Saturday, August 21, 2010

ADFF Summer Series ’10: La Colombiana

The Colombian coast is where the Caribbean and South America meet. As one would expect, quite a diverse mix of influences are reflected in the region’s traditional music, reflecting the people’s African, indigenous, Spanish, and even Moorish heritage. Preserving Colombia’s musical legacy is truly the life’s work of Totó La Momposina, the country’s unofficial cultural ambassador to the world, who is profiled in Jake Holmes and Amanda Homi’s La Colombiana: Passing the Torch (trailer here), which screens next Sunday during the African Diaspora Film Festival’s 2010 Summer Series.

Usually simply called Totó in the film (like Elvis), the traditional cantadora vocalist became a favorite of the European festival circuit after her high profile performance at the Nobel Prize ceremony for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though host-co-producer-co-director-vocalist Homi never says so specifically, it seems clear European audiences support Totó’s music far more than her fellow Colombian countrymen. Yet, she is determined to keep her music living and vital in land where it was born. In fact, the younger generation has been fertile ground for her efforts. Indeed, the growing popularity of Cumbia dance contests among Colombian children visibly encourages the cantadora.

Totó has also recruited her grandchildren into her touring show for a series of numbers featuring the three musical generations of her family. Even though Homi clearly esteems her subject (freely admitting her suck-uppery), to her credit she still shows Totó’s stern taskmaster tendencies during rehearsals, occasionally even pushing her grandchildren to tears.

Regardless of her rehearsal demeanor, Totó’s music is both powerful and sophisticated. While it might have its own unique regional characteristics, there is an audible kinship to Cuban music, with its infectious percussion and impassioned trumpet accompaniment. Of course, that is hardly surprising given the geography of the hemisphere. In fact, she even includes a number of Cuban boleros in her repertoire.

With a running time of about an hour, Colombiana is the first of what Holmes and Homi obviously hope will become a series of profiles of world music divas. Homi might not be the most probing interviewer, but as a musician herself, she was rather successful getting Totó and her family to open up on-camera. She also has a lovely voice, heard during the closing credits.

Colombiana could be the start of a cool series that ought to be a good fit for PBS. For now, it screens next Sunday (8/29), followed by a special musical performance from Homi, as part of the ADFF Summer Series currently playing at the Riverside Theater.