(The Sanctuary, E17. 18 November 2021. EFG LJF. Review by Rosa Sawer)
Venezuelan-born and London-based musician Luzmira Zerpa brought all the zeal and passion of Latin America to the intimate space of The Sanctuary in Walthamstow. Her performance was shaped around the Tamunangue, a traditional South American folk dance. The audience was willingly swept along to take a fascinating journey through the cultural history of Venezuela. According to Zerpa, the traditional Tamunangue would usually last the entire evening, so to give us such a feeling of immersion in just an hour and a half was always going to be a challenge, but one which she comfortably achieved.
As well as dedicating her set to Sanare, the little mountainside town where she was born, from the very beginning this was an evening rooted in culture, history and paying tribute to those that shape us. Over the course of the 14-song set, Zerpa invited multiple musicians from across Latin America – including Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico – on stage to join her musical journey. For her first song, Canción Yekuana, inspired by the Cariban-speaking population who build their homes on the river in Southern Venezuela, Zerpa gripped the audience with a strong rhythm and distinct vocals that immediately captivated the room and made them forget their tube journey. Next, joined by Diego Laverde Rojas on harp and Ernesto Marichales on maracas, who expertly demonstrated how this style of music uses these instruments to their full potential, the trio recalled the national music of Venezuela.
Zerpa says that she likes to “break the stereotype of Latin American music”, by not always playing with the fast beat, because “if you want to learn an instrument quickly, you must go slow.” The tempo, then, from these deeper grooves expertly transitioned to become upbeat as Zerpa was joined by other musicians, including Bolivian flautist Phaxsi Coca. The switching of instrumentalists was itself like the ebb and flow of a river, occurring naturally and almost unnoticeably. The acoustics in the room were perfect for the reverberation of these eclectic instruments, involving all corners from the front to the back. In combination with Zerpa’s historical anecdotes intermingled between songs, the audience felt as if they were not only listening to the ancestry of Venezuela through music but also through her words.
As the performance progressed into the party section, the atmosphere in the room turned joyous as the crowd lost their inhibitions and people took to the improvised dancefloor. The photos can’t really capture it, but the energy in the room was palpable. As the knowing performer that she is, Zerpa allowed the attention of the performance to shift to the dancing and became observer to the music as it was intended. Through uninhibited, natural showmanship, Zerpa made everyone feel that they had a place amongst this celebration of music. Even though it was of course Zerpa’s show, the skilled musicians who played alongside should not be forgotten and it was the cross-over of countries and sounds that made this such a memorable experience.
As the Tamunangue reached its peak and the call-and-response finale allowed the audience to feel an integral part of the musical creation, a unique atmosphere had been created in the small Baptist church. This soulful and completely captivating show created a little pocket of South America, a performance that had been borne out of a love for music, culture and identity.
LINK: Luzmira Zerpa on Youtube