The show started at 11 PM on a Thursday night in a small nightclub in Little Havana. I had never heard of Philbert Armenteros Y Los Herederos, but my wife and I were curious if we could hear some live salsa music while we were in Miami for a couple days. We were not disappointed. There was a sea of percussion, ranging from the tiny claves that drive the whole rhythm section to the glorious timbales that are the crown jewel of the salsa sound. Some instruments play strictly consistent rhythmic patterns, while others are more improvisational. The result is this phenomenal thing called cross-rhythm, where instruments play seemingly independent lines that sometimes cross with each other, where different parts of the beats are accented as instruments unite. It’s like rhythm with open borders, and, my word, there is very little on this earth more mesmerizing than a salsa rhythm section.
I had been thinking for a while about doing a Christmas Love Feast service with music from Latin American sources. The Colombian singer Marta Gomez recorded a refreshingly lovely Christmas album, and I found the Peruvian Villancico Negro there. Yes, Leonard Bernstein blended 6/8 and 3/4 meters in “America”, but, long before that, Peruvians mixed 6/8, 3/4, AND 6/16 meters in a Christmas carol. Peruvian rhythms are no joke. One of my favorite Peruvian-Americans asked if she could sing the adorable A, B, C, Ch from that album with our preschoolers, and so she will, with her perfect Spanish.
The Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez composed Navidad Nuestra more than fifty years ago. With a delightful text by Felix Luna, the cantata tells the Christmas story from a distinctly South American context. The stirring opening movement and the lullaby-like fourth movement will bookend our service.
I stumbled onto the two salsa tunes in the service last Christmas while I, weary of Mariah Carey and Pentatonix, searched iTunes for something new to listen to when the kids requested Christmas music. We found the album Por el Valle de Rosas by a Latina girls choir from Our Lady of The Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. Two Puerto Rican carols from the album, A la Media Noche and Los Tres Reyes Magos, fit the salsa bill, the latter of which may be the catchiest tune in the universe. These two have been incredibly fun to work on with the adults, youth, and children; the Spanish is not always easy, but there are brilliant sections that we get to sing on nonsense syllables. To say that our children’s choir kids can be a bit fidgety may be the understatement of the year, but they can focus like crazy when it’s time to sing “badabadabadabadabada-ba”. And, because salsa isn’t salsa without percussion, we’ll be joined by drummers from Bio Ritmo. This may be the most unforgettable Love Feast in history.
It's always fun to get Director of Music Doug Brown's take on the Love Feast each year. This one promises to be particularly unique! Join us on Sunday, December 16 at 6:30 pm in the Sanctuary.