La India Canela | Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | International | Chicago Reader

La India Canela Recommended All Ages Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Sat., Aug. 29, 10 p.m. 2009

Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 till his death in ’61, loved merengue and aggressively promoted it, turning it into the country’s de facto national music. Though it’s taken many forms over the decades, most of what washes up on our shores tends to be the variety called merenge de orquesta, a frothy, sophisticated big-band style first popularized in the 1930s (when big, horn-heavy pop bands dominated American ballrooms) and transformed after Trujillo’s death by stars like Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas. But another style that persists today, merengue tipico, is a more direct descendant of the music’s original form, thought to have evolved in the 19th century in the northern region of Cibao; its stripped-down, high-octane sound uses only voice, accordion, two-headed tambora drums, and the metal scraper called the guira, as well as electric bass (an innovation made in the 60s) and often saxophone. One of the style’s most fiery and fluent practitioners is Lidia Maria Hernandez Lopez, aka La India Canela, whose crack outfit tears through the tricky rhythms and breakneck tunes on the wonderful Merengue Tipico From the Dominican Republic (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008) with a casual, graceful precision that makes death-metal bands seem heavy-handed. Above nimble bass lines and frenetic drumming (her group uses two tamboras), squeezebox and sax interlock to form brisk, jumpy grooves; the lead instruments trade concise solos, and a selection of singers braves the barrage of notes to add forceful, soulful vocals. La India Canela leads an eight-member ensemble here. Today’s first two sets are part of the Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival; the third is a free ticketed concert at the Old Town School. See also Sunday. —Peter Margasak

Price: $5 donation requested

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