Battle of Boyaca, Bogota, Cartagena, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gabriela Ortiz, Gaston Alzate, La Canedlaria, LA International New Music Festival, La Puerta Falsa, Leopoldo Novoa, Paola Marin, Plaza Simon Bolivar, Ricardo Gallardo, Ricardo Rozental, Rodolfo Acosta, Simon Bolivar, Southwest Chamber Music, Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, XV Iberoamerican Festival
I’ve just returned from my first trip to Colombia, where Jan and I visited the cities of Cartagena and Bogotá for a series of meetings for the next Los Angeles International New Music Festival. We decided on going to our American neighbor for two reasons. One was the encouragement of Tambuco’s director, Ricardo Gallardo, who has been helping us get a handle on the new music and cultural scene of Latin America and urged us to begin with Colombia.
The other reason was our hunch that the achievement of Gabriel García Márquez was not a fluke. Behind such impressively great literature had to be a deep well of culture.
Colombia is a big subject, a country that combines the size of California and Texas together. It has both a Caribbean and Pacifc coast. The Andes mountains break into three huge valleys down by the border with Ecuador, and then there is the isolated Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta close to the Caribbean. The Amazon River flows through the southern part of the country. 500 miles of open plains, Los Llanos, lead you toward the border with Venezuela.
Every journey begins with a simple step. And my curiosity about Columbia was inspired by a Tambuco CD devoted to the composers of the country. Alexandra Cardenes, Leopoldo Novoa, Rodolfo Acosta, Claudia Calderon, Leopoldo Idobro and Johann Hassler are the composers featured on what I consider a must CD for anyone serious about new music in the Americas.
And here’s how things happen. My best friend, Ricardo Gallardo visits Los Angeles from time to time to keep our discussions active and vibrant. I’ve been to Mexico City twice in the last year. When I’m in Mexico City, I stay either with Ricardo or composer Gabriela Ortiz. When Ricardo is in Los Angeles, he stays with Paola Marin and Gaston Alzate, professors of Latin American literature at CSULA, who happen to be Colombian. Ricardo knows Paola and Gaston through an introduction from Colombian composer Leopoldo Novoa.
Jan and I were fully prepared for Colombia with all of these introductions to the protagonists of new music and culture in Cartagena and Bogotá. The backdrop of our trip was the activity of the XV Iberoamerican Festival.
Ready to be impressed?
Try 800 performances in 18 days held throughout the city. Even years are devoted to theater, odd years to music, so our visit was well planned for future ideas to have time to marinate. Before the official festival opening both the Rolling Stones and the Vienna Philharmonic visited Bogotá for the first time. Without question, the Iberoamerican Festival is one of the great arts events on the globe.
Never heard of the Iberoamerican Festival?
Welcome to an idée fixe of my blog. There is a huge burden of paternalistic thought in our presenting systems, at deep levels of decision making, dictating where important art originates. And in a very targeted way, Jan and I are positioning our Los Angeles International New Music Festival to continue to present a 21st century perspective in opposition to systemic routine.
Now, do you like parades for culture?
Prepare to be amazed!
We had enjoyed an energetic morning and early afternoon visiting the inspiring Museo de Oro in Bogotá, and returned to our hotel to rest a bit before dinner. As we had walked to the museum, we’d noticed a lot of activity, roped off portions of some streets, a few bleachers, but didn’t really pay much attention, figuring is was a typical Saturday in Bogotá. The city is responsible for the popular Ciclavia, in case you needed reminding.
Jan and I were laying down for a short nap that was not to be. We were lucky our second floor hotel room had a small balcony overlooking a narrow street in Bogotá’s original district of La Candelaria. Because instead of a short siesta, we heard sounds. Music. Shouting. More music. Noise. Getting closer and closer. Drums. What the hell was going on?
I looked outside and what unfolded for the next few hours took our breath away. In order to give you an idea of the scope, I’m going to string together an unbroken series of photos from our balcony and hope you can feel the excitement!
As this parade continued on and on, Jan and I had no idea what it was celebrating. An early Semana Santa celebration? A typical Saturday afternoon in Bogotá? Beyond curious, I took a short break we observed in the parade to go downstairs to see if I could learn what this was all about. I found a security guard and asked if she could tell me what the commotion was for.
“The theater festival, of course, señor. They parade each year through all of Bogota announcing the performances.”
I was stunned, never having ever experienced this type of community celebration for cultural performances. 50 years of civil war with the FARC is receding, and this festival is one of the responses visible about the big big shift we sense is on the way for Colombia.
As I returned to our room, the parade was continuing, and emboldened with my Spanish and the purpose of the participants, Jan and I started shouting and saluting the various theater troupes walking by. They weren’t shy, that’s for sure, and I’m happy to share a few more images from the best way to announce an arts festival I’ve ever seen.
Inspired, exhausted from excitement, amazed at the energy of this citywide event announcing an arts festival, Jan and I decided to rethink our dinner plans. A short walk from the hotel was the legendary restaurant La Puerta Falsa. It’s been open continuously for two hundred years, beginning in 1816 and having once served Simón Bolívar. La Puerta Falsa is just the ticket for absorbing Old Bogotá in La Candelaria, where the Spanish first settled Santa Fe de Bogotá, the seat of power for what they called Nueva Granada. Don’t worry, La Puerta Falsa and other food blogs are on the way. Got Aguardiente?
Just writing this post has brought back the jolt to my system Bogotá provided. I’m hooked, and I hope you are as well. Many more posts about our Colombian meetings and friends. The next Los Angeles International New Music Festival just got a lot more interesting, that’s for sure.
Viva Columbia! Viva America!
Best, best, best,