Plena Libre and Local Vocals @Claflin1869 #CALABASH2016

It’s been quite a week in Orangeburg here at the Claflin Arts and Letters Annual Bash (CALA-Bash), and Friday’s “Live on the Lawn” festivities delivered yet another warm, sunny mix to celebrate spring. A live remote with 103.9 set up a mid-campus outdoor boom-boom room as if to say ‘ready or not, the ‘Bash is on!’ Food, games, music, and fun for the whole family lured some visitors from South Carolina State University just around the way and others from as far as Delaware.

Percussive island sounds by Plena Libre popped a small but adventurous campus crowd out of the week’s established outdoor DJ soundscape and into a live music experience that begged bodies to move. This dancing campus only wanted a little encouragement: the “Claflin Dolls” took minimal instruction from the band’s front line before incorporating Puerto Rican steps into their own choreography. We missed seeing Councilwoman Liz Zimmerman Keitt and the ever-sharp Drexel Ball cutting their usual rug, but adventurous students followed Ar’Darius Kisitu “Mr. Claflin” Stewart, Claflin admissions personality Paula Payton, radio man Harvey Elwood, faculty artist Tabitha Ott and yours truly did our best to complement this fabulous music with some movement.

With leadership from maestro and bassist Gary Nuñez, multiple Grammy nominees Plena Libre smolder onstage with a mixture of percussion, choreographed footwork, rich three-part horn lines, and sophisticated improvisation. Frontmen Victor Velez and Manuel Santana trade the demanding leading role back and forth with ease as they lay complex word play en español over brassy harmonies and interlocking plena and bomba rhythms. Rafi Falu’s work on the highest-pitched drum, requinto, accomplishes with his left hand what most drummers need two hands to do. Meanwhile, the rest of the batería holds down that ubiquitous feature of so much Afro-Caribbean music, an airtight clave and percussion hocket.

The post-lunch crowd heard from a few student performers and Curtis Foskey’s local blues guitar gravitas. Foskey set an ideal tone, pickin’ and grinnin’ as folks shopped the booths, returned to class, or moved on to CALA-Bash weekend barbecues and rehearsals. Thanks to excellent sound support, his soulful voice carried throughout the campus corridor as I strolled over to the Arthur Rose Museum to check out a new CALA-Bash feature, the student art sale. Between these artists, the CALA-Bash vendors, Foskey’s classic aviators, and the usual campus bookstore swag, “Claflin Live on the Lawn” not only sounded good, but kept its look in check, too.

As the fearless leader of the CALA-Bash Committee, Associate Professor of Speech and Drama Annette Grevious deserves serious propers from Orangeburg. She pulled in National Endowment for the Arts funding this year to round out Claflin’s hefty investment in local arts and culture. She has run and delegated logistics on a staggering number of featured events this week. As if that wasn’t enough, her work with colleagues and students across departments culminates with the Claflin University Theater Ensemble (CUTE) production of Jar the Floor. This dinner theater show runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, after which we must say goodbye to CALA-Bash for another year. Here’s hoping the community can be inspired by this week to support all of the cultural opportunities that Arts and Letters bring to Orangeburg the year ’round!

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Author: artclecticacademic

Peter Hoesing is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of southern Uganda. He is a percussionist and a vocalist by training, and he has studied a number of Ugandan string instruments. His broad-ranging artistic and cultural interests inform his musicking, research, teaching, and writing.

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