For pianist, composer, bandleader and producer Pablo Mayor, “harnessing the inherent groove” is the utmost priority in any music and dance collaboration. It’s what’s kept the feet tapping and audiences gyrating throughout his 33-year career, especially when performing the style he calls “Folklore Urbano,” which blends the “urban” sounds with traditional music from his native Colombia.
His art is on display Saturday at this year’s annual Encuentro NYC Colombian Music Festival, where more than 30 musicians and dancers take the stage for four hours of performances, running the spectrum of Colombian rhythms and styles.
Growing up in Cali, Colombia, Mayor was drawn to jazz music by musicians like Satoshi Takeishi, Kike Santander and Juan Vicente Zambrano. “Satoshi inspired me as a non-Colombian playing jazz and Colombian music,” he remembers. After earning an M.A. in Jazz Arranging at the University of North Texas, he became a professor of jazz at Universidad Javeriana in Bogota. But eventually the bright lights and big city drew him to New York, where he moved in 1999. “It is a dream for any musician to live in New York City,” he says.
Founding the 12-piece Folklore Urbano Orchestra, Mayor blended long-forgotten Colombian folkloric melodies with contemporary jazz, which quickly won the admiration of audiences throughout North America (and the music stores he peddled his recordings to). His experiences also inspired the establishment of the Encuentro NYC Colombian Music Festival in 2003. “The mission is not only to nurture the musicians, but to build audiences and educate the international community on the richness of Colombian music and make Colombians feel proud of their heritage.”
This year, the festival shows is dedicated to Mayor himself, with a host of Salsa, Cumbia and Huapango performances by musicians (many of whom are friends and collaborators) like harpist Edmar Castaneda, big band leader and vocalist Gregorio Uribe, and classical solo guitarist Nilko Andreas Guarin.
Dance also plays a role in the festival; in fact, it’s part and parcel to Mayor’s view of Colombian music. Together with Daniel Fetecua — dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Pajarillo Pinta’o Dance Company — Mayor established AMALGAMA, which combines contemporary choreography and original music based on the traditions of Colombia.
“Folklore Urbano has always, at its core, had a very strong rhythmic ‘dance’ element, even in its more modern, jazzy manifestations,” Mayor explains. “The audiences of the Encuentro need to see the value of the dance tradition from Colombia as well, because they go hand in hand.”
The coupling becomes most visible in the festival’s grand finale, when the audience is invited to join the rhythms provided by the FolkCOLOMBIA ALL STARS (from the Center for Traditional Music and Dance) in an all-out Colombian-style dance party.