tones. There were many works that celebrated through music the fusion of cultures. By the last piece and the end of the evening, the listeners danced joyfully in their chairs or gave over to the desire to stand.
Following are the notes from the listeners:
Great performance, although I cam towards the end I enjoyed the show and would love to head and see more live music. Recorded music has nothing on you guys. Please keep me updated. Can’t wait to hear the violins. B.J.
I love the 1st song JA+
I love the 3rd song J A+++
I like the 4th song GREAT A
I loved the last song J
I love the dynamics and how well they flow as a unit!
Can you bring them again soon?
The feel is like a back to Africa movement. The vibrant music lightening up my night. It reminds me no matter where you from there is a trace of the mother nation in you- Mama Africa. The promise land.
I like the desert passage the most, the Spanish song. Then the west African song. The xylophone sound so beautiful
Viva La Kalunga
I feel as though they would play regardless if people watched or not; that shows how passionate they are and how fearless and strong you can be when you do what you love. That’s inspiring and (illegible word) was great.
I love the steel pans, the cow bell. Reminds me of the West Indies. Maybe as a suggestion someone can have a class on how to make an instrument. T.W.
Thank you for your support of Music Kitchen Concerts!
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, President and Founder