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Language should never be a barrier to the enjoyment of good music. Even when you can't understand one word of the lyric, good musicians in a good performance somehow get the spirit and message across. On the first day of December in Duke University's Reynolds Theater, the bilingual group Sol y Canto (sun and song) presented an eclectic and energizing mix of songs from all over Latin America or, as the program said, "Pan-Latin Music and Song." The backbone of this group is a married couple, Brian and Rosi Amador, now living in the Boston area. Their sound is based on Brian's versatile and imaginative guitar stylings and user-friendly vocal style and Rosi's incredible crystalline voice as well as her backup on various percussion instruments. The majority of the songs were sung in Spanish; Brian gave a synopsis or recited the lyrics in English before the performances. Joining the husband /wife team was electric bassist Almedar Valentin plus John "Chucho" Weeks on saxophones and flutes.
This was a very informal, family-type affair because of sparse attendance and the fact that several personal friends of the Amadors were in the audience. One woman came onstage about halfway through the program to play the large bongos. The day before, Sol y Canto played to a packed house of schoolchildren, and it was obvious from the musician's energy and infectious rhythmic groove that the kids must have had a great time. Despite being an active performing pair for more than 20 years and their music being appropriate and accessible for all ages, it is only recently that they have explicitly delved into the children's concert/CD arena. Acts geared directly to young children can be cloying and pandering, but the Amadors avoid any whiff of condescension. Along with the musical mission, they also have a concurrent goal of fostering an interest in Spanish/English fluency. You can learn more about the group and their recordings on their website at http://www.solycanto.com/home.htm [inactive 1/06].
I keep referring to this group as the Amadors despite the official name of the group being Sol y Canto. This is because they regularly change their backups to perform with just one additional player – often a bassist – or an entire horn section or even a full orchestra. They play some original compositions but the bulk of their repertoire is a cross-cultural journey featuring folk songs and indigenous music of wide diversity from what is often mistakenly lumped together as "Latin" music. Their own promos describe their ensemble as "a musical manifestation of sunshine."
Brian Amador is an accomplished guitarist who has studied classical, Brazilian, and flamenco styles. His playing, featured in every selection, is the driving force behind the group. He played one solo number – a flamenco selection – but didn't quite seem up to the task, technique wise, for this very disciplined and difficult style. His other strong point is a warm, familiar vocal style that invites you into these wonderful little stories. When the couple harmonizes, the already captivating sound is further enhanced.
Rosi Amador sang a hauntingly beautiful ballad of lost love (what else?) a cappella and she put a spell on the audience. She has a pure, earthy, yet ethereal voice that, like Custer LaRue of the Baltimore Consort, captivates your ears, mind, and heart. She can then turn right around and belt out a hot, pulsating number.
Guitar, voice, a few basic percussion instruments and occasional woodwinds – there's nothing new or exceptional in such a lineup. In the hands of performers who love their craft and are committed to presenting authentic representations of great musical traditions, nothing else is needed.