It was pouring like mad in Union Square, but that didn’t stop Eco del Sur from giving a solid performance at the New Hope Showcase for the Arts in mid-July. Made up of six musicians with various musical backgrounds, Eco del Sur (“Echoes of the South”) offers an east-coast reinterpretation of the traditional Andean sound.
The six members of Eco del Sur grew up playing traditional music from the areas where they were born. Although all of their music is Latin American, they stress the fact the members of the group hail from very different cultures within the region. The different traditional instruments of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and others combine in Eco del Sur to create a sound that represents these cultures in a unified way. “It’s not just one country,” says band member Jorge Gomez. “People in Latin America may speak the same language but anyone visiting would see that the food, music, and cultures are so very different from one another.”
How, then, despite these differences, did Eco del Sur get together? Gomez and his bandmates immigrated to the East Coast from their various homes in South America while in their early-to-mid-20s. Having grown up learning from other folk musicians, they wanted to keep the tradition going. Eco del Sur is the result of the combination of smaller acts that became familiar with each other’s work over time. Interestingly, the creation of a larger ensemble served both to more accurately portray the Andean tradition while also allowing a greater musical freedom for the musicians themselves.
Elemental to the Andean sound is the idea of variety. In a traditional ensemble, a group of players (usually four or five) must play a variety of instruments each, often improvising and playing off one another. At the July performance, each band member seemed to play at least three instruments, alternating among each even within the same song, at times even playing two instruments simultaneously.
Eco del Sur cleverly combines the traditional with the contemporary. Alongside the traditional wind and percussion instruments are stringed instruments like guitars (a product of Spanish colonization), the electric bass, and even saxophones. These newer instruments combine with the time-honored ones to create a new audio canvas against which are set classic folk melodies. Eco del Sur takes this idea one step further, using traditional instruments to play contemporary music. On that hot, damp afternoon in July, the band refreshed audiences with an Andean take on progressive rock group Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind.” “We want to show that traditional instruments don’t have limitations,” says Gomez.
Although the performances of Eco del Sur flow naturally with a spontaneous energy, the goals of the band seem almost academic in nature. The band seeks to educate interested audiences, giving brief explanations about their colorful instruments and talking about the origins of their tunes. It is obvious that the members love their music but they also know and love the history behind it, and no wonder. The members of Eco del Sur are highly educated professionals who still find time for a busy performance schedule. Gomez, 48, received his geology degree from City University of New York and now works as an environmental consultant in Pennsylvania. A dental assistant, a teacher, and a mechanical engineer are also among the band’s ranks.
Despite their busy careers and family lives (and busy indeed — three members welcomed new babies this summer), Eco del Sur enjoys an in-demand playing schedule at folk festivals, art shows, and other public venues. In addition, a new album is in the works. As a follow up to 2001’s “Mixed Colors,” the new record, to be completed this year, will feature new tracks from Peru, Chile, and many other Latin American regions. Gomez hopes that this album will further illustrate the vibrant differences in Latin American folk that have kept Eco del Sur going since 2000.
Eco del Sur, www.ecodelsur.com. Upcoming gigs:
Sunday, September 17, 2 p.m., Uniondale Public Library, 400 Uniondale Avenue, Uniondale, New York.
Saturday, September 23, 7 to 9 p.m., High Bridge Borough Commons, Main Street, High Bridge, New Jersey.
Saturday, October 14, 2 p.m., Hempstead Public Library, 115 Nichols Court, Hempstead, New York.
Saturday, October 21, noon to 4 p.m., Terhune Orchards, 330 Cold Soil Road. www.terhuneorchards.com.