Grammy Award winners Arturo O’Farrill, Regina Carter and Antonio Sanchez are among the more than two-dozen international musicians set to perform a politically inspired free concert next Saturday evening on the Tijuana side of Friendship Park at the U.S.-Mexico border. O’Farrill is now in discussions with Latin music vocal superstar Alejandro Sanz, who has expressed interest in possibly joining the lineup.
The concert is being presented as part of next weekend’s two-day Fandango Fronterizo Festival, which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The festival was created as a “border-less” celebration of music and culture by Texas-born, Tijuana-based Jorge Castillo. A recently retired librarian, he is a champion of son jarocho, a centuries-old string music style from the southern Mexican gulf-coast state of Veracruz.
“Our main purpose is to unite people through music,” Castillo said. “Fandango is a border-less event, despite being right in the middle of the border.”
O’Farrill’s performance next Saturday with his acclaimed Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and various guest artists will be recorded for inclusion on his next album and filmed for a documentary. Both are due out in the fall, if all goes according to plan, along with an accompanying book.
The centerpiece of the 6 p.m. concert next Saturday will be the debut of “The Tiny Little Walls Suite.” The border-inspired piece is the newest composition by three-time Grammy winner O’Farrill, who was born in Mexico City, grew up in New York and became an American citizen in the early 1990s.
“We want to make a very powerful statement that music is border-free and always has been border-free,” O’Farrill, 57, said Friday from a concert tour stop in San Jose. He is the son of the late Afro-Cuban jazz legend Chico O’Farrill.
“If we allow our culture, art and community to rule our lives, then we don’t have to suffer through barbaric moments in history like the one we’re suffering through right now. The world is our nation — the religion of all is the religion that sets us free. We are inter-dependent on each other for our survival.”
To underscore O’Farrill’s belief in the universality of music, next Saturday’s concert will feature virtuoso Iranian stringed-instrumentalist Sahba Motalebbi, New York cellist Akua Dixon, Veracruz-based violinists/composers the Villalobos Brothers and Iraqi-born oud master Rahim al Haj and his trio.
The lineup also includes acclaimed jazz violinist Carter, a Detroit native, and jazz drum dynamo Sanchez, the Mexico City native who composed and performed the score for “Birdman,” the 2015 Best Picture Oscar-winner.
A longtime member of the Pat Metheny Group, Sanchez became a U.S. citizen in 2016. The title of his latest solo album, last year’s “Bad Hombre,” was inspired by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 statement about undocumented Mexican immigrants in this country: “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”
Sanchez will share drum duties here next weekend with Vince Cherico, the drummer in O’Farrill’s 18-piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The first week of June will see the ensemble do additional recording in New York. The resulting album will, by design, mix live recordings from the U.S./Mexico border and anothjer Tijuana venue with studio sessions.
“As a matter of fact, we’ll re-record everything in the “sterile” environment of a New York City recording studio,” said O’Farrill, who hopes his genre-leaping new album will help “tear down” the artificial walls that exist between different styles of music.
“The other wall I want to tear down is the aesthetic wall that causes people to think live and field recordings are somehow inferior to the pristine setting of a studio,” he continued. “So what I’ll try to do is have pieces on the album where the music floats from field and live recordings to the studio. We’ll blur the lines, so people understand that the spirituality of the performance is not violated by either being (entirely) live or in a sterile studio setting. Excellence is really in the heart of the moment of a performance.”
A longtime New York resident, O’Farrill visited Friendship Park here last August. How did he learn about the park and the Fandango Fronterizo Festival in the first place?
“Somebody on the board of directors of our Afro Latin Jazz Alliance sent me a New York Times article two years ago about the Fandango,” he replied. “Reading it, I was really moved by the power and fearlessness of Jorge Castillo and his fellow musicians to actually meet at the border — and perform on both sides — to show how much bigger humanity is than any political ideology.”
The performance by O’Farrill and his colleagues will be at least the second major concert to take place at or adjacent to Friendship Park and the U.S.-Mexico border this year. In January, as part of the San Diego Symphony’s “It’s About Time” festival, 70 or so percussionists — led by La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Music Director Steven Schick — performed John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” on both sides of the border wall and in the enclosed Friendship Circle area of the park in between.
According to Fandango Fronterizo Festival founder Castillo, the California State Parks’ San Diego office has approved a permit to allow 25 people at a time into Friendship Circle for both days of next weekend’s festival. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency restricts access to the circle to just a few hours on weekend days.
O’Farrill is hopeful he and some of his musical collaborators will also be permitted to perform in the circle Saturday evening as part of their “Tiny Little Walls Suite” concert. However, the current permit only allows the festival access to the circle between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“I don’t know how all this will turn out next weekend,” O’Farrill said. “But we know that — at any moment — the Border Patrol could arbitrarily be very gracious or restrictive. When we recorded our album in Cuba (in 2014), nobody knew exactly what the circumstances would be like there, either.”
Those unable to attend next Saturday’s open-air concert will have a second option.
Next Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., O’Farrill, his band and their various musical guests — including a Tijuana youth choir — will rehearse, perform and record at Casa Cultura, which is located at Paseo Playas de Tijuana 777, Jardines Playas de Tijuana, 22517 Tijuana. The schedule for next Sunday includes an outdoor rehearsal on the plaza in front of Tijuana’s Bull Ring by the Sea, which is close to the Tijuana side of Friendship Circle.
Admission is free. For more information on the Casa Cultura performance, call 52 664 630 9714. More information on the Fandango Fronterizo Festival is available online at facebook.com/FandangoFronterizo/.