Romantic rhythms and fiery food
Saturday, May 05, 2012 06:00 am
Tonight is a celebration of spring as the Crown & Tower Pub embraces its annual swagger and sway of Latin music and Mexican mariachi.
This year’s event falls on Cinco de Mayo, (Spanish for May 5), a regional Mexican holiday in the state of Puebla that commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces in 1862.
Troy Marchak, the St. Albert pub’s owner, has doubled his efforts this year. Starting at 11 a.m., the pub sets the mood with a menu of spicy Mexican foods and canned sensual Latin rhythms.
But this is the first year that Marchak, who has developed a reputation for hosting one-off international events, has booked a Chilean duo for a live show starting at 7 p.m.
Jorge Vargas and Daniel Villalobos (no relation to Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos) are interpreting a blend of flamenco, Brazil’s bossa nova and Mexico’s music with an emphasis on mariachi.
Widely accepted as the soul of Mexico, Hollywood has appropriated mariachi for films such as The Wild Bunch and La Bamba to Desperado, El Mariachi and Kill Bill 2.
“This is a good excuse to get the Mexican community out,” says Vargas, a Spanish teacher at Jasper Place high school and a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta.
Vargas immigrated to Canada 22 years ago as a refugee claimant while Chile was under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“I was just finishing a bachelor of education at university and I was writing songs with social overtones. That was a no-no in a military regime. They don’t like it when you tell the truth,” says Vargas.
But as an idealistic university student, his conscience demanded an expression of the oppressive political-social climate.
“I was labelled as a troublemaker. I already had a cousin who was exiled for writing social commentary. The entire family was labelled. Again when you are under those regimes, your life could be at risk.”
Vargas travelled to Vancouver and applied for refugee status. With a cousin living in Edmonton, he trekked east and became a landed immigrant.
“I had a language and education degree and it didn’t take long to get my papers in order. Today I am proud to be a world citizen and I am comfortable in Canada.”
While teaching is his day job, music is his passion. Over the years, Vargas has played with jazz trombonist Bob Stroup, saxophonist Kent Sangster and singer/guitarist Oscar Lopez.
The 1990s were very prolific years for Vargas who was part of several bands including Musika Viva, Incanto (music from the Andes) and Apurimac, an ensemble that incorporated ethnic instruments from Bolivia.
Villalobos and Vargas met at Heritage Days and later at Edmonton Latin Festival.
“We complemented each other. He plays strings and percussion, drums and congas. I’m into guitars. I have 12.”
At the Crown & Tower gig, they’ll be playing Latin standbys such as the romantic Cielito Lindo (Pretty Little Sky), La Bamba and Guantanamera (Woman from Guantanamo).
“We want to go beyond La Bamba and Guantanamera. We want to incorporate some jazz and Latin into our set.”
To communicate that note of bravado, they’ll bring in a few electronic toys to add instrumentation and sync up the tempo.