José Hernando Arias Noguera & Egidio Cuadrado (accordions) with Carlos Mario Zabaleta (vocalist), Eder Polo (guacharaca), Alfredo Rosado (caja), Luis Ángel Pastor (double bass & bass guitar), Mayte Montero (gaita), Edgardo Ramos & Jesús Enrique Saurith (guitar) and Rony Theran (percussion)
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 31 July, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
First on was the young Londoner José Hernando Arias Noguera, who is this year’s World Routes Academy apprentice, a self-taught accordionist in the traditional Colombian vallenato style (“born in the valley”), from North East Colombia. With a technique finessed via YouTube, his apprenticeship mentored him with our second main artist, the former Rey Vallenato (“king of the vallenato”), Egido Cuadrado. The result? Noguera’s entering the annual Vallenato Festival in Valledupar, Colombia this April, where Cuadrado had won his title in 1985 and singer Carlos Mario Zabaleta had won “King of the Vallenato singer” last year. Noguera got into the quarter-finals and caused something of a stir being the first from England in the competition. He even broke tradition in singing one of the two songs Cuadrado had written for him in both Spanish and English (with the appropriate refrain for a Prom: “to the BBC in London, I would never let them down”).
From obscurity to world fame in barely six months – such buzz brought out a sizeable portion of the Colombian ex-pat population. They quickly realised their error of buying seats, as there was a constant stream moving down into the Arena to fill the space with dancing. This was a Prom like no other.I’m no expert, indeed I’m a complete novice at the genre, but there was never a suggestion that we were not hearing the very best. The Colombians in the audience were having a ball, singing along to every song. All were characterised with an overriding lilt, with fast-fingered button-key work on the accordion (of which Cuadrado and Noguera shared four), and an ever-present percussive pulse, heightened by Mayte Montero’s vertically motivated maracas – the songs came thick, fast and uninterrupted. The only respite from insistent rhythm was the first encore, a nod to British music in a slower, but equally infectious, version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (or as sung here, ‘Hey Yude’).
A motto for the genre could be “Music without a singer is like a house without a woman”, which allows me to end with not just praise for mentor Cuadrado and mentee Noguera, but also singers Zabaleta and, moving once off percussion and gaita, Montero. I might not have understood the words in general, but it’s clear the tales of the likes of ‘The Painkiller’, ‘Deep Wound’, ‘The Cold Sweat’ and ‘The Vallenato Fighting Cock’ – about the rivalries in the Vallenato Festival – were typical songs of love, loss and jealousy, with repeated refrains and infectious melodies. If only I could dance like the Colombians…