Cuban songstress blends styles

On Sunday afternoon, while the gray clouds hung low over the College, there was at least one place on campus that resonated with the sounds of a Caribbean paradise. From within Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, the earthy and sophisticated voice of visiting artist Gema Corredera transported the audience to the land of Cuban rhythms. Her songs combine influences from her Cuban roots as well as jazz, opera, flamenco and Brazilian music. These sources of inspiration blended together into a new interpretative genre that stands on its own. Corredera used her voice in a truly unique fashion, as she included sections of scatting, whistling and imitations of instruments within her performance.

Corredera’s vocal prowess was recognized early in her life: At the age of seven she made her professional singing debut in Havana. By the time she was 10, she began studying classical guitar, which was shortly followed with her introduction to jazz at the age of 12. Since then, Corredera has earned a degree in musicology with a concentration in Cuban folk music and the classical composers Bach, Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky. She has traveled extensively for her performances, visiting jazz festivals throughout Europe, Latin America and the U.S. She also is a vocal coach and has opened her own online classroom where she offers online coaching for performers all over the world. With all of this experience, it was not surprising to see the poise and confidence that she exuded on stage. During the performance, she played 14 four- to five-minute pieces, playing the guitar herself for the first five songs and then with accompaniment by renowned Cuban guitar player Ahmed Barroso for the last nine.

Stepping onto the stage, Corredera smiled warmly at the audience and thanked them for coming. Playful scatting streamed from her mouth, intermingling with staccato guitar, the sound sharply jolting the audience to attention. Corredera’s first piece moved effortlessly between a scatting theme reminiscent of 1920s jazz and a romantic, lilting Spanish melody that floated smoothly over the thick chords of the strummed guitar accompaniment. In the middle of her first piece, a startling improvised whistling solo moved the piece into the closing section of arpeggios on the guitar. Throughout her performance, Corredera accompanied her soulful singing with inventive intrusions of clapping, whistling and guitar solos.

While she would often start her next piece before the clapping had completely died out, Corredera occasionally paused to introduce what she was about to play. The slight informality of this performance is common in Cuba, where the primary function of music is to serve as accessible entertainment for the audience. This differs from the typical western treatment of the stage, where the performance functions as a museum-like display of genius.

Corredera continued her performance with a Son Cubano, a historical genre of music with a strong tradition in Cuba. The Son combines elements of Spanish song, Spanish guitar and African percussion rhythms. Corredera sang the haunting lyrical melody of the piece levitating over the syncopated rhythms of the guitar. Her third piece was also a slower ballad accompanied by the guitar, during which she impressively sang in the style of a trumpet. The instrumental imitation was so accurate that some audience members required a visual confirmation to assure that she had not suddenly acquired another instrument. She also skillfully imitated the sound of a flute by whistling with a wide grin spreading across her face. Joy radiated from her figure as she swayed to the rhythm of her ballad.

After her fifth song, Barroso stepped onstage to accompany Corredera. The sixth piece opened with a guitar solo reminiscent of a strumming harp, combined with an expressive minor vocal solo. Her seventh piece remained in the slow tempo with an expressive ballad interrupted by an improvised guitar solo where Ahmed artistically played with the rhythms, slowly building tension into a climax with the timbres of smooth jazz emanating from Corredera’s voice brought the piece to a close. As she ended the show, a rich series of strummed guitar chords reminiscent of early American rock introduced the rhythmic structure of the piece. This motif alternated with a lyric Spanish vocal solo that built to a wondrous climax about halfway through, culminating in an improvised guitar solo.

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