Tlen-Huicani | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The state of Veracruz, on Mexico's swampy gulf coast, was for hundreds of years the prime port of entry for gold-seeking Spaniards who hacked their way through the lowlands while littering the land not only with blood but also with such little pieces of their musical culture as guitars, two-stringed violins, and harps, all of which were adopted and adapted by indigenous musicians. Even today the harp features prominently in Veracruz's traditional music, which gets a particularly glorious treatment from Tlen-Huicani, a folkloric ensemble based at the University of Veracruz at Jalapa. Like so much Latin American music, this gulf-coast balladry wears its emotional lyricism on its sleeve with no apologies; a number of rich-throated vocalists harmonize on lushly melodic motifs, and it's enough to make you want to just float off into the almond-scented ether. But even at their weepiest, these songs remain anchored to a sturdy bongos-and-maracas beat--and it's precisely that tart, edgy rhythmic pulse that makes it possible for harpist Alberto de la Rosa to extemporize extravagantly, pouring gobs of arpeggiated virtuosity all over every song, without the total concoction ever becoming too sweet. This is definitely no dessert liqueur--on the contrary, it's music to clean the brain out with, a real antidote to everything. Friday and Saturday, 7 PM, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th; 738-1503.

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