By April Isaacs
Queens Theatre in the Park's annual Latino Cultural Festival, running for its 12th consecutive year, focuses on international icons and new voices, bringing both rarely heard and U.S. debut talent to the stage. While the festival's events encompass a broad range of musical styles from salsa to flamenco, there is a heavy bent on Afro influence in Latin American music.
Though most of the performances are live music, the festival also includes the Colombian comedic play “Tola and Maruja and the Elvirita Elvirulo Conference,” a debut dance performance by the Mexican group Camerino 4 and a screening of Argentine director Carlos Sorin's 2004 film “El Perro.”
Historically, the festival has strived to bridge the gap between generations, providing an array of Latin American performers from musical legends to current pop artists. Claudia Norman, who has been curating and directing the festival since 1999, has turned the annual event into a kind of stepping stone for artists who are well-known in Latin America to break into the U.S. consciousness.
“Throughout the years, the festival has become a platform for artists,” Norman said. “It's a place for taking risks … for bringing artists here for the first time.”
Several artists who have made their debut at the Latino Cultural Festival have gone on to make a bigger name for themselves in the United States. Eva Ayllón for example, one of Peru's enduring Afro-Peruvian stars, made her U.S. debut at QTIP in 2003.
“She got a review in The [New York] Times for her performance here,” Norman said, “and now she is performing at Carneige Hall in October.”
Simon Diaz, best known for his song “Bambeleo,” made popular by the Gipsy Kings, also got his start in America at the Latino Cultural Festival and has now gone on to receive greater recognition throughout North America.
“Our goal is to present a window, [for audiences] to learn and to see the international aspect of Latin culture,” Norman said.
Afro-Peruvian acts this year include songstress Corina Bartra, known for her jazz flavorings, and Peruano Caracumbe, a company comprised of 13 dancers and musicians formerly members of the Peru Negro ballet. The Afro-Colombian group and 2007 Latin Grammy Award winner Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto and Afro-Uruguyan vocalist Rubén Rada also join the roster, presenting a broader scope of Afro-Latin music.
One of the biggest acts this year is Jimmy Sabater, a legend from the 1960s and '70s New York scene often heralded as the “father of salsa”, who is performing this Saturday. A contemporary and collaborator with legends Joe Cuba and Tito Puente, Sabater may get more swooning recognition from older audiences, but Norman hopes to revive the classic salsa style rarely heard in New York clubs anymore by bringing him to the stage, and hopefully igniting younger interest.
“The big band salsa of New York in the '60s has been forgotten, and it's such an important music to New York — and it's so young. It's too young to die. Having the pioneers of this music alive and working hard to keep it alive is crucial,” Norman said.
If you go:
Latino Cultural Festival