By John Keeble
Cuenca’s Andean musicians, forced off stage by the pandemic, are emerging Saturday, July 31, in an online revival of Mi Cuenca Canta! – and, thanks to the generosity of personal donors, they are being paid to perform for the first time in over a year.
The four-hour concert, with three or four artists or groups per hour, will be live-streamed on Facebook and other platforms at 7 p.m. It will present varying styles and musical genres, as well as dancing, interviews and videos.
A GoFundMe appeal to pay the artists, dancers and organizers has been generously supported, but it still needs more contributions to reach its target of $5,000.
“The Covid situation has been very difficult for musicians during the pandemic,” said Mi Cuenca Canta Director Catalina Ordóñez. “There have been few opportunities to perform and their incomes have plummeted.
“Most are fighting to continue with their music but some have been forced to give up and seek different work. The most important thing now is to support the musicians to help reactivate Cuenca’s music and concerts.”
Mi Cuenca Canta has been running annually since 2005 – except last year, when the Covid pandemic forced its cancellation. This year, technology has come to its aid with the first online version.
The concert will include eight groups, one solo and one dance troupe with performances spanning traditional Latin American music. Business sponsorship has fallen but some, like Cuenca’s Mas Musika store, continue to support the project. Local government sources are expected to support technical aspects of the presentation. Plans are already being made for another concert in November.
From the bitter ashes of closed concert venues and banned public performances, Cuenca musicians have risen up with a beautiful video performance of hope for the future of musicians and music. Guitarist and sound specialist Juan Carlos Astudillo wrote the music and lyrics for Nada es para Siempre (Nothing is forever) to say that the pandemic will end and they will meet again to enjoy performing.
“It has been hard for musicians but we have overcome our difficulties by finding other work,” said Astudillo, who supplemented his family income with sound-technician work for other musicians – “I did not charge, they gave me what they could afford” – and teaching.
Music student Ernesto Ortega said his studies had been difficult because Covid forced much of it to be moved online. “It was a different experience from being taught in the same place as other students,” he said. “It was hard to coordinate with other students in an online orchestra.”
Juan Pablo Morocho, Director of the Yawarkanchik Andean Dance Group, said: “We have sustained ourselves this year mostly through love for what we do, for the conviction that dance and music must be presented in a dignified manner.”
Singer-songwriter Renato Albornoz said musicians had been hit by “a terrible slump” that could change the way people enjoy music.
“Music for me has been a form of life, it’s been my sustenance,” he said. “When people share their life experiences, their songs, the playing of instruments, it’s very beautiful. [This time of] pandemic has been very hard because we haven’t had any sustenance.”
People have been sitting at computers and televisions instead of sharing the experience as concert audiences, he added. “I believe that many groups are going to present [online] appearances” and that people will get together “to enjoy this new form of transmitting art”.
Juan Pablo Lata, Director del Grupo Takiwan, said that with so many setbacks, the public and private institutions “think that our activities are simply a hobby or waste of time”.
He added: “There are many [musicians] at home not knowing what to do. They don’t have ticket sales because, as we’ve seen, their hands are tied. Dance groups that in the absence of events have been unprotected and many of them are disappearing. Unfortunately it’s the reality that we’re in and something has to happen.”
Yolanda Wu, a New York violinist who set up the GoFundMe page to help Cuenca musicians, says in her appeal: “Covid-19 has been absolutely devastating for musicians in Ecuador. All concerts have been shut down, causing musicians to lose pay, social security, legal benefits, vacation, medical insurance, in short, their livelihoods. The music world in Ecuador is paralyzed and the future is uncertain.”
She set a target of $5,000 to pay musicians, raising the first $3,000 from her own network of friends and contact, and appealing to Cuenca residents to donate the rest.
As the total neared the target, she added: “I’m really pleased that our fundraising campaign has been so successful. People want to help and I think they feel good that their dollars go directly to the artists. I’m really hopeful that we can reach our goal as word continues to spread.”
You can donate at the GoFundMe page.
Photos by John Keeble