“An invitation to open your eyes” the festival claimed. Poetry, video, dance and music all in one evening at the Movistar Arena. Hours before it began, organizers announced it was sold out. Eleven NGO stands welcomed the crowd, showcasing “No to family violence”, “Let’s recycle”, “Save the oceans”... A festival that would measure it’s ecological footprint while ten thousand people listen to top artists from Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil and Chile.
Jorge Drexler (photo by Camilo Lanfranco)
Somehow, It didn’t all work out. Long waits between artists, sound problems, over-priced tickets and the Arena’s segmented set up played against the Festival. Exhausted by one logistical hitch after another, thousands left early, missing some of the best performers. Nevertheless, the music survived. Musicians offered an outpouring of talent, grace and poetry. For several ephemeral moments the audience sang, wept and swayed. Here are six artists that survived the festival:
Spanish band, Chambao, opened the festival fusing flamenco, electronics, sensuality and rumba. They’re party music with content, rhythm and a spiritual message, along with ten years under the spotlight in Spain. In their own words, they promote ‘a manifest desire for meaningful living’. But on the night, Chambao sounded the first alert: something wasn’t right. After a couple of songs, band leader and composer, Mari, told the crowd: “I’d like to sing more. But they didn’t let me”.
Nano and wine (photo by Camilo Lanfranco)
After a series of sound problems that cut short Lisandro Aristimuño’s song, forcing him to start all over again, out came Nano Stern. Nano’s energy and references to wine and Violeta Parra, reminded us that he was the only Chilean amongst the final acts. This singer/songwriter managed to keep the crowd going and dancing with great guitar solos blending jazz and blues traditions. To the complaints of the crowd, the performance was once again cut short.
Leon Gieco (photo by Camilo Lanfranco)
By now Leon Gieco is a continental legend. One of the founders of Argentinian Rock, he’s also known for his commitment to a better world. With over thirty years under his belt, Leon’s harmonica, electric guitars and social lyrics have led some critics to hail him as the Argentine Bob Dylan. He shared the stage with “Mundo Alas” a performance group with very special abilities (check the trailer on their national tour below). Leon Gieco and Mundo Alas were an oasis of music, dignity and courage. Before and after Leon, people were falling asleep. For a show advertised to end at midnight it was already 1am and several artists were still in the line up.
Then, Kevin hit the stage. This guy’s fun. He’s the intellectual friend that rocks every party full of joyful arrogance. Born in Alaska, raised in San Francisco, he lived in Argentina and Uruguay before rocking the clubs of New York City. Lately he’s been recording in Argentina with the band La Nada. He had the Arena laughing, dancing and singing. He was preceded by Paulinho Moska, a brazilian songwriter worth noting. Kevin rocked with a free flow of cumbias, tangos, milongas, jokes and a clear statement that music can be uncompromisingly fun and smart.
Kevin was a hard act to follow. It’s in now close to 2am and after 20 minutes the technical crew is still hassling with the next set. The crowds clap, then boo and whistle, as they wait for one of the evening’s most anticipated acts. All was forgiven as Uruguayan poet and musician Jorge Drexler sang his first verses. Don’t be fooled by the romantic overtones, Drexler is a true poet that knows his lyrics as well as he knows his melodies and harmony. He’s also an ear, nose and throat doctor. Should I mention he’s the first - and only -Uruguayan to have ever won an Oscar? All for his song “Al otro lado del rio” in “The Motorcycle Diaries”.
With a simple three-person band and several guitars, Drexler fused electronics with folk, sharing his feelings with masterful simplicity. Tears came to his eyes when thousands sang and the crowd took the lead, driving emotion to a peak. Needless to say, the crowd hungered for more. “He has so many other songs” complained Katy, a school teacher who sat beside me. When Drexler said goodbye, a few thousand left the arena, groaning with despair and fatigue.
Toto La Mompesina (photo by Camilo Lanfranco)
Toto La Mompesina
I’m a single-minded person. Toto was the one reason I went to the festival. I thought I’d never see her live. For 70 years she’s been breathing and creating popular music, from below, from rural areas, from the heart of the continent. I thought my only chance would be a long hike to the small Colombian town of Talaigua Nuevo to hear her and her band of drummers. Her name on the Festival’s posters was magnetic.
It was thus heartbreaking to see people leave after Drexler. Toto was amazing, an experienced performer, wise as a grandmother, dancing as a child. The stage came to life. By now, most of the expensive seats were empty and those remaining howled for organizers to open the doors to all. The chants worked and hundreds swarmed the stage, dancing to some of the greatest drums the world has known. Her song “Pescador”, which calls for the audience to sing the chorus, netted the crowd and pulled them from their seats. Toto is no conservative. “This was traditional, now comes the new stuff”. A six-stringed bass and an electric guitar joined in. It was party time.
Toto introduced the band, thanked the people who stayed to the end and cheered for Chilean hospitality, before leaving the stage. The crowd roared for an encore and Toto’s musicians started playing. Toto strode back onstage and grabbed the mike announcing: “I was gonna get some sleep, but music always wins”.
Despierta Festival took place on September 8th, 2012. Movistar Arena, Santiago, Chile.