Imagine the racing clarinets and bold Jewish folk singing of old world Klezmer music. Take it through the Balkans to conjure up the careening violins and exuberance of Eastern European gypsy music. Throw in the throbbing energy of a South American cumbia beat and you might find the transnational sound of La Mano Ajena, the gypsy band that brings Eastern Europe to Barrio Brasil.
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The Friday night crowd at Galpon Victor Jara was facing a wall, transfixed by the image of children playing in a pile of rubbish. The video projection was overlaid with a child’s startling voice saying, “We are nothing like the terrorists.”
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In the moments of silence that followed, the crowd turned restlessly toward the stage. La Mano Ajena’s seven members theatrically sauntered onstage, having set the scene for their performance with the open-ended social comment of the video projection. At the front of the stage, a golden Japanese good luck cat presided over the show, flowers and incense surrounding it like an altar to the multicultural delights to come.
The Santiago-based group was celebrating their return from the Küstendorf Festival of Cinema and Music, in Serbia this year, where they brought their Chilean twist on Klezmer and gypsy music to a wider international audience.
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There is a real magnetism in the group’s fusion of melodies and rhythms. Singer María Fernanda Carrasco’s voice is rich with Latin American, Balkan and Klezmer vocal traditions, drawing on Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew, French and Spanish lyrics.
The band eased into their set with a couple of slower songs before unleashing frenetic human whirlpools of dancing mayhem in the audience with better known numbers.
The crowd responded to Carasco’s soulful singing of “Favella” with abandon, some singing along and others throwing themselves into a spirited mosh pit, breaking towards the stage. Danka Villanueva’s violent violin mingled with a range of exotic percussion, saxophone, accordion and cumbia beats, producing a layered and lively effect.
On its latest album, Radio Galena, the group playfully combines a mix of instruments and old radio broadcasts with themes from their first album such as Chile’s multicultural roots and issues of social equity.
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“En las calles de Santiago vive un cerdo, un animal, una bestia indecorosa que da asco de nombrar,” (In the streets of Santiago lives a pig, an animal, an indecorous beast that it is sickening to name,) sings Carasco on “Wewo” from their self-titled debut album, going on to spin a story about the pedophilia issue.
Their live show explodes with the energy of a manic cabaret theater, while planting their political statements firmly in the minds of the crowd. It’s a cleverly crafted balance, and you’re left reeling from the pace of the performance and the fervor of the fans.