Sonido Fest showcases Latin music with social engagement
Thu, Dec 1: Diana Gameros (pop, folk, jazz)
Fri, Dec 2: Edward Simon (Venezuelan jazz)
Sat, Dec 3: Carlos Varela (Cuban folk, rock)
Sun, Dec 4: Aurelio (Honduran Garifuna dance party)
Diana Gameros is serving as MC and host of the festival. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate our strength, an invitation to hear each other,” Gameros says. “The focus isn’t so much on the struggle, but on our strength and resilience.”
“Our new mission is to work with socially engaged artists, and Diana was such an easy choice for that role,” says Yrigoyen, YBCA’s associate director of performing arts. “With all of these programs, there’s the theme of freedom of expression, of home and identity, rebellion and human rights.”
Photo: Courtesy Richard Holder
On Saturday, Dec. 3, the festival features a rare Bay Area performance by Carlos Varela, a Cuban rocker who has often pushed against his government’s attempts to isolate the nation from contrary thoughts, particularly by reaching out to the Cuban diaspora.
Not nearly as well known outside Cuba as government-championed nueva trova troubadours Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodriguez, he’s the subject of a new documentary, “The Poet of Havana,” by Canadian filmmaker Ron Chapman, which features interviews by avid fans like Ivan Lins and Jackson Browne (who showed up at Varela’s Bay Area debut at Yoshi’s in 2010).
“In the Bay Area, we’re very familiar with Cuban dance music and nueva trova stars like Silvio Rodriguez, but not as familiar with Carlos Varela, who’s such an important voice as a protest singer and social critic,” Yrigoyen says. “At times he’s been censored, but now he’s one of the most respected artists in Cuba.”
If there’s one artist who embodies the fraught and provisional nature of home, it’s guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Aurelio, a Garifuna bandleader from Honduras who closes SF Sonido Fest on Sunday, Dec. 4, with a celebratory set of percussion-driven punta (the dance floor will be open).
Spread across the Atlantic coast of Central America, the Garifuna people originally hailed from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where the descendants of escaped slaves from West Africa and indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples forged a fiercely independent culture that has survived for more than two centuries.
“One thing that first inspired me about Aurelio is that he’s really preserving a subculture within Honduras,” says Yrigoyen, who notes that Aurelio also served as his country’s first black congressman. “He’s been a torchbearer of that tradition.”
SFJazz Collective pianist Ed Simon, who was born and raised in Venezuela, leads an ensemble Friday, Dec. 2, featuring musicians versed in jazz and folkloric Venezuelan forms, including fellow Venezuelans Jackeline Rago on cuatro and percussion, flutist Marco Granados, and guest vocalist Maria Alejandra Rodriguez.
No SF Sonido Fest artist presents a wider array of sounds than Gameros, whose program includes songs with her band, solo numbers, arrangements with the Amaranth String Quartet, and several traditional Mexican songs with the Awesöme Orchestra Collective, arranged by Bay Area’s own Minna Choi.
SF Sonido Fest: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 1-3; 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4. $20-$30, $70 for festival pass. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F. (415) 978-2787. https://ybca.org
To see a trailer for the festival: https://youtu.be/egouDHVlHiA