Music Notes January

Fandango at the wall

While President Trump stirs up fear and loathing at the U.S.-Mexican border, a group of musicians is engaged in bringing the people of the United States and Mexico together. The story begins in 2008, when Jorge Francisco Castillo, a musician and retired librarian, founded the Fandango Fronterizo Festival, an annual event that takes place at the wall that divides the cities of Tijuana and San Diego. Francisco Castillo’s fandango (the word literally means “a lively dance”) is a cross-border jam session that features son jarocho musicians, who play a popular folk music style from Mexico’s Vera Cruz region. People on both sides of the border have been coming for years, to sing, dance, eat, and enjoy the festivities. Last year, Francisco Castillo was approached by New York-based Latin jazz maestro Arturo O’Farrill, who proposed a big jam, with guest musicians and a recording. It came together last May, on the U.S. Memorial Day, when O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Castillo’s son jarocho musicians gathered at the border for the historic fandango. More than 60 musicians were involved. Now we have the album: “Fandango at the Wall: A Soundtrack for the United States, Mexico, and Beyond.” Its 30 tracks, recorded both at the Tijuana-San Diego border and in New York studios, features O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, prominent son jarocho musicians Patricio Hidalgo and Ramón Gutiérres Hernández, jazz violin great Regina Carter, Broadway musical star Mandy Gonzalez, Iranian musician Sahba Motallebi, and many more. Producer Kahir Sehgal sums things up nicely: “I hope that as you listen to this music, you’ll hear the possibilities of what the relationship between the United States and Mexico can become”. For more info:

Springsteen On Broadway

Last month, Bruce Springsteen gave the last performance of  “Springsteen On Broadway”, a solo theatrical production that ran five days a week for fourteen months. “Springsteen On Broadway” combined his gift for storytelling (long apparent to concert goers) with acoustic renditions of many of his landmark songs. The script was based upon his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run”. Now we have a 2½ hour souvenir of the show. It’s an engaging story of Springsteen’s life and music, with vivid anecdotes about his working-class childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, his family, neighbourhood, church, and school. Like so many rockers of his generation, there is the epiphany of seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. There are tales of lifelong friendships formed among struggling bar band musicians, and of dodging the draft to avoid going to Vietnam. There are stories about accepting responsibility in his personal life after achieving success. Springsteen introduces his 1995 protest song, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” with an speech decrying people “in the highest offices of the land” who “want to destroy the idea of an America for all”. The main theme, however, is family and love, the struggle to escape from one’s origins, and, ultimately, the need to confront them. The old songs, now sung in the voice of an elderly man, are gripping and somehow sound fresh in this context. Readers may find some stories maudlin in places, but hey, nowadays you can always cut those bits out and just program the songs.


Canadian folk music: riches to discover

The annual Canadian Folk Music Awards offer an opportunity for both casual and dedicated fans of the genre to discover artists who fly beneath the radar of the pop music industry. This year’s awards, held in Calgary, from November 30 to December 1, confirm that the contemporary folk music scene is thriving artistically. A highlight of this year’s awards was Newfoundland traditional singer-songwriter Matthew Byrne, who performed at the ceremony and picked up the prize for Traditional Album of the Year. Byrne’s album, “Horizon Lines” is a masterfully-crafted collection of original and traditional songs by a captivating singer and accomplished guitarist. Venerable singer-songwriter and stellar guitarist Bruce Cockburn, winner of countless Canadian music awards, was declared Solo Artist of the Year on the strength of his latest album, Bone on Bone, a highlight of which is certainly “3 Al Purdys”, a rollicking, snarling song that pays tribute to Canadian poet Al Purdy (1918-2000). Winnipeg’s Raine Hamilton, a songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, received the award for Emerging Artist. Hamilton, whose band includes cello and double bass, describes her sound as acoustic chamber folk. Check out her new album, “Night Sky”. The Indigenous Songwriter award went to Shauit, from Maliotenam, Quebec. His album “Apu Peikussiak” (“We Are Not Alone”) is inspired by his Inu roots and fused with folk, pop, and reggae. The World Group award winner was Autorickshaw, the Toronto Indo-fusion band. With its latest album, “Meter”, Autorickshaw continues its project to fuse Indian classical music with jazz, folk and funk. For a complete list of the 2018 Canadian Folk Music Award winners visit

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