If the description of a concert that included foot tapping, laughter, poetry, singing, and dancing — including audience members dancing with performers — doesn’t take you immediately to the image of an early music concert, you’re not alone.
Nevertheless, this unusual scene was exactly what Early Music Now set in motion at its thoroughly delightful, Saturday presentation of Ars Longa de la Habana, a fiery Cuban early-music ensemble that made its first appearance in an American city at UWM’s Zelazo Center Saturday evening.
The 16-member ensemble gave a fresh, engrossing performance of a perpetual-motion program, entitled “Galumba, Galumbe,” based on their CD “Resonancias de Africa en el Nuevo Mundi” (“Echoes of Africa in the New World”).
The ensemble, dressed in a lot of splashy, bright red, consisted of six vocalists and ten instrumentalists, who played cornetto, chirimia (an early oboe), bajon (an early bassoon), sacabuche (an early trombone), Baroque guitar, several viols and flutes, harpsichord, organ, and a fascinating array of percussion instruments.
The singers, from countertenor Yunie Gainza, who fronted the band, to soprano (and ensemble director) Teresa Paz, and a soprano/mezzo-soprano/tenor/baritone quartet, created large and small ensembles, and interjected solos throughout the program.
The large, diverse roster of instruments and voices created a constantly changing tapestry of textures and sounds. They built a mesmerizingly complex-yet-simple sound that mixed elements of European musical tradition with African rhythms and references — a chamber ensemble, folk singers and big band rolled into one.
But it was the group’s animated, extraordinarily communicative deliveries that transcended time, space, and language to make the culturally rich program meaningful and terrifically entertaining.
The performers never stopped moving. They danced, gestured, created bits of illuminating pantomime, interacted playfully with one another, used props, switched instruments, and, particularly when playing smaller percussion instruments, became a bobbing, swaying, visual representation of the complex, hypnotic subdivisions of the beat, making each tune feel like a living entity.
Singing and speaking in Spanish throughout the program, they had included full, English translations of their poetry and lyrics in the program. Part of the delight of the performance was watching audience members glance at their programs for a bit of context, and then set them aside to take in every moment of the performance.
Elaine Schmidt, Journal Sentinel
February 19, 2017