Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Irving is in the middle of an ongoing effort to make itself a seedbed of cultural exchange. Part of this push was the 2nd Annual Sounds of Mexico Concert held July 27 at the Irving Arts Center. The concert, intended to share the music of significant Mexican songwriters, focuses on a small, relatively unknown genre that, although it has fallen off somewhat in Mexico, is deeply rooted in its heritage – the tenor.
“Mexico is full of tenors, it’s not as popular, because it’s easier to hear something that’s on the radio. A lot of people don’t tend to lean toward that unless they were educated different,” said Alma Gonzalez, the concert’s mistress of ceremonies. “It’s amazing to know that, right now, one of our best tenors is not Mexican but Peruvian – Latin American. There’s so much talent; it’s not popular because of the educational and the social level. The society is more on the poverty side, so they hear what is popular on the radio instead of going to the opera or going to the theatre. Unfortunately that’s how it works.”
Although Sister Cities and the Hispanic Chamber were instrumental in making the concert happen, the Sounds of Mexico are not solely supported by cultural activists. The event also drew people looking for real, artistic entertainment. One such patron is Deo Lopez who is more than happy to make the trek to Irving in order to take in some high quality music.
“I like cultural events because they always have a meaning,” Lopez said. “Instead of going to watch the hottest summer movie, you come to the theatre, and you watch something you take home; you think about it. You can appreciate the artwork from another artist.”
Gloria Prieto also supports the arts around the Metroplex.
“I love coming to these places because you can feel the artist, you can feel theatre, the culture and this is what we need to do if we want to keep up with life and society,” she said.
Regardless of the reasons for attending, the audience was not let down by the performance.
The first of the two tenors, Javier Aguilar had a clean, bright voice that boomed and washed over the audience as he sang songs in his native Spanish from the glory days of Mexican composition.
Aguilar was followed by Juan Miguel Lopez, who felt like he belonged in a classy lounge act instead of a big stage. Even when his voice would swell to impressive volumes, he still made it seem as if he was singing to each and every one of the audience members individually.
Born in Leon, Mexico Lopez has been an Irving resident for ten years and appreciates any opportunity he has to sing the music he loves, especially since there have been few opportunities to perform since he left Mexico.
“This is a great opportunity for contribution for my culture and my new culture,” Lopez said. “I was a professional opera and zarzuela singer in Mexico for 20 years. Here in the Untied States, I have not been able to perform because I have had to focus on the administration of my company, but one opportunity once a year is one opportunity for one performance.
“The concert is for more activity between the Mexican culture and the United States culture.”
Besides the two tenors, two piano students from the Elan International Music Festival were invited to play, and the second half was opened by a mariachi band. It had an energy and edgy quality to it common in punk and fringe rock bands.
The concert had a strong turnout, and Gonzalez hopes that it will become a staple of Irving’s growing cultural scene.
“They say after you have something done for the third time it becomes a tradition. So I definitely want a tradition to come out of this, and maybe we can cater to all the states of Mexico. The outcome would be for people to continue to support the belief in our local talent, and if you are a talent you need to come forward and say, ‘Hey I want to participate and be part of the opera, the tenor environment,’” Gonzalez said.
The crowd’s reception of the music strongly supports this possibility. They whistled and cheered for the group providing a real community feeling. In fact, the whole event felt almost like a jam session among friends despite the fact that not everyone in the audience understood Spanish. It was an evening of togetherness and music and will hopefully become an Irving tradition.