Editor’s Note: This article marks the debut of Yucatan Living’s newest member, Katalina McNulty. Katalina will be staying on top of the music and performance events in Merida and around the Yucatan for Yucatan Living. In addition, she will be writing articles and reviews about the music events. Welcome, Katalina!
I have always been a music aficionado, worked in the music industry in the 70’s and have attended more concerts than I can even remember (yes, some of them in the 60’s and that is why I don’t remember them!). I am one of those old hippies who still believes that music can change the world and bring about world peace.
Since moving to Merida I have made it my mission to listen to the local music and learn some of its history. The Museo de la Cancion Yucateca is located on Calle 57 between Calles 48 and 50 near Mejorada Park, and has been a wonderful resource for me.
To familiarize some of you with the local musicians, the following is a brief overview of five of the most important local musical acts. I have seen them all several times. They have proven to deliver consistently high quality performances and have an extensive repertoire.
These four men represent the romanticism and joy of trova music in Yucatan. They are two sets of brothers, all of whom play guitar and harmonize. In addition, they have an incredible array of local trova music and Mexican standards. Their enthusiasm is infectious and they make whatever concert they give become “the party” you don’t want to miss. My favorite part of almost all local music is when the band has the audience sing along and Los Juglares are the masters of audience participation. They will actually stop singing and playing and the song continues on because the whole audience is singing along. It catches your soul and lifts it up. Everyone participates, sings, and laughs, and it expresses the joy I identify as the Yucateco spirit of community.
Los Juglares has represented trova, Yucatan, and Mexico in over 22 countries around the world and, somehow, they still have time to play in the club they own, El Rincon Bohemio (the Bohemian Corner) on Calle 72 Av. Colon con Reforma No. 400, planta alta. (For reservations call cell phones: 9991-63-57-10 or 9992-42-12-68. Because of their popularity, reservations are often a good idea.)
Los Juglares last big concert was the postponed Mother’s Day Concert on June 7th at the Teatro Daniel Ayala. There were two shows at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM. The show was fabulous, fun, entertaining, engaging, participatory and just an all around blast! They had several guests: two male vocal soloists, Norman Uribe on piano, Ivan Barrientos on drums and a full mariachi band to add another dimension to their special evening. To add to my own enjoyment, my favorite percussionist plays with Los Juglares when he is not playing with the Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten. Los Juglares have a new CD called Para la Reina de Reinas (For the Queen of Queens).
Yahal Kab had their 30th anniversary party at the Teatro Jose Peon Contreras on October 27. In that concert, they had three varieties of music they have played throughout the years: indigenous, trova and son (a musical genre from Cuba). Yahal Kab‘s membership includes: the two Vega brothers (do you think I have a thing for brothers?), Ricardo is the leader and guitarist/singer and Alvaro is a flautist and sax player; Lazaro Gonzalez is lead singer, with a great voice for Cuban music, and five other musicians. All of the members of Yahal Kab are excellent musicians and their anniversary celebration included other musician friends who joined them in their celebration. The son music played by Yahal Kab is my personal favorite because I love dancing to the happiness in that groove. Yahal Kab plays at the La Parrilla on Montejo some Wednesday nights, at the Del Bosque Salsa Bar and Grill (reservations 928-09-50) and they appear at festivals. Yahal Kab is a little harder to find than Los Juglares since Roberto is also the director of the Rondalla de la Escuela de Trova (one of the Instituto Cultura de Yucatan music schools) at “Juan Acereto” Cultural Center, which teaches the youth of the state to carry on the tradition of trova.
Ligia Camara is an incredible pianist and singer. She has a smile and an energy that makes you want to be her friend. She is personable and you can feel the joy in her music when you listen to her. I have seen her play as part of the Cinco Pianos, Cinco Pianistas group, solo, at La Ermita Park and with Frank Dominquez, a famous Cuban composer and pianist, at an evening honoring him. She is a large woman with a large heart with which she completely embraces her audience.
Ligia Camara recently played at Teatro Peon Contreras with one of her long time friends and fellow pianists, Mario Esquivel. The evening was called Two Pianists and Four Pianos because they each used a piano and an electric piano. These two talents are top notch and that evening, they covered some of their favorites such as jazz standards, bossanova and blues. The energy between them was playful and fun to be around. It was predominantly piano music duos with Ligia singing a few solo songs in her clear, strong, well projected and beautiful voice.
Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten
The Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten just celebrated its 67th Anniversary at the Teatro Peon Contreras. I learned a lot from Profesor Luis Perez Sabido, who introduced each song and gave some of the history of the orchestra. The director is Pedro Carlos Herrera Lopez, who is also an accomplished pianist and arranger. The Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten has traveled to entertain the President of Mexico at his official home, Los Pinos, several times, and they have not only represented the State of Yucatan throughout the nation of Mexico, but around the world. Last year the Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten even gave a concert in Merida, Venezuela.
The Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten consists of around 30 performers, of which over 12 are guitarist-singers who stand up to sing every few songs. The only thing better than the lovely trova music of the State of Yucatan, which usually includes three instruments, is when the orchestra includes many more instruments, similar to the tradition of a jazz big band. My personal favorite is the young Julian, the tall percussionist standing in the back of the band, fully animated and embodying the music as he moves. Overall, the Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten boasts a great mix of older and younger generations, which seems to indicate that the music is healthy and will carry on. In addition, there are four soloists who regularly perform with the orchestra, all of whom are local favorites: Eduardo Rosado (a true jewel of a man and voice), Jesus Armando (Khaki’s favorite), Nancy Mas (soon to be having a "20 Years in Yucatan" celebration concert) and the amazing Maricarmen Perez.
I especially enjoy Maricarmen, a lovely singer and guitarist whom I have seen in both the trova singer star role in and solo with her guitar at the Jazzin’ Merida club on Friday nights. She is a master at both. Her day job is working for the State Cultural Institute as the new representative to the extranjero community, a job recently created for her since she speaks English so well and she has already become a dear friend to several of us. At Jazzin’ Merida, Maricarmen sings bossanova, Mexican standards, lullabies and jazz. Her voice is lilting and, to me, feels almost hypnotic. Maricarmen reminds me of Astrud Gilberto, another singer I adored, who sang with Antonio Carlos Jobim many moons ago. When fronting the Orquesta Tipica Yukalpeten Maricarmen is a beautiful woman with traditional dress and is able to command the stage even when she has an orchestra of thirty people behind her! She is a fabulous singer, a delight both professionally and personally, and part of the community I hope to get to know better here in our adopted home.
Las Maya International
Las Maya International is a famous long term, all-women band that has travelled all over the world representing the Mayan culture. The band was formed in 1955 (that’s 54 years ago!) and is still going strong. We are lucky enough to still have two of the original members still playing with Las Maya International: Judith Romero, exceptional pianist and leader, and Yolanda Pacheco, who plays 7 instruments with enthusiasm and the skill of years of playing. You really want to see the way Yolanda shakes a maraca! These women are in their 80s and 90s respectively. They give me hope of maintaining the joy of life for many years to come. This band is a delight and, for anyone who needs a lift or is beginning to feel their age, come join in and let Las Maya International raise your spirits.
Upcoming Event Note: Las Maya International will be playing as part of the Instituto Cultura de Yucatan Primavera Festival on Friday, June 26 at 9:00 PM at the Teatro Peon Contreras. The event is free, but a ticket for two should be picked up in the ticket office of the theater as soon as possible before the event.
Rubi, currently the lead singer with Las Maya International, is a beautiful petite woman with a large voice that portrays the romance of the trova music in Merida. Rubi also has her own band and I have seen her play with them at both the Music Museum and at the Serenade in Santa Lucia Park on Thursday nights. Rubi is yet another powerful singer who exemplifies the local trova music and has made me want to learn more.
Upcoming Event Note: Rubi will be playing with her own group at the Music Museum under the stars with the Los Condes Trio on June 24th at 9:00 PM. The donation is $10.00.
So now you know who I enjoy listening to and learning from here in Merida. There are endless more groups to be added to my favorites and many more I haven’t heard yet, but I will persevere and keep listening to get to know more about this incredible culture where we have been so welcomed.
I am also excited to be Yucatan Living’s newest correspondent, and to share the enthusiasm I have found for the music of Yucatan with you. It is my sincere hope that you will learn to enjoy it as much as I do.
If you have something to add to the article above, please send any comments or corrections because I am always learning. Since I attend several music events each week, please look for me and say "Hello." I am the tall gringa with short gray hair and usually some brightly colored dress. Should I be dancing, feel free to join in!