Summer Shuffle: Music Without Frontiers

In the 30 years since they fired up the world’s collective imagination with the vivacious flamenco spirit of “Bamboléo,” the Gipsy Kings have kept kindling the heated fervor for Spanish and South American rhythm, recently earning their first Grammy Award for Savor Flamenco. On the long-awaited album of all-original material, “the group’s trademark virtuosity and verve are as engaging as ever. … Samba, flamenco, tango, rumba, and contemporary pop influences [add] color and propulsion to the appealing performances” (Washington Post). Featuring cofounders Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo, the Gipsy Kings return to Ravinia on June 23.

For as many blistering guitarists as the Gipsy Kings—or any other artists—have onstage to stoke up their rollicking songs, few can come close to rivalling Carlos Santana as a singular star of the six-string. Following his celebrated 2014 album, Corazón, which went double platinum in Latin sales and featured collaborations with Juanes, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, and Ziggy Marley, the Rolling Stone all-time top-20 guitarist picked up where he left off with his Woodstock bandmates on Santana IV, reinforcing what has been known since 1999’s total smash hit Supernatural: even 35 years on, no psychedelics are necessary to be floored by “what comes through nearly every song … a sense of camaraderie [and] countless ways to jam” (New York Times). Santana will return to the festival for a two-night stand, August 11 and 12, as part of his Transmogrify Tour, interpolating a career’s work from his Afro-Latin California blues to his modern chart hits.

However, the cosmopolitan Corazón costar Lila Downs will make Ravinia her own house of Hispanic heart as she makes her festival debut on July 1. But that’s not all; for the veteran of multiple Grammy Award wins, “no motif seems outside the realm of possibility, or out of place—cumbia, ranchera, reggae, marching jazz, polka, gypsy, bolero, and psychedelic rock [all] celebrate spirit, mind, and body” (Chicago Tribune). On Downs’s 2015 album, Balas y Chocolate, she took Day of the Dead motives of loss, death, and love—the bullets and chocolate of the title—and she confronted each head-on, heartbreaking and humorful. And onstage, she not only captivatingly “conveys sentiment, conviction, and intent via commanding [presence] and traditional dance steps … [she] trusts her sonorous vocal range that at one moment plumbs melancholy depths and, seconds after, soars to operatic highs” (Chicago Tribune).

Then on September 17, the festival’s second annual Fiesta Ravinia celebration of Mexican independence will be headlined by Los Tigres del Norte, the corrido raconteurs and band of brothers who are “idols who sing, from personal experience, of trying to make a new life in a strange country” (New York Times). The norteño superstars, who came to America nearly 50 years ago, are the voice of the modern social warrior, as lead singer and eldest brother Jorge Hernandez says, “I’m always thinking of ways to help people through music. I just want to expose what we think about and shed light on the things that affect our day-to-day lives.” The concert culminating the daylong festivities will also feature the Ravinia debut of Natalia Jiménez, the star coach for Telemundo’s The Voice Kids who quickly made a name for herself following 10 years as the lead singer of La Quinta Estación. Named Breakout Artist of the Year at Lo Nuestro 2012 and winning Hot Latin Song of the Year at the Latin Billboard Music Awards 2015 for the title track from her second album, Creo en Mí, Jiménez is a deliberative singer-songwriter, making music that’s “timeless rather than trendy … as cohesive as it is uplifting” (Billboard). But she also has irrepressible vivacity, in full evidence on her latest record, Homenaje a la Gran Señora, a tribute to “Diva de la Banda” Jenni Rivera melding traditional Mexican soul with modern pop that made Latin Times declare, “She simply belongs to Latin America.”

One of the first and greatest heartbreaks of 2016 was the death of glam rock icon David Bowie, but among the myriad tributes he received—that even in sum total could barely scratch the surface of his resonance through pop culture—few are as stirring and as reflective of Bowie’s genre- and language-crossing influence than from Seu Jorge, the Brazilian musician who played several acoustic covers of Bowie songs as a character in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Bowie himself had immediately recognized the unique power in turning the songs down from 11, remarking on Jorge’s ensuing complete album of covers, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.” On June 15, Jorge will bring the “infinite detail and emotion” (Los Angeles Times) of his Life Aquatic–inspired tribute to Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King, to Ravinia for a VH1 Storytellers–style evening of songs whose “emotional peaks [and] tugs-of war [can’t] be disguised by … language” (Billboard).

Continue reading the “Summer Shuffle”:  Rock of Ages / Living Harmoniously / Some Kind of Blue / Songs for the Heart(land)