Homage to La Peña

Wayne Wallace pays tribute to the cultural center with a new suite-in-progress.

It didn’t take much cajoling for trombonist Wayne Wallace to sell
the board at La Peña Cultural Center on his idea for a 35th
anniversary suite. Wallace had been closely associated with La
Peña for many years, not to mention his idea gelled with the
board’s desire to put together an oral history project that would
feature some of the principal artists and activists associated with La
Peña since its inception. All they needed was a librettist to
glue everything together, and spoken-word poet Aya de León
seemed like the obvious choice. Aside from her local stature, de
León straddled two generations: Her mother helped paint La
Peña’s mural in the 1970s, and de León came of age in the
era of hip-hop. It was her idea to bring a DJ onboard and present the
audio portion of the suite in a pastiche format. Thus, it would
genuflect to La Peña’s founders — a motley group of
Chilean exiles, local community activists, and artists with a polyglot
sensibility — while resonating with a younger audience.

Now two years in the making, La Peña — Ayer, Hoy
P’alante
is ready for its second unveiling. Last year’s
orchestra included musicians who represented Arab, Chilean, Caribbean,
and Afro-Cuban traditions, along with hip-hop artists and spoken-word
poets. What was lacking, said development director Sylvia Sherman, was
folkloric music of the Andes, which is elemental to La Peña’s
history. To rectify that absence, the center hired two guest composers,
La Peña Chorus director Lichi Fuentes and multi-instrumentalist
Fernando Torres, who plays in the band Grupo Raiz. Besides
incorporating more musical influences, participating artists also
transformed the show’s audio by pressing the oral history interviews
onto vinyl. DJ Wonway Posibul will cut and scratch them while de
León delivers her spoken-word libretto. The idea, said Sherman,
is to “jog people through time.”

Next year they hope to add a new multimedia element by digitizing
all of La Peña’s archival footage and splicing it together. The
whole thing is organized thematically, rather than chronologically, so
that audiences get the sense of unified artistic purpose and continuous
flow of activity over 35 years. Sherman cites one piece of found
footage that must have been from the late 1970s. It was an activist
presentation on shanty towns in Chile, scored by two local musicians.
Although it was made long before Internet technology, at a time when
the average person wasn’t expected to stay abreast of world affairs, it
was nonetheless quite similar to the work La Peña produces
today.

La Peña Ayer, Hoy y
P’alante
happens Saturday, June 13, at La Peña Cultural
Center
(3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley). Preceded by a 7 p.m. art
installation viewing of Hector Salgado’s Creating Home Away from
Home
, which commemorates exiles from Chile. 8 p.m., $12, $14.
LaPena.org

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