Monday, August 10, 2009

My girl Toto's back in town

It was great Friday night seeing Toto la Momposina and her merry Tambores at the Queens Theatre in the Park, and it’s been great to see the Queens Latino Cultural Festival back in the groove this year of presenting top artists from throughout the Latino world in this, my borough, which boasts the largest concentration of Latinos in the Big Apple (or Gran Manzana, as they say).
Toto forces me into the cliché: She just gets better with age. Maybe it was the venue—last time I saw her, near on 10 years ago, it was at the more imposing Town Hall in Manhattan—maybe because as I get better or worse with age, she’s become nothing if not inspirational, a role model of how to stay gorgeous, sensual, spirited and—here comes another cliché—eminently young at heart.
Gigging the world over—you’d think she was homeless rather than a proud palenquera from Colombia’s northeastern panhandle—she carries with her her message as torchbearer for the traditions of her country and her people, Afro-Indio-Colombians. Toto maintains her rusticity; she’s like a pre-urbanized Susana Baca, a less buffed icon of the unsung history and contributions of African people in South America.
Toto was born into cantadora lineage: women keeping the traditions through healing, midwifery, political savvy, farming, and of course, song and dance. And that legacy infuses all of her, including her electric smile, her sensuality-- unabashed at over 60 now--and her good natured rule over her super musicians aging from their 20s to could-be “jubilados” (retirees).
The audience, too, was seduced from the first flash of that smile and her head cocked haughtily on high, her swooping skirts and her bossy and beguiling contralto. They were waving their straw hats and arms like streamers and were dancing in the seats.
I can’t wait for her next visit, predictably not for some time, though. Toto’s scored major success in Europe, but never here outside her Colombian homies. And the next show after that, and still the next one. But, at the rate she’s going, she may be still bringing the house down after I’m long gone!