Elio Villafranca

From Africa to the Caribbean to the Bronx: Music Through a Global Lens

The Bronx Arts Ensemble (BAE) and guest artist Elio Villafranca, internationally-acclaimed pianist/composer/bandleader, will trace musical traditions from Africa to the Caribbean to the Bronx in a performance on Saturday, October 14th.  The first of many concerts programmed for the 2017-18 season, entitled Music through a Global Lens, the event will take place at 7:30pm at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture/Hostos Community College (450 Grand Concourse), in the Bronx.

The concert features selections from Cinqué, a major work written by Mr. Villafranca, a Bronx resident who came from Cuba in 1995. “I was inspired by the story of Joseph Cinqué, a Mende West African, born in Sierra Leone, who led a successful revolt aboard the slave ship La Amistad in 1839,” said Villafranca.  Despite the 1807 international ban on trading African slaves, Cinqué was illegally captured at the age of 25 and forced onto La Amistad, headed for sugar plantations in Cuba.

“The music chosen by BAE for this concert reflects the backgrounds of many of the people who live in the Bronx.  They will recognize some of the music from their own heritage,” said Judith Insell, BAE’s Music Program Manager. Cinqué showcases the cultural diversity of Latin melodies, dances and rhythms of the Caribbean, while highlighting the African traditions woven into the fabric of these nations via the forced migration of Africans to the Americas.

Mr. Villafranca and his trio, with the BAE Woodwind Quintet, will perform the three sections of Cinqué’s movement #1: Cinqué (about Joseph Cinqué, the free man); The Capture; and Troubled Waters (when Cinqué leads a revolt and gains control of La Amistad).  The concert will also include a section of movement #2: La Burla de Los Congos (revealing the Congolese slaves’ sense of humor).  Villafranca explained, “I decided to begin the suite with a video, Los Congos de San Luis, of the Congolese tradition I was born into called Tambor Yuka.”  Audio tracks of a capella Congolese chant alternate with live instrumental sections.

The first part of the concert offers Aires Tropicales for wind quintet by legendary Cuban-American jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera performed by BAE’s Woodwind Quintet–Theresa Norris, flute; Marsha Heller, oboe; Mitchell Kriegler, clarinet; Sharon Moe, horn; and Atsuko Sato, bassoon. The Villafranca Trio will also perform a solo set, with Villafranca on piano, Ricky Rodriguez on bass, and Arturo Stable, percussion/drums.

A composer and performer at the forefront in the jazz and Latin jazz scenes, Villafranca was a 2010 Grammy Award nominee. The concert on October 14 will be his first in the Bronx. He has also performed at Lincoln Center; the Blue Note Jazz Festival in Ghent, Belgium; the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy; and the North Sea Jazz Festival at The Hague, Holland.

Tickets are $15/$5 for students. More information on the concert and Mr. Villafranca.