Pepe Alva made some new fans at the Festival Ritmo Latino this year with his Andean-influenced pop, blending pan pipes and charango of his native Peru with rock instruments. Actually, Alva was born in the Midwest--Dayton, Ohio--but spent most of his childhood in his father's hometown of Trujillo, Peru. Now based in Miami (Florida, not Ohio), Pepe tours extensively in Peru, and sometimes shares the stage with his old running buddy Juanes. He said he's planning an English-language album, and is trying to build up more of a U.S. following in the university and indie rock circuits.
An especially cool moment came when he invited Cakalak Thunder, a Brazilian samba school from Greensboro who had performed their own set earlier, to provide mellow, undulating backing rhythms to his last few numbers.
Sertoma's cozy, wooded bowl is the perfect setting for Ritmo Latino, since it moved to Bond Park and switched to a free-admission format last year. The crafts and food vendors have room to grow, but there was a neat little hands-on rhythm tutorial happening in the pavilion. An elder handed me a bell and a clave as soon as I walked in, so I jammed with the circle for a few minutes before handing off to some other newcomers.
Sones de Mexico headlined, who played a great concert at Durham's Carolina Theater in 2005. Fiddler Juan Rivera, who poses on a Chicago rooftop for the cover of their latest double-Grammy-nominated CD, was a standout. Juan Dies played a very beautiful electric baby bass, and Lorena Iñiguez, in tap heels and slinky long skirt, her arms akimbo, told a nuanced musical tale with her zapateado dancing on a mic-amplified box.