Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bosnian Vocalist and Humanitarian, Amira Medunjanin, To Perform at The New York Society For Ethical Culture, NYC, October 29, 2016, New Album, "Damar" To Be Released On November 18, 2016

Performing at The New York Society for Ethical Culture, NYC, October 29, 2016                                                                             New Album "Damar" to be released on November 18, 2016
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Damar – a pulse, a life force, a beating heart

Amira Medunjanin is a singer, humanitarian, and global ambassador for the culture and music of her native Bosnia & Herzegovina and the wider Balkan region.

Her upcoming U.S. Tour includes performances in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., Oakland/San Francisco, Jacksonville, Atlanta and St. Louis, between October 28 and November 20, 2016.  

Anthems of Yearning: Five Centuries of Bosnian Tradition Coalesce into Elegant Songs on Amira Medunjanin’s Damar

Songs of yearning are intimate, and must be felt intimately. Bosnian singerAmira Medunjanin knows this: She learned Bosnia’s evocative songs of secret love and sublimated melancholy, sevdalinke, at home from her mother. She and her fellow Bosnians use these songs to cope, to heal, much in the way American singers use the blues.

Which is why she only sings what moves her. “They have to move me, and touch me in a certain way,” muses Medunjanin. “It’s a physiological response.” It’s the heart of sevdah.

Medunjanin strives to give outward expression to this potent inner state, sharing sevdah’s pulse on Damar (World Village/PIAS; release: November 18, 2016 ), an album two years in the making. Featuring several newly composed songs that extend the five-hundred-year old tradition, Damar speaks to our shared experiences of longing, sorrow, and hope, as well as to Sarajevo’s striking resilience and sevdah’s recent revival, a renaissance inspired in part by Medunjanin’s profound ability to interpret even the simplest folk song.

With a quintet that suggests everything from flamenco to contemporary jazz--a flourish of guitar here, a provocative piano solo there--Medunjanin transforms tradition into a powerful emotional statement, one that suggests her homeland but is not limited to it. “It all combined when I listened to these songs as a whole. The only thing that came to my mind was, this is really beautiful,” she reflects. “It was what was in our hearts and we gave it all, we expressed it. They are dear songs, like anthems of my homeland.”

Medunjanin and her ensemble will be touring the US & Canada this autumn. 

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Experimentation comes naturally to Medunjanin, whose spirit has been compared  to Billie Holliday’s by the BBC. Once she feels that certain connection to a song she seeks the right place in the voice for it. “My voice is in the service of the song. This song dictates where and how it should be expressed,” she says.

Sometimes that requires her to depart from sevdah’s delicate lyricism, as it did on “Damar,” composed by guitarist Boško Jović, whose work graces many of the album’s tracks. “I tried to sing that in my more usual key, the one I prefer. It didn’t sound right,” explains Medunjanin. “I felt like I was destroying the emotional essence of the track.” She dipped into her huskier, lower register, and the song trembles with feeling.

The intuitive, exploratory nature of Medunjanin’s relationship with tradition extends into her arrangement style, which might incorporate everything from Mediterranean elements to hints of Japanese music (“More izgrejala sjajna mesečina”). “I don’t have a recipe for it. I just feel it. I’m fortunate to play with musicians who understand me. We read between the lines,” she notes. “When Bojan [Z, Medunjanin’s long-time pianist collaborator and Damar’s co-producer] plays a well-known melody in the usual way, I often hear a new melody in my head. Then I sing it to him, and he says, ‘Yes, that’s the one we need!’”

This renders folks songs and sevdalinke in all their intimate glory, as if they had been written yesterday. “Oj golube moj golube” distills a Serbian folk song into a crystalline conversation between voice and piano. “Vjetar ruzu poljuljkuje,” a song penned by a Bosnian emigre to Chicago in the 1940s, suggests the heat of tango, the bittersweetness of fado in its tale of romance.

Medunjanin never strays far from her roots, from the songs that have been a solace to Bosnians for dozens of generations, since the Ottomans ruled the region. “It’s a healing tradition. If you ask anyone in Bosnia, what would they listen to when they are hurting or struggle, they’d name the bluest of the bluesevdah songs. The facilitate people’s lives,” Medunjanin recounts. “When I was a kid, I’d sing them at home. I saw them as my friends, instead of imaginary friends that children have.”

These faithful friends have been with Medunjanin her entire life, but she has only felt ready to sing and record some of them now, like “Kad ja pođoh na Bentbašu,” an old Sarajevo song based on a Sephardic liturgical melody. “It’s the ideal of the city,” she says. “I never dared touch it until recently. It felt too sacred.” With support from Jović and Ante Gelo, she spun “beautiful coloristic guitars around it and gave a different flavor to it. It enhanced the roots of the melody itself.”

The roots of the melodies and the city that nourished them remain strong. Young Bosnians are following in the footsteps of their forebearers, finding comfort insevdah and adding new pieces and novel perspectives to the style. “Right now, something is happening,” enthuses Medunjanin. “We have a new wave, a sevdah renaissance. I hope I have helped encourage that, as that was always my aim. My prime goal was to spread the word about this music throughout the world. I wanted our music, our songs to be recognized as a positive symbol for my culture. There is so much in Bosnia that’s worthy of attention. I approach it with respect.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Press Preview: The 9th Biennial Bomplenazo 2016 A Celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican Culture, October 6th-9th, 2016, NYC

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Ninth Biennial
BomPlenazo 2016
Celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican Music & Dance

Experience the intergenerational artistry of premier bomberos and pleneros from New York, Puerto Rico and across the United States in a variety of venues with performances, workshops, panels, a film presentation and more.

THE 9th BIENNIAL BOMPLENAZO 2016, Entre Generaciones, A Celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican Culture, October 6 – 9

From October 6 to 9, 2016, the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture at Hostos Community College will present BomPlenazo 2016, the 9th biennial celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance, the leading bomba and plena event in the continental United States. Under the theme of Entre Generaciones (“between generations”), which reflects on the intergenerational aspect of the art form with an emphasis on the elders of the tradition and the younger generation of practitioners, the four-day event will feature more than 60 artists in panel discussions, school concerts, main stage concerts, workshops,  a film premiere and more. The events take place in a variety of venues including the Hostos Center, Pregones Theaterthe Bronx Music Heritage Center, and the Rincón Criollo Cultural Center, popularly-known as “La Casita de Chema.”

Among the highlights include a return of the BomPlenazo Artists Collective, a collaborative effort involving nearly 20 artists, under the direction of NEA National Heritage Fellow Juan ‘Juango’ Gutiérrez, on Saturday, October 8, 7:30 PM in the Hostos Center Main Theater, and the premiere of the film “A Tribute to José ‘Chema’ Soto” which precedes the concert in the Repertory Theater at 4 PM.  Soto, who passed in July 2015, was the founder of the Rincón Criollo Cutural Center, a community garden in the South Bronx where bomba and plena enjoyed a resurgence in New York which was the inspiration for the first BomPlenazo in 2000.  BomPlenazo 2016 is dedicated in his memory.

Tickets and a schedule of events is available at or by calling (718) 518-4455.


Panel Discussion

Opening the festival on Thursday, October 6, 6:30 PM is a panel discussion -- “Charla: A Conversation with the Elders”-- at Pregones Theater. César Colón-Montijo, a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at Columbia University and author of the upcoming book, Viaje a La Casita: Notas de Plena en el Rincón Criollo leads a conversation with elders of the tradition about their stories and experiences on the migration of the art form from Puerto Rico to New York and its resurgence. The elders include: Benny Ayala, a longtime plenero and instructor at the Rincón Criollo Cultural Center, and the grandfather of Friday evening headliner Matthew González; Roberto Cepeda, the world renowned bomba dancer of the famed Cepeda family which has promoted the traditions of bomba and plena in Puerto Rico and abroad since the 1930s; and Julio Colón, a longtime performer at Rincón Criollo where he had the opportunity to play and sing with Union Boricua,  one of the first groups that came from that institution. Although not an elder, Héctor ‘Tito’ Matos, leader of the popular Puerto Rican Plena group Viento de Aqua, will help to put the evening into a musical context. Admission is free, but reservations are recommended; please call Pregones at (718) 585-1202. Pregones Theater is located at 571 Walton Avenue in the Bronx.

School and Family Concerts

On Friday, October 7, as part of its “Bomba & Plena: In the House” series, Los Pleneros de la 21, New York's bomba and plena ambassadors to the world, present two  intergenerational and family-friendly performances /presentations on Puerto Rico's oldest living musical expressions, featuring artists from BomPlenazo 2016. The concerts will be presented at 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM at the Bronx Music Heritage Center Lab, 1303 Luis Niñé Blvd. in the Bronx. Suggested donation is $5. For reservation and information,

Main Stage Performances at Hostos Center

The Opening Concert on Friday, October 7, 7:30 PM in the Hostos Center Main Theater is a triple bill of ensembles put together exclusively for BomPlenazo 2016.  La Unión Balancé, under the direction of Alex LaSalle, will bring together musicians from Puerto Rico, California, Chicago, and New York in tribute to the bomba styles of the Puerto Rican locales of Santurce, Mayagüez, Moca, Guayama, and more. Fundamento Cultural features young New York artists, under the direction of Nelson Matthew González, that will showcase their continued practice and dedication to bomba and plena, taking the fundamentals of the music but creating their own modern sound.   Boricua Soy is Leró Martínez Roldán’s most recent album as well as the name of the five-member group of Puerto Rican pleneros of different ages and regions that play with him. Reserved seating is $15 for adults and $5 for students and children under 18.

On Saturday, October 8 at 12 PM, the BomPlenazo Afternoon Showcase will also feature three groups.   The San Francisco Bay Area-based Aguacero,founded in 2006 by Shefali Shah and Héctor Lugo, will perform new original works in bomba that are rooted in the teachings of the ancestors. Bámbula is a New York-based Afro-Puerto Rican group dedicated to the preservation of bomba, especially its roots from Mayagüez. The group was founded by dancer, singer, percussionist, and poet Norka Hernández- Nadal in 2006.  Exclusively for BomPlenazo 2016, the acclaimed percussionist Héctor ‘Tito’ Matos leads Los Maestros de la Plena, a group of elder master pleneros that includes Benny Ayala, Roberto Cepeda, Julio Colón, Juan Emilio Martínez Román and Juan Cartageña. General admission tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and children under 18.

After its formation at BomPlenazo 2014, the BomPlenazo Artists Collective,led by Los Pleneros de la 21 founder Juan ‘Juango’ Gutiérrez, will perform Saturday evening, October 8 at 7:30 PM in the Main Theater featuring new and returning members performing original and standard works of the bomba and plena traditions. The artists include: Alex ‘Apolo’ Ayala, Zaccai Curtis, Camilo Molina Gaetán, Nelson Matthew González, Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera, Nicholas Laboy, Leró Martínez Roldán, Juan Emilio Martínez Román, Héctor ‘Tito’ Matos, Norka Hernández-Nadal, Iván Renta, José Rivera, Cheo Quiñones, and Kily Vialíz with additional artists to be added. Reserved seating is $15 for adults and $5 for students and children under 18.

For all three mainstage concerts, the New York-based singer / actor / poet Flaco Navaja serves as Master of Ceremonies.

Free Workshops

Two free 90-minute workshops will be offered during BomPlenazo 2016. On Friday, October 7, 5:30 pm, the acclaimed Puerto Rican bomba dancer Oxil Febles teaches a bomba dance for adults.  On Saturday, October 8 at 10 am,Shefali Shah and Héctor Lugo of Aguacero lead a bomba class for children and families. Although the workshops are free, registration is required.  Please call (718) 518-4455.

Film: A Tribute to José ‘Chema’ Soto

The world premiere of the film A Tribute to José ‘Chema’ Soto will be presented in the Hostos Repertory Theater on Saturday, October 8 at 4 PM. The film is an intimate look at the extraordinary man and cultural icon who created the Rincón Criollo Cultural Center, the community garden in the South Bronx better known as “La Casita de Chema,” and its major impact on the bomba and plena resurgence in New York.  Soto, to whom BomPlenazo 2016 is dedicated, died in July 2015 at the age of 70. The film includes the large musical gatherings celebrating his life both in the Bronx and then in his native Puerto Rico, first in San Juan and then leading to his burial site in Loíza.  After the film, there will be a talkback with the photographer / filmmaker Felipe García and Michael Max Knobbe of BronxNet, the film’s executive producer.  Admission to the film is free but tickets are required. Please call (718) 518-4455.


For the first time at the festival, a Puerto Rican-themed dinner provided by Salsa Caterers will be offered on Saturday, October 8, 5:30 PM, following the film, in the Hostos Café. The fare includes chicken with Criollo sauce, Pernil Asado (roasted pork), Arroz con Gandules sin Jamón (Rice with peas, without ham), Maduros (sweet plantains),  Mini Empanadillas de Carne (small meat pies), SC Signature Salad, and other Caribbean /Puerto Rican delicacies. The cost is $15 and availability is limited. Dinner tickets must be purchased by noon on Wednesday October 5, 12 noon. Call (718) 518-4455.

Vente Tú at “La Casita de Chema”

As is the tradition, BomPlenazo will close with the outdoor Vente Tú (“You Come”) on Sunday, October 9, beginning at noon until 5:30 PM, with informal performances from BomPlenazo artists including José “Joseito” Rivera and Lo Instantáneo de la Plena from festival artists and others at “La Casita de Chema” located at 749-753 Brook Avenue (at 157th Street) in the Bronx.  Admission is free, and food and drink is available for purchase.


BomPlenazo 2016 is made possible by support from the Eugenio María de Hostos Community College Foundation, with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Office of New York Assemblyman José Rivera, the Office of New York City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr., and the Office of New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.  Promotional support is provided by BronxNet.

For ticket and general information, call the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture at (718) 518-4455 or go to The Hostos Center box office is located at 450 Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and is open Mon. – Fri.  1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and two hours prior to ticketed performances.  The Hostos Center is easily accessible by public transportation including the 2, 4, 5 subway lines and the BX1, BX2, BX19 bus lines to 149th Street and Grand Concourse.

About Hostos Community College

Eugenio María de Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change that has been transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities since 1968. It serves as a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, as well as a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs. The College’s unique Student Success Coaching Unit provides students with individualized guidance and exemplifies its emphasis on student support services.

Hostos offers 29 associate degree programs and two certificate programs that facilitate easy transfer to The City University of New York’s (CUNY) four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions. The College has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development that offers professional development courses and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. Hostos is part of CUNY, the nation’s leading urban public university, which serves more than 500,000 students at 24 colleges.

Event Notes:
From October 6 to 9, 2016
Ticket Phone:
(718) 518-4455.
Venue Link:
Venue City, State:
Bronx, NY
Hostos Center, Pregones Theater, the Bronx Music Heritage Center, and the Rincón Criollo Cultural Center

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Galician Jazz Accordionist Extraordinaire, Victor Prieto,To Perform at Symphony Space, NYC, June 21, 2016, 8 PM

Heart, Homeland, Overtones: Galician Master Victor Prieto’s Quicksilver Accordion Speaks Volumes on The Three Voices

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  • Spanish-born, NYC-based composer and accordion player Victor Prieto has discovered a whole new language for his instrument. In his hands, it trips and dances, growls and laughs. It captures all the luminous fluidity of a perfect jazz line, or bursts with dance-ready sensuality and wry humor.

From the town of Ourense in Galicia, Prieto’s roots extend into everything he does. Yet they do not limit his wild creativity, which springs from a love of jazz, a childhood spent in South America, surrounded by its sounds, and a willful fascination with pushing the boundaries of keys and bellows.

In the original pieces on The Three Voices (release: June 21, 2016), Prieto reimagines Celtic-inflected Galician dance tunes, extracts every expressive nuance from simple sambas, and exposes the core of timbre via overtone singing. It’s all part of the Grammy nominee’s decades-long exploration of genre and technique, recognized by everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Arturo O'Farrill.

Victor Prieto will perform at Symphony Space on June 21, 2016.

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“The accordion is the instrument that gathers people together to have fun. Even though in jazz, it’s not a popular instrument, everyone who came to the US, say, they listened to the accordion all the time,” Prieto muses. “The importance of the accordion in American musical history is huge.” And Prieto is determined to write the latest, unexpected chapter in that history.

Prieto hails from Ourense, Spain, in Galicia’s musical and cultural heartland. Though Prieto’s parents moved to Venezuela for several years when Prieto was a boy, his mother insisted he keep his connection to his native culture by learning the region’s most beloved instrument, the accordion. “If you go to a party, an accordion is present. On radio, on TV, it’s all over the place,” explains Prieto. “When you talk about accordion, you talk about the identity of Galicia.”

The spirit of Galicia is woven into Prieto’s work, both clearly and more subtly. He pens avant-muineiras, a popular accordion-driven dance form (“Muineira for Cristina” Pato, the ace bagpipe player). He pays tribute to his beloved grandfather, whose farm Prieto recalls with great sweetness. The full breadth of that feeling resounds in the touching “Papa Pin,” as Prieto’s accordion sings and sighs with surprising emotion.

Ourense and Galicia may be Prieto’s foundational inspirations, but they haven’t stopped him from leaping in other equally powerful directions. From the start, his music formed at the intersection of many international influences. Prieto’s accordion teacher in Caracas was Italian, and life in the Venezuelan capital introduced him to other styles and forms, from Piazzolla’s take on tango (“Michelangelo”) to folk traditions.

Prieto eventually fell in love with his instrument, thanks in part to his mother’s adamance he practice. He moved from proficiency to virtuosity to bold innovation, inventing his own fingering technique to create a whole new set of chordal possibilities. “The basic idea is that I have created a new fingering, changing the fingering completely on the left hand and playing in the places you are not supposed to play,” notes Prieto. “I combine different chords together and move these chords at intervals. The whole concept is to create a new color.” These colors shine on pieces like “Chatting with Chris,” a dialog with saxophonist and frequent collaborator Chris Cheek.

Prieto is not content to leave this exploration of color and timbre to his instrumental works, however. He also digs into unconventional realms of vocal resonance on tracks like “The Three Voices.” Prieto finds independent vibration for each vocal cord, creating his own haunting approach to overtone singing.

This willingness to play with tone and sound, with technique and form has generated an entire vocabulary for Prieto. “My music is never one thing. It’s a mix of cultures, starting from the Galician roots. It’s the music I hear in my head,” says Prieto. “I want to show the diversity of the instrument through my roots, and by channeling all the music I’ve absorbed in New York over the last twenty years.”

For tickets contact: