The Aratani World Series is a layer cake of dance, music and culture. On a recent night, Angolan guitarist Waldemar Bastos was lit by the glow of a taco truck parked outside the L.A. Cumbia Festival, hosted in Little Tokyo. The overlaps in culture were abundant, spilling over a spectrum of Latin flavors, complimented with Japanese hospitality and Bastos' enthusiasm for music in general.
Inside the theater was a kinetic scene of passion and friction, the sensuality of Cumbia mades many rising out of their seats to dance in the aisles. Local bands Viento Callejero and La Chamba represented two forms of Cumbia -- Viento with its urban tropical blends and Chamba with its Peruvian Chica, which evokes a style of psychedelic and 1970's overtones. La Chamba was accompanied by Peruvian guitarist Jose Luis Carballo.
As a 15 year old in Peru, Carballo was wowed by Eric Clapton and American rock guitarists, and the classic rock sound interweaves with indigenous rhythms his distinctive brand of chicha cumbia.
"Many groups here in Los Angeles embody all that Cumbia represents, as it is a mix. It is not exact. This is a music style with heart, sentiment and joy. You can't put your finger on the fusion of it all. It's simply there," said Carballo.
Colombian musician Eduardo Martinez began the night with a blend of Afro-Colombian drumming, the armature of Cumbia most present in this performance. Buyepongo blended merengue, punta (a celebratory dance) and cumbia. For the artists in La Chamba Cumbia's day on the theatre stage was long overdue.
Alejandro Araujo, lead guitarist of La Chamba, phrases it like this: "This new sort of movement started in small bars, in backyards. We started out playing weddings, birthday parties, Quinceañeras. Cumbia has been around since before I was born and I'm just humbled to be part of this renaissance in L.A."
Back stage before the show Aratani curator Judy Mitoma heaves a sigh and smiles.
"We've had a bit of culture shock these last few months," she said, surrounded by musicians practicing, dancing and eating before the show.
"But it's wonderful to embrace this curiosity -- to cross pollinate different cultures. We're creating an artist community and we want everyone to feel connected."
Aratani has showcased several different genres that would normally fall into the category of 'World Music' at your local record store. Acts have included Bastos with his African and Brazilian pop; Gamelan music and dance from Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Kaoru Watanabe & Sumie Kaneko's Japanese Taiko. Most recently there was Kayamanan Ng Lahi, a blend of Filipino and Hawaiian cultures -- think ukulele and Pacific Islander dancing.
The dance company behind Kayamanan Ng Lahi named their performance Mana, which encompasses several different ideals represented in both the Filipino and Hawaiian cultures. Dance company co-cofounder Joel Jacinto sees mana as a foundation; something inherited from past generations, and not necessarily homogenous in nature. Jacinto points to Southeast Asia, places like Vietnam, or the West, that are incorporated into the company's Filipino style.
"Our dance form is really world dance at its best, interpreted by the Filipino manner," he said, "and that's a way of internalizing external influences and restating them in a Filipino manner. We made them our own."
The Aratani World Series makes something foreign familiar. Choreographer Linda Yudin of Viver Brasil Dance Company, who perform at Aratani May 30, said they want to raise awareness of issues facing the world. She wants to address issues affecting their group -- kidnappings of young girls in Africa, violence in Brazil and one incident of police brutality in Salvador, Bahia last September. New initiates of the Viver Brasil are painted by Dona Cici, the group's spiritual advisor, and the 14 dancers will perform under the white cloth of Obatalá, the sky father.
"There will be dance movements and awareness," says Yudin, "This is a symbol of peace. Certainly there will be joy, that is part of the physical vocabulary, but this is our responsibility to start this conversation of peace."
The next installments of the series include:
Sat April 18, 7 pm
Moira Smiley & VOCO / Varimezov Family Band
Sat May 2, 7 pm
Navarasa Dance Theatre / Mamak Khadem
Sat, May 30, 7 pm
Viver Brasil / Katia Moraes