Monday, April 27, 2009

Artists Explores The Sounds Of Colombia

Fonseca, the Latin Grammy-winning Colombian artist, in concert at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza, where he performed cuts from his recent albums “Gratitud” and “Corazón.”

Fonseca proclaims, “Long live the music of my country!” in “Gratitud,” the title track of his 2008 album, and he means it. His country is Colombia, as affirmed by audience members waving flags and wearing Colombian straw hats at the packed Fillmore at Irving Plaza on Friday night, not to mention the Colombia tourism videos shown before and after his set. The music of his country that Fonseca stays grounded in is vallenato, the button-accordion-pumped style that arose on the Caribbean north coast.

Fonseca (whose full name is Juan Fernando Fonseca) won Latin Grammy awards for his 2005 album, “Corazón” (“Heart”), and its hit single “Te Mando Flores” (“I Send You Flowers”). He clearly has his eye on a wider audience. His New York concert was part of an extensive United States tour.

He’s not a preservationist clinging to a venerable form. Fonseca leads a modern Latin band, with synthesizer and electric guitars. His songs are pop tunes, with singalong hooks, climbing melodies and lyrics about love. He sounds well aware of fellow reedy-voiced pop songwriters like Sting and, from the Dominican Republic, Juan Luís Guerra; his music can turn toward jazzy pop or Mr. Guerra’s pan-Caribbean lilt. If they were in English, songs like “San José” or “Paraíso” could easily be sung by George Michael.

Mostly, however, Fonseca is following through on the pop breakthrough of Carlos Vives, who merged vallenato with rock guitar and drums to make international hits in the 1990s. Fonseca performed a song Mr. Vives recorded, with an apt title: “El Cantor de Fonseca.” Even when Fonseca’s songs have the structure and sentiments of pop love songs, they flaunt the trappings of vallenato.

His band’s accordionist, Taty Manzano, gets far more solo time than the guitarists, often keeping up a call-and-response counterpoint with Fonseca’s vocals.

Fonseca plays the nice guy in his songs, with lyrics full of romantic yearning and kindly thoughts. “Arroyito” (“Little Creek”), his finale, declared, “You are the negative of the photo of my soul/You are the holy water that grows my crops,” to the clip-clop beat of a Colombian son, one of the basic rhythms of vallenato.

Fonseca can croon like a Latin pop singer, but he can also take up the quaver, yelp and near sob of traditional vallenato.

For the first part of the set, he showed his internationalist side, touching on pop and light rock. Then he headed decisively homeward, keeping the accordion up front and ratcheting up the tempo, culminating in an ecstatic “Lagartija Azul” (“Blue Lizard”). After the set ended, Fonseca returned and polled the crowd on what he should play for encores. Fans shouted the names of hits they had already heard, but he sang old vallenatos (from Diomedes Díaz) instead.

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