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Homegrown Plus: Changüí Majadero

In this photo of Changüí Majadero, four men and a woman hold musical instruments. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2020 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2020 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."

Changüí Majadero. Photo courtesy of the band.

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re happy to be continuing the series with the Cuban American band Changüí Majadero.

Founded by tres guitarist and vocalist Gabriel García, Changüí Majadero was the result of García’s pivotal pilgrimage to the Guantanamo region of Cuba, where he learned the musical style called changüí from the living masters of the style. He says he was inspired to spread the spirit of Cuban folkloric music mixed with a dash of East Los Angeles grit.

According to Gabriel, Changüí is the predecessor of son cubano and salsa. It’s a style of music specifically from the region of Guantanamo, Cuba, whose origins can be traced back to the 1800s, during the days of slavery in Cuba. Changüí is to Cuban and Latin American music, Gabriel says, what the blues and early jazz are to the music of the United States. Changüí Majadero has played their modern take on changüí in a wide variety of settings, such as Lincoln Center, SF Jazz, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and even Dodger Stadium.

Changüí Majadero’s route to performing in our Homegrown concert series included a performance in the AFC’s Archive Challenge Showcase at Folk Alliance International in 2020. To prepare for that performance, my colleague Jennifer Cutting suggested the band listen to AFC’s online presentation Florida Folklife from the WPA, which includes field recordings of Cubans who were living and working in both Key West and Ybor City in 1939-1940. Ybor City, now a neighborhood within Tampa, was settled in 1886 by Cuban cigar companies to avoid the unionization of their workers. Gabriel found it to be a very interesting period of Cuban-American history, and after poring through all the field recordings of Cuban musicians, he chose a few pieces performed by Sesteto Encanto at Key West, Florida in 1940. You can find these archival recordings at this link.

Over 80 years after these songs were recorded by folklorist Stetson Kennedy in Key West, Florida, they sprang back to vivid life, first on our showcase stage in New Orleans, then in the band’s homegrown concert. Gabriel was attracted by Sesteto Encanto’s laid-back groove, great melodies and passionate lyrics, as well as the field recordings’ surprising parallel to his own life and work. When introducing his showcase performance, he mused:

So, the composer…is actually a Mexican that lived in Florida with Cubans… and the funny thing is that I’m a Mexican-American. We have three Cubans in the band, a Puerto Rican, and another Mexican. So I feel like I’m the reincarnation of this man. When I saw this, I was like, “Wait… it’s a Mexican dude playing with some Cubans!”

As a reminder, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we did these concerts in 2020 and 2021. Instead of doing live concerts in the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion, we asked the artists to produce concert videos, either solo or with whatever musicians they could safely work with in pandemic conditions. So Changüí Majadero’s concert was recorded live in their studio. See the results of their research in our archive, along with other songs from their repertoire, in the player below!

In our conversation, Gabriel told me about his own journey as a musician, both his figurative journey of learning music and his literal journeys to Cuba and Mexico to learn with master musicians. He told me about his mentors, members of Changüí Guantanamo in Cuba, about the cultural exchange between Cuba and other Latin American countries, and about the traditions he studied. He described his own instrument, the tres, which is a six-stringed guitar tuned as three courses, that is, three pairs of strings with each pair tuned to the same note. The instrument can play chords of three notes at a time, which leads to the name tres. He also described the other instruments typical of Changüí music, including the marimbula, an instrument like a big bass xylophone, which they use in their concert. He also explained some of the things that make changüí music different from other styles. In all, it’s a great introduction to the band and to the unusual style known as changüí.  Watch it in the player below!

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

Homegrown Plus: Joe Jencks

In the “Homegrown Plus” series we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with our friend Joe Jencks, who is an accomplished singer-songwriter but also a lover of traditional songs, especially work and labor songs. For his Homegrown concert, he performed an entire set of songs from the AFC archive, making this concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge. We’re delighted that Joe took the challenge, and we think he did a fantastic job in his exemplary concert video. You can watch his concert, his interview video, and a bonus Archive Challenge song from Folk Alliance International, all in this blog post!

Homegrown Plus: PIQSIQ Inuit-Style Throat Singing

It’s been a while since we posted a Homegrown Plus post! In this ongoing series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with PIQSIQ, an Inuit style throat singing duo who characterize their style as being “galvanized by darkness and haunting northern beauty.”

PIQSIQ is composed of sisters Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay. These talented performers come together to create a unique duo, performing ancient traditional songs along with new compositions. The two grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, with roots in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. After years of hard work on their music, they have developed their own form, blending haunting melodies and otherworldly sounds. As PIQSIQ, they perform their songs with live improvisational looping, creating a dynamic audience experience that changes with every show. In this blog, you’ll find their November 2020 concert and their February 2021 oral history interview.

Homegrown Plus Four: The 2018 Archive Challenge Sampler Concert

  In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with one that fell through the cracks for a while: the 2018 Archive Challenge Sampler concert in the Coolidge Auditorium. Today is […]

Homegrown Plus: Emma Björling and Petrus Johansson

By now, experienced readers know the deal with these Homegrown Plus posts: we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with the duo of Emma Björling and Petrus Johansson, who perform beautiful arrangements of Swedish and other Scandinavian folksongs. Emma Björling (vocals) is one of the foremost singers of Swedish folksongs performing today. She is a member of the bands Lyy and Skye Consort with Emma Björling, as well as vocal groups Kongero and Baravox. She has also toured extensively with the well-known Swedish folk band Ranarim. Petrus Johansson (guitar) started playing guitar and bass, mostly jazz and rock, when he was quite young. During his University studies he met Emma, and together they started playing Swedish traditional music. This led to a greater interest in the guitar as a folk music instrument, using it to provide bass lines. He is a trained guitar and bass teacher and has worked at Ingesund College of Music and several music schools. He also works as a freelance musician and has played with Mats Berglund, Svante Turesson and others.

Homegrown Plus: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas

We continue the Homegrown Plus series with the duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, who perform their own unusual arrangements of traditional and original Scottish and American folk music on fiddle and cello. Alasdair Fraser has a concert and recording career spanning over 30 years, with a long list of awards, accolades, radio and television credits, and feature performances on top movie soundtracks, including Last of the Mohicans and Titanic. In 2011, he was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. Natalie Haas, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, is one of the most sought after cellists in traditional music today, and has performed and recorded with Mark O’Connor, Natalie MacMaster, Irish supergroups Solas and Altan, Liz Carroll, Dirk Powell, Brittany Haas, Darol Anger, Laura Cortese, and many more. Together, the duo of Fraser & Haas has helped reconstruct and revive a longstanding Scottish tradition of playing dance music on violin and cello. For their socially distanced concert, they performed some music solo and some using studio technology to join up separate performances, but most of it is never-before-released concert footage from their archive of pre-pandemic performances. In the interview, we discuss their separate musical histories as well as their 20-year career as a duo.

Homegrown Plus: Eva Salina and Peter Stan

Eva Salina and Peter Stan have played not one but two Homegrown concerts in the last few years…so this blog presents three videos: both concerts and an oral history interview. California-grown, Brooklyn-based Eva Salina is a groundbreaking interpreter of Balkan Romani songs. Raised in the US Balkan Diaspora, Eva’s mentors are some of the greatest living Balkan musicians. Eva’s duo partner, Peter “Perica” Stan, is a Serbian/Romanian Roma accordionist known for his playful innovation and soulful, intuitive improvisations. Together, they played exciting Serbian and Roma music, and told fascinating stories about their lives and musical experiences. Find it all in the blog!

Homegrown Plus: Steve Riley and the Riley Family Band

We’re starting a new season of Homegrown Plus with a concert and oral history from the Riley Family Band featuring Steve Riley. Steve is a widely acclaimed master of the Cajun accordion, and also sings and plays fiddle and guitar with his acclaimed band Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Steve has two very talented sons: Burke, who was 10 when the concert was recorded, and Dolsy, who was 7. In this concert father and sons perform together in their own backyard, billing themselves as The Riley Family Band. In the oral history interview, I asked Steve about his whole musical history. Find both videos right here on the blog!

Homegrown Plus: The Murphy Beds

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) I’m very happy to continue the series with The Murphy Beds, which is the duo of Eamon O’Leary and Jefferson Hamer. The Murphy Beds present traditional and original folk songs with close […]