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Volume 16, Number 6
May 24, 2010


culture

Also in this section:
IMPROV8 with the Theatre Guild
Reggae Bhakti Fest, benefit for the Naso Cultural Center
Alfredo St. Malo Music Festival
Jazz from all over, starting, passing through and ending at The Crossroads of the World
Sparky the Wonder Dog
The Poets' Corner
Scenes from Bruce Quinn's adaptation of Big River
Patronato de Nutricion Art Auction
Specters of child labor haunt Panama's streets and theater
Colon's Picasso
Rómulo Castro revives the "peña" at Rayuela
Movies on DVD: The Blind Side


Rómulo Castro's Grammy-winning hit, La Rosa de Los Vientos

Rómulo Castro revives the "peña" at Rayuela
by Katie Zien

On April 21, 2010, Rómulo Castro launched what will be a weekly session of musical gatherings at a new bar, Rayuela, each Wednesday. Sandwiched between the Farmacia Arrocha and a recently cleared construction site on Via Argentina, Rayuela is a tiny space with barely enough room for thirty people.  Yet its location --- in a neighborhood replete with cafés but hosting few musical venues --- and its minimalist décor make for good prospects and an intimate environment for listening to good live music over a bottle of wine or some frituras.

In a recent interview, Castro explained Rayuela's origins. The bar represents his attempt to revive an uncommon but, Castro believes, important practice in Panama --- the peña, or cultural center. Combining musical performance (with emphasis on political and intellectual songs), poetry readings, "open-mic" style audience participation, and expositions of other visual and performing arts, regional peñas emerged throughout Chile and other locations in Latin America in the 1970s, as cultural refuges where people could meet and engage in the performance of la musica de protesta to express their frustration with dictatorships and fascist regimes.

In Panama, Castro was part owner of a bar, El Zaguan, which held weekly peñas of this nature until it ran aground in the 90s. The scene that revolves around Casto and the Grupo Tuira, however, has never gone away but has migrated from bar to bar ever since those days. At this moment, Castro sees an opportunity to expand upon that tradition and offer an alternative to the gentrified hippie-dens of the Casco Viejo/San Felipe and the designer-tacones set of Miami Vicers on Calle Uruguay.

Castro has worked with a variety of musicians across Latin America over several decades, including collaborating with Rubén Blades on the production of the album La Rosa de los Vientos. While acknowledging his ideological debt to the Marxist left, Castro describes his work as the performance of la musica de propuesta [proposal] rather than that of protesta: an empowering and constructive call to action rather than a cynic-making slide down the luge of social ills, of which people are all too aware (and exhausted). The idea is to buoy and uplift spectators so that they can enact change in their societies by finding solutions for seemingly interminable problems. Castro's history is a testament to that concept: the grandson of exiles who fled Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War, he has built a career and a loyal following around his smart music, which fuses folk, rock, jazz, típico, funk, and salsa elements from across the Americas.

On April 21, I observed a two-hour set (in fact longer, but I left early) featuring Mayito Travieso, Babito, and the few audience members courageous enough to belt out songs of their choosing, which ranged from selections by Silvio Rodríguez to a Chilean cueca juvenil. Seated in the audience were Genaro Villaláz, former director of INAC, as well as Cuban embassy press officer Alejandro Nuñez Padrón (along with his family), among others. The place was packed --- it gets that way easily --- and many bottles of wine and Cuban cigars were passed around the room with celebratory aplomb.

The evening began with Brazilian classics by Babito before seguing into a sampling of Rómulo Castro's oeuvre and finally opening the floor to the performing public. Rómulo Castro plans to replicate these jam sessions on Wednesdays, with future guest artists including Alberto Díaz, John Cuba, Lizy Rodríguez, Teresa Toro y Valeria Ovando (5/5), Gonzalo Horna (5/12), Raúl Vital y Toñito Ruda (5/19), and Yomira John 5/26).

If for no other reason, you should go to a session to see Castro's manager, Hady González del Pino, beaming from the sidelines, singing along, and shouting "si, señor!" in syncopated bursts of inimitable passion, as if she has memorized his delivery of each verse and refrain. González is a lawyer who traveled to Cuba, fell in love, and henceforth dedicated her life to the management of Castro's musical career. Her commitment, and the bar's enormous wine glasses and delicious offerings, combine to make the experience a unique and dazzling one.


Also in this section:
IMPROV8 with the Theatre Guild
Reggae Bhakti Fest, benefit for the Naso Cultural Center
Alfredo St. Malo Music Festival
Jazz from all over, starting, passing through and ending at The Crossroads of the World
Sparky the Wonder Dog
The Poets' Corner
Scenes from Bruce Quinn's adaptation of Big River
Patronato de Nutricion Art Auction
Specters of child labor haunt Panama's streets and theater
Colon's Picasso
Rómulo Castro revives the "peña" at Rayuela
Movies on DVD: The Blind Side

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