Making music in Cuenca: Mixing cultures and styles

Nov 14, 2021 | 3 comments

“Ya’ just gotta love this place! It is the best,” said the newcomer from Louisiana as we swished away from the tram platform on skinny tracks heading south. “I’m kind of a good old boy looking to move out of town and get me some chickens and maybe a goat next year, but right now I’m happy simply to be living in Cuenca.” He said he has been here for about three months, hopes to be here forever and is eager to make friends. His name fits him perfectly: Mason Broussard. He is 57 years old, can stretch to 6 feet in cowboy boots, and sports a casual goatee. His hair is the color of Gulf coast sand.

When I asked him if he lived out this way, he said, “Yessir. I’ve always felt most comfortable living at the end of the line.”

Welcome home, Mason. We are glad to have ya’, and glad that you found yourself a place that fits, but this isn’t the end of the line; this is an emerging land full of promise where you can find nearly everything you think you need, and most of what you think you want. Deciding which is which is harder.

As for me, I was reminded of why I love it here. I was having a splendid afternoon enjoying listening to newcomer enthusiasm while watching the world glide by on rails as light as idle chatter.

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I really enjoy the tranvia; it is akin to an amusement park ride.

I regularly commute to Cuenca from a tiny village overlooking Paute and am always happy when it is time to climb aboard the tranvia for the easy trip from the bus terminal to El Centro or beyond. The trip is quiet, takes but a moment, and features a fantastic new attraction; being a great example of what is possible when creative people collaborate.

The most recent is the city-sponsored music series staged on the tranvia during the multi-day Independence celebration.

I sat down with Karen Kennedy and Mike Wanner, two of the musicians who volunteered to play during the holiday and asked them to comment on what’s new in the musical community and they were happy to oblige.

“The most refreshing new thing for me was when the city asked us if we would perform to support the city’s commitment to celebrate public transportation. Other musicians who volunteered included David Keyes, Ray Lewis, and John Marshal. Every gringo who was asked to play said, ‘Yes’,” said Wanner.

It was invigorating to hear Mike’s tales of the profusion of blossoming venues, new opportunities for collaboration, and the resulting cross-pollination of musical styles shared among musicians. Wanner said that he is thrilled and energized. “There are more bands forming and more live music shows than ever before. And, many of the musicians I know play in more than one band; so their interpretation of various genres is influencing everyone’s music. It’s great.”

He added, “I think just about the only style of music being under-represented in Cuenca right now is old-style country-western and I believe that a violinist or two from Cuenca’s symphonic orchestra could be coaxed into learning the Willie Nelson Songbook if given the opportunity.”

Karen Kennedy left ‘”the boards of Broadway” 35 years ago when she married and moved to Cuenca, the birthplace of her husband. A successful singing career that began when she was quite young allowed her to tour Europe performing in countless venues and in numerous countries, so developing creative ways to engage in the arts community in Cuenca came naturally. She has been a major influence ever since.

When I asked Karen to provide an early lesson that she learned here, she replied, “Professional musicians are often asked — perhaps a little too often — to donate their time in support of a cause. I know many causes are worthy, and I volunteer regularly, but to agree to every request is unreasonable. That is why collaboration and a shared vision is so important.” She explained to me that we need to overcome seeing one another as competitors and more as a fellow collaborator responsible for serving the needs of a larger public that needs the strength that music provides. One way, she suggested, is to participate in community sponsored events.

“We need to embrace emerging styles, cultural influences, and media innovations that are inclusive. That is why I am singing on the train. I want to do my part and encourage others — especially those musicians in the Cuencano community — to join us,” she concluded.

I expect the city will again call on the community of musicians in Cuenca for their help during the next holiday, and, I expect many will answer the call to lend their voice to serve the public good by performing for free. It is cause for pride and concern.

Artists have long sustained the pain of being snared in the prickly dilemma of being integral in developing the reputation and tone of a city at the very moment that they are being ignored in terms of financial support, or aid in establishing appropriate venues to perform and show their work. We need to do our part to do what we can.

Next time you hear of a rollicking good band playing in your favorite pub, or an enticing concert in a church or auditorium, drop in and give a listen, you will be well rewarded. ..and, leave a few dollars when you go, so the musicians can be rewarded, too.

Supporting local music is simple. It is as easy as humming along to the scooting rhythm of the rails while chatting with fellow passengers and enjoying the sights and sounds of a city that is easy to love and call home.

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