Those of you who read my Globe preview, know that I was excited about the Boston debut of Colombian joropo band Cimarron at Johnny D’s last Saturday night (April 6). They did not disappoint.
This septet plays the folk-dance music of the Orinoco River plains that extend from Colombia into Venezuela. It is often a very uptempo triple-meter music whose traditional sound is defined by four-stringed bandola and cuatro guitars and folk-harp. The genius of Cimarrón leader (and harpist) Carlos Rojas Hernández was in adapting the sound for recordings and concert performances with additional rhythm instruments; so, at Johnny D’s, cojon, maracas, bass, and a stripped-down trap kit of just hi-hat and parade drum compensated for the missing swish and stomp of dancers.
Instead of those dancers, this early show presented by World Music was packed with seated diners and standees. But the whoops and hollers made up for a lack of moving bodies, especially when singer Ana Veydó asked if there were any Spanish speakers in the audience. The music alternated fast-paced instrumentals with Veydó’s impassioned vocals. The plains are cattle country, and in many cases these are work songs – about herding and milking – or love songs, or statements, as in Veydó’s first number, “Llanera soy,” simply about regional pride (“I am a plainswoman”).
Aside from Veydó’s singing, the ensemble interplay was riveting throughout the nearly 90-minute set. Themes were often introduced in ferocious homophonic blocks of melody and rhythm before breaking off into solo sections or the counterpoint of plucked cuatro, bandola, and harp. In one number, an additional eight-string bandola (four sets of double-strings) gave the music an extra bit of jangle. There was an extended singalong (with the refrain “pow-pow” mimicking the cry of a regional bird) and one extended instrumental number that climaxed with a showdown between two sets of maracas, articulating super-fast patterns of 16th and 32nd notes. And there were intermittent demonstrations of the foot-stomping joropo dance style. There were no dancers in the audience Saturday night, but, who knows, maybe next time?