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Published: 13:42, October 01, 2023
Beijing ready to sway to latin rhythms
By Chen Nan
Published:13:42, October 01, 2023 By Chen Nan

With fusion bands, South American performers, festival returns to arts precinct, Chen Nan reports.

Chinastia Vallenata, a band featuring musicians from Colombia and China. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

It was the toss of a coin that brought Hector Palacios from his home in Rosa Florida, Colombia, to China.

Back in 1994, Palacios won a scholarship to go abroad to study a postgraduate program. He had two choices — Russia and China. At that time he had no idea about either country, so Palacios took a coin and flipped it in the air.

Music taught us that it is a universal language and helps us create a magical bond between the artist and the audience. ... at the moment of playing, there is no language barrier. We become one.

Pablito Maka, drummer of Mexican rock band Machingon

When the coin was rotating, he said to himself, "If it lands on the number side, I'll go to Russia, and if it lands on the flower side, I'll go to China." Fate decided China would be his destination, and that year he enrolled at the Beijing Physical Education University, and in 1997 at the Beijing Language and Culture University.

"I call it destiny," says Palacios, 55, who has worked and lived in China for nearly 30 years.

Five years ago, he met several Chinese musicians and launched the band Chinastia Vallenata.

For the first time, Palacios will perform with Chinastia Vallenata during the Latin American and Caribbean Arts Season in Beijing. This year's festival will be held at the 798 Art Zone and a public square near Liangmaqiao area from Monday to Wednesday.

The other band members include Chinese musicians, guzheng (Chinese plucked zither) player Guo Yuqi, erhu (Chinese fiddle) player Lin Zhenzhen, pipa (a four-stringed Chinese lute) player Lin Yapin, accordion player Angel Soto, and singer Isabella Soto.

On Monday and Wednesday, the band will stage three shows featuring Latin American and Chinese fusion songs. On Tuesday at Peking University, they will give live performances and workshops to students.

"I was not a musician before I founded the band, but after I met these Chinese musicians, I decided to do it because it's a great idea to bring countries together and motivate people and their countries to be closer, and exchange friendship and culture through music," says Palacios, who moved to Xiamen, Fujian province, in 2003 to work with a Chinese manufacturing company.

Mexican rock band Machingon. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The singer-songwriter has dedicated himself to performing songs that mash up Chinese and Latin American styles. Some songs are original, while others are adapted from Colombian folk songs.

One of the songs the band will perform is Zhong Guo Hao (China is Good), the first song Palacios wrote, which he describes as "a gift to China".

In the song, he sings about his early days in China when he couldn't speak Chinese, and missed his hometown very much.

He also expresses his gratitude to his Chinese friends, who helped him get through the challenging period. Palacios is now settled in Xiamen with his Chinese wife and their child.

La Doble A, a four-piece rock band from Colombia. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"Latin American music is about dancing and partying. Chinese music is much more calm and quiet. When I first talked about the idea of forming the band with the Chinese musicians, who play traditional Chinese musical instruments and teach in music schools, they were reluctant because it was a bold idea to use their instruments to combine these two music styles together," recalls Palacios.

"However, after the first song we did together, they felt excited and agreed to continue the music project."

Besides Palacios' group, six bands from Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica and Venezuela, will perform during the Latin American and Caribbean Arts Season, an international event first launched in 2013.

Carolina, a four-piece band from Costa Rica. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In 2021 and 2022, the event was held online, says Gao Yunjie, director of the American and Oceania Division of the China Performing Arts Agency, China Arts and Entertainment Group, the festival organizer.

Carolina, a four-piece band from Costa Rica, will make its debut in Beijing, and perform original rock songs in Spanish, including Pasos (Steps), Tiempo (Time) and Tormenta (Storm).

"This trip is such a beautiful thing, and we plan on documenting our adventure the best we can," says Erick Raven, the band's bassist. "A band from the Caribbean playing rock 'n' roll on the other side of the world. That doesn't happen every day and we want to celebrate it. There's so much art and history in China that we want to experience, and we plan on making every day count."

TroVanda, a band from Cuba. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

La Doble A, a four-piece rock band from Medellin, Colombia, will also perform in Beijing for the first time. Bassist Nikolas Parra Acevedo says the band has been playing rock music for 25 years.

"The trip to Beijing is quite lengthy, with a 36-hour flight. It's a long way from home," the bassist says.

"Our repertoire includes songs about love, Colombia, people, and nature. During our upcoming trip to China, we want to connect with the Chinese, learn from their culture, introduce them to Colombia, our music, our nature, and, of course, our beautiful people. Additionally, we're excited to explore and appreciate the historical beauty of Beijing."

Samba dancers of Copacabana performance. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

For Mexican rock band Machingon, it will be the third time they have played in China. Together for 18 years, the band is known for fusing Latin-American music with rock beats.

"We played in Beijing and Guiyang (Guizhou province) with five shows in total during our two visits to China. Music taught us that it is a universal language and helps us create a magical bond between the artist and the audience. The connection between the audience and the band flows in such a way that, at the moment of playing, there is no language barrier. We become one," says the drummer, Pablito Maka.

"We are preparing a great show with classic songs from the band, new songs and some surprises for the Chinese public."

Machingon will also visit Peking University to perform, and meet students and teachers.

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn

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