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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicago ensemble helping to bring world together, putting on a series of shows at Mayne Stage








By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Las Guitarras de Espana (The Guitars of Spain) is a world music ensemble in every sense of the word.

The Chicago-based group fuses together different musical styles such as Cuban son, rumba, R&B, Latin jazz, blues and African percussion to create a sound that breaks down all boundaries.

In the process, The Guitars of Spain has tried to unite music, dance, travel, poetry and culture through its recordings and performances.

Starting on March 26, The Guitars of Spain will present the "Flamenco Collaborations Series" at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago.

More information is at www.maynestage.com, or at www.theguitarsofspain.com. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to The Guitars of Spain founder Carlo Basile about The Guitars of Spain and his vision for the ensemble.


What was your idea in wanting to form The Guitars of Spain?

I wanted to use Spanish guitar forms (classical, flamenco, folk) as a foundation for creating new music.

How did the ensemble come together?

Originally, it started with people who were interested in studying flamenco music and dance; mostly, advanced or professional players who were curious and wanted to learn and perform.

Did you personally pick everyone involved in the ensemble?

Well, people came and went early on. There were some purists who didn't like my original concept. I guess I needed to find "open minded" people with a certain level of musical skill. If you check the biographies on our website, you will see who ended up sticking around!

How do you think the group has evolved since forming?

Really, we have all grown so much through our studies, travels, and performances. I really noticed in recording this latest CD, "Tantas Cosas," that we have gotten much better at putting complicated materials together quickly. 

There are so many influences from our Chicago roots to our world travels that sometimes it might seem a little bit like were are "all over the map!" We are!!

The ensemble fuses together many types of music. How do you go about choosing what music to incorporate in what you do?

That is usually a function of recent travel or personal inspiration. I was recently in Bali so, of course, I had to find a Gamelan ensemble for my last project. Patty Ortega has used personal experiences to influence
many of the compositions on the new CD. So, those choices come to us because we are just "living life" but paying attention.

What should people expect from "Tantas Cosas." Are you building on what you have done in the past, or moving in a new direction?

I think this CD is pretty personal to Patricia. But it clearly builds on our other work. You have African "talking drums," Indian veena, Arabic oud and, of course, Spanish guitar sounds with pop and funk grooves thrown in. 

I think this new CD should not be too much of a surprise; however, we DO have some songs which could actually cross over and get some listens from many different audiences. Some of these tunes actually "rock!"

Tell me about the idea behind your upcoming series of concerts at Mayne Stage.

It's basically a culmination of our years of travel, study and previous collaborations. I feel pretty confident in the line-up because these are all great artists and we have worked together before.

How do you think the ensemble has helped made people more aware of different cultures?

My goal has been to take a more general pop culture audience and turn them on to something cool without taking three hours up on the stage to do it! 

I think people crave something new and "culturally hip" as long as it's not too self-indulgent. We try to have fun and try to vary the intensity of the pieces. I figure you have about 45 minutes to make something interesting happen. 

Then people just want to grab a beer and something to eat. So, hopefully we are an artistic ensemble with a sense of self-irony. Hopefully...

What would you like people to get out of attending a show?

I would like people to be inspired in different ways. Maybe it's just something simple like, "I saw this cool group with a flamenco dancer, violinist, and Indian singer..." 

Or it could be, "I would really like to take a trip to Senegal and see more of that kind of percussion and
dance."

Or, "I am going to study flamenco dance next week!!!" Those are the things I'm hoping for.