A lot of positive changes to the festival this year: among them, the return of visual artists and real craftspeople, including the epic, mythologizing canvases of painter Cornelio Campos, black-and-white photos by Pulitzer prize-winning documentarian José Galvez, and indigenous beading and thread art. I heard one exhibitor saying, he hopes to set up a working atelier next year, which would be a great expansion of the La Fiesta del Pueblo's educational dimension.
Also in the wholesome improvements category, the best merch this year was at the Compare Foods booth, where people stood in long lines to receive free recycled shopping bags and fresh produce. Besides promoting healthy nutrition, it was an education to non-Caribbeans in unfamiliar tree fruits and root vegetables, from dusky, sweet-smelling tamarindo pods to the hairy, coconut-sized malanga.
Attendance had really picked up on Sunday; looking forward to hearing the figures from El Pueblo once they have them tallied, but it appears to have been a good year.
I talked to one married couple on Saturday, a Puerto Rican in the spiffiest red hat and white sneakers, and his wife who proudly displayed her Panamanian colors on a T-shirt, both glowing with dance sweat.
"We love it. We've been coming here for 15 years!"
I didn't get a chance to ask their names, because the music called them back to the dancefloor. That's our fiesta, I thought, the essence of our Carolina Latin thing.
I had a chance to hear more of Santino on Sunday, when he packed the Cafe Teatro. Notwithstanding his successes in L.A.'s entertainment industry (high-profile placements in film and TV soundtracks), he obviously has his sights set on connecting with more diverse live audiences. No one's got better fundamental skills to do it, but the very uniqueness of his voice makes it hard to imagine a market niche that could hold him.
Like the Peruvian second coming of Freddie Mercury, Santino's voice is too soaring for the processed pablum that dominates commercial Latin pop. His solo sound, a blend of his classic rock roots (Fragil) and Peru's multicultural, indigenous influences, is full of personal conviction, aided by his onstage presence, which was even more unleashed and intense than I've seen it before.
The headliners at the outdoor stage, Los Silver Stars from Honduras, were obviously a hit. They're a young band, with a vivacious dancer who showed off a lot of her punta and dancehall moves. I didn't spend lots of time outside, to fully review this band, but the music was fun, people were dancing, and it was something different for the Fiesta's tropical lineup.
On the other hand, there wasn't much music for salseros on Sunday, and it seemed like fewer folks from the salsa/mambo scene turned out that day as a result. Trio Saludos Compay played a short set (half an hour) inside. Slower son montunos like "El Manisero" were more of a listening affair, while others like (Las Chicas del Can cover) "Juana la Cubana" resulted in a little dancing. The Cubans also gathered for a procession for La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, handing out lyric sheets for her Veneración and carrying a figurine that came from Cuba as someone's family heirloom in the 60s. I also met a couple of Cubans who had just arrived via raft 5 months ago. A doctor and a nurse in Cuba, they are just getting settled in our area, learning English and getting entry-level service jobs at places like Walmart, before they can work on recertification in the medical field.
Food? I tried an arepa and some platano; delicious of course. It was a good Fiesta, congrats to Margarita McAvoy and El Pueblo for keeping it real, diverse and on message.