Gabriel Chakarji: New Beginning

The legendary Totó La Momposina, a musician of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous descent is at pains to tell anyone who will listen that there is a big difference between the two words “tradition” and “folkloric”. Belonging to a tradition, she says, means connection to her [Colombian] ancestors. She goes on to define her music in very specific terms: “While I respect the word ‘folklore’, to me it means something that is dead – in a museum. Traditional music, or the music from the old days, is still alive; many people are working with it and it is always evolving,” she says, excitedly and continues: “The people of the pueblo don’t know about ‘folklore’; they say ‘música antigua’, or ‘música de antes’ [before them].” But she doesn’t dismiss the word ‘folkloric’ completely; she redefines it as having evolved from ‘folclor’ on ‘conflor’, literally “with flowers”. “If you analyse the word romantically” she says, “it could mean that every word is a different flower, and I love this interpretation.”

How wonderful to encounter both these phenomena in the music of the Venezuelan composer and pianist Gabriel Chakarji. Clearly this young man sees himself – like Totó La Momposina does too – as part of a musical continuum. But he also acknowledges, albeit, by evocation in his music, that while tradition is a wonderful reality the inner dynamic of tradition is to always innovate. And so, in New Beginning Mr Chakarji looks to actively throw overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that may have become expressively blunted with overuse. He then conceives the architecture for his music from what might – or might not – be left.

And so like the great Simon dynasty [with drummer and percussionist Marlon Simon, pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Michael Simon], composer and percussion colourist Fran Vielma, the great cuatro player Jorge Glem, pianist  Luis D’Elias, vocalist Nella and a slew of brilliant artists who share the new traditional Venezuelan landscape, Mr Chakarji’s music – rooted in the joropo with sweeping elicitations of Los Llanos [the plains] of Venezuela – is propelled with an instinctive radicalism that comes from puréeing  the sublime traditional harmonic and rhythmic forms into volatile and combustible, ticking motor rhythms which ignite his pianism. Being the infectious musician that he is this exultation is spread to all of the members of his ensemble courtesy not only of pianism, but of the vocals of his musical alter-ego, Carmela Ramírez, who is also an artist of the first order.

None of this would be possible without the explosive percussionists – Daniel Prim and Jeickov Vital as well as longtime musical associate and drummer Jongkuk Kim – who, together with the powerful rumbling of contrabassist Edward Pérez, provide the music with a thunderous ignition, which flames are further fanned by the fiery trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and marvellous saxophonist Morgan Guerin. Music such as “No Me Convence” is typical of the repertoire that marks this album by one of Venezuela’s brightest new stars as a masterpiece. New Beginning may be the start of something truly important from a young man who may – surprisingly not reach his peak for some time to come. And when he does, prepare to have your breath taken away.

Track list – 1: Mina/San Millán; 2: New Danza; 3: No Me Convence; 4: Melodía de Agradecimiento; 5: New Beginning; 6: Voices; 7: Montuno Quince; 8: Norte y Sur

Personnel – Gabriel Chakarji: producer, composer, arranger, piano and background vocals; Carmela Ramírez: lead vocals and co-producer; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet; Morgan Guerin: tenor saxophone; Jongkuk Kim: drums; Edward Pérez: contrabass; Daniel Prim: percussion and background vocals; Jeickov Vital: percussion and background vocals; Orestes Gómez: sound design [3]

Released – 2020
Label – Independent
Runtime – 47:34

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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