A report by Jenelle Janci for Lancaster Online.
When a harpist, a clarinet player and percussionist collaborate, modern Latin music likely isn’t the style of music one would expect to hear.
But South American and Caribbean music group CHALACA thrives on the unexpected.
In CHALACA, Bridget Kibbey, Benito Meza and Samuel Torres explore and celebrate the work of South American and Caribbean composers. The group will open the Trust Performing Arts Center’s 2017-18 season with a performance tonight.
Kibbey says the show follows the migration of music and rhythm from its origins in Africa and Europe to the Andean Mountains, the Amazon and finally, to cultural melting pots like New York City.
Kibbey’s hometown of Findlay, Ohio, had an unusually high population of harpists due to a popular harp teacher.
“I saw her playing in a country church when I was 9 years old,” Kibbey says. “I was so mesmerized by it that my dad suggested I try lessons, and I was hooked.”
Kibbey moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School and has lived in the city since. She was exposed to music that originated in Morocco and Venezuela and was so enamored by what she calls “Nuevo Latina” culture, she took salsa dancing twice a week.
“I eat and breathe this kind of Nuevo Latino culture,” Kibbey says. “It’s kind of something that I just gravitate toward. So, being able to translate that to my instrument as a classically trained musician is really exciting.”
The group began when Kibbey and Meza decided to jam on some Venezuelan and Colombian tunes. Kibbey felt an instant creative connection.
“We have fun and he loves to teach certain tunes,” Kibbey says. “He’s a great arranger, and he understands the harp in his arrangements. He understands the resonance of the harp because it’s really unique, the way there’s a buildup of sound as you use the instrument. Any composer or performer that writes for the harp and understands that, I latch on.”
Kibbey and Meza tried playing with different percussionists before deciding Torres was the perfect fit. Meza and Torres, both from Colombia, have known each other since college.
“I’m kind of the third wheel in the best sense of the word in that I get to learn all of these incredible folk dances and traditions from these masters,” Kibbey says.
Among the band’s set list is “El Pescador,” a tune arranged by Meza that is an African tribal courtship dance. CHALACA also will play “Jequibau,” a samba that was popular in 1960s Brazil.
“These kind of folk influences kind of create popular music that I think in the states we like to call world music,” Kibbey says. “But if you call a spade a spade, these are folk traditions that have become popular. Something you would hear if you go out dancing. You’re dancing to this rhythm. You’re dancing to this style. We want to showcase this evolution, and we’ll be talking about that from the stage.”
While there’s a historical element, the show is nothing like studying from a textbook. Much of the music is danceable, and the musicians are genuinely having fun.
“There’s this sense of play,” Kibbey says. “That’s what I love about this music and this collaboration. We really are like three kids getting together and playing.”
CHALACA will celebrate its first anniversary by performing at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C., this December. But first, of course, is the band’s stop in Lancaster. The Trust is familiar to Kibbey, who performed there solo in November.
“The Trust is a very special place,” Kibbey says. “The audience is so receptive and open.
There’s nothing like having your green room be a bank vault. But the acoustics of this space, aside from looking so fantastic, are going to be perfect for this ensemble to really sing and rock.”