Locarno treats audience to Mexican vacation

locarno-641x750by Val Friesen

There were eight musicians and they sang sixteen songs—but there’s no way to put a number to the amount of joy that wonderful performance brought to those who attended the opening concert of the South Okanagan Concert Society last Friday evening in the Venables Auditorium. Locarno, from Vancouver, is quite simply a gift to any audience lucky enough to see and hear them.

Locarno’s music is nearly all their own, often based on son jarocho music from Vera Cruz, Mexico, with a lot of Cuban colours and flavours thrown in.

Never heard of it? Well, yes you have, because the most famous piece of that genre is that incredibly joyous, rhythmic blockbuster known around the world as La Bamba—a high octane piece which they performed near the end of their program. So if you weren’t there, you have a pretty good idea of the adrenalin stomp this concert was.

The fountain of creative talent behind Locarno is the Juno award winning Tom Landa. Mexican born but with a Canadian mom, Landa infuses his sunny music with the energy and rhythms that reflect his Latin roots, and it’s fresh, modern, inventive—and simply terrific. He’s got a great voice, plays the guitar-like jarana jarocho marvelously, and has stage presence he was seemingly born with.

The music came alive thanks to the work of Landa’s fellow musicians, including the sole woman, his wife, Kalissa Landa, who plays a red hot fiddle. Malcolm Aiken- trumpet, and Kevin Tang- trombone, added mariachi-like colours, but it was Robin Layne (Vancouver Island fella) whose marimba and congas seemed to be an extension of his internal perpetual motion that added incredible enjoyment to the program. Go, man! Steady work, too, from drummer Liam MacDonald and bassist Ronnie Swirl.

The eighth musician arrived only after the intermission when Pedro Mota joined the group, and later performed the only solo of the evening. This guitarist from Mexico City has a spectacular high tenor voice that at times goes stratospheric, and as well, he’s a jazz guitarist to be reckoned with. Very impressive, as were Landa’s songs with their complex rhythms, and Mexican themes derived not only from Vera Cruz, but from Oaxaca and Chiapas as well—dancing under the sun, sunshine on water, a bullfrog, a snake, and even a touching one about his son, Joah, sung by both parents here.

And the concert had it all—not just wonderful, joyous music, with enough variety to keep interest high, but also all the welcome extras of live performance: interaction between the performers that was real fun for the audience; brief, interesting intros to the songs; explanations of the instruments; and lots of invitations from Landa for the audience to participate in some of the singing—and all delivered with fun, warmth, and professional polish and style. Thanks for all of that, Locarno. You very much deserved the standing ovation the audience awarded you. And thank you, Tom and Kalissa, for your beautiful encore, sung with your acoustic accompaniment to show off the quality of sound in our fine auditorium.

Bottom line of any concert is the question: but would I like to see them again? A five star yes to that one! Festival of the Grape, get on the phone! Thanks, South Okanagan Concert Society —and your generous sponsors. You’ve whetted the appetite for whatever follows in your 2015-16 season.