Flamenco dancers in colorful skirts, mariachis in wide-brimmed sombreros with guitars and trumpets: These are authentic forms of Spanish and Latin American music.
But there is much more to the Hispanic musical tradition. And the music of Spain and its former colonies played a major role in the Western world’s body of composed works.
“Music of Hispanic Inspiration” will be the theme of this year’s annual series of six free Thursday evening concerts leading up to Easter presented by the Bishop Perry Center in cooperation with St. Louis Cathedral and the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The series kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. The first featured artists in the series will be guitarist Javier Olondo and his group, Ashe Son.
Alfred Lemmon, director of The Williams Research Center of The Historic New Orleans Collection and an authority on the music of Spain and Latin America, will give a brief talk introducing the series.
Five other Hispanic-themed concerts, all on Thursday evenings at St. Mary’s through April 6, will follow.
“What I want to do is highlight the extraordinary wealth of Spanish music and what a wonderful representation it is of Spanish culture in general,” Lemmon said. “So often our images of Spanish or Latin American music are derived from Hollywood. But, in reality, the music of Spain is a reflection of the Flemish, Jewish and African Arab (Moorish) influences that have been so pervasive in their culture.”
Spain’s far-flung empire of the 16th through 19th centuries, stretching from much of the Western Hemisphere through parts of Europe and North Africa to the Philippines, exposed it to many other cultures and musical styles, Lemmon said.
It even influenced some of Europe’s greatest composers such as J.S. Bach, Grieg, Debussy and Satie who incorporated rhythms of the traditional Mexican sarabande into some of their best-known works, he added.
“We have this Hollywood image of guitar playing and flamenco, which is an essential part of Spanish music, but it’s also an incredibly rich musical tradition,” Lemmon said. “The music captured all of the different ethnic groups that comprised Spain and its empire during these periods in which the music developed.
"Spain was a also conduit for American music entering into Europe,” he added, noting that 19th century New Orleans composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, was a favorite at the Spanish court and elsewhere in Western Europe.
Lemmon’s talk will last about 10 to 15 minutes, followed by the performance by Olondo and Ashe Son.
Olondo acknowledged that the full group will be performing “Malagueña,” possibly the best-known song in the Hispanic music canon, but he added that a wider variety than just the traditional flamenco genre will be offered.
“I am going to play Spanish classical guitar pieces for the first 15 minutes or so. Then my band and I will play selections from different Latin American rhythms to show the fusion of Spanish music into Latin American countries,” Olondo said. “There will be music from Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and even New Orleans.”
Among their selections will be an original Mardi Gras-themed piece by New Orleans harpist Patrice Fisher.
Originally from Cuba, Olondo continued his classical guitar studies in Spain and Salzburg, Austria, before taking up residence in Kenner about 15 years ago. Ashe Son has been a regular performer at Jazz Fest for much of that time.
Although the concerts are free and open to the public, donations are encouraged to help the Bishop Perry Center fulfill its mission of aiding the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 disadvantaged New Orleans citizens it serves annually.
Music of Hispanic Inspiration
A free public concert series presented by the Bishop Perry Center mission for the disadvantaged in cooperation with St. Louis Cathedral and the Archdiocese of New Orleans
Thursday, March 2: Javier Olondo and Ashe Son
March 9: Mariachi Jalisco
March 16: Peter Collins, solo pianist
March 23: Eduardo Tozzato quartet
March 30: Jay Kacherski, solo guitarist
April 6: Paul Weber and Krewe de Voix Chamber Chorus
All concerts are at 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1100 Chartres St., New Orleans. Donations accepted.