Conexiones Viejas 

Cascada de Flores reconnects two cultures through music.

Today, Mexico and Cuba seem like different worlds, divided by disparate political and economic systems. But for most of their postconquest history, the two nations were part of Spain's New World Empire, intimately linked by a constant flow of people, trade, and culture. Exploring those connections is the mission of Cascada de Flores. The trio, whose name means "waterfall of flowers," features the exquisite vocal harmonies of Arwen Lawrence de Castellanos and Sabra Weber, accompanied by the stellar guitar of Jorge Liceaga. The group formed about four years ago through a collaboration with a local Mexican folkloric dance company. Its breathtaking 2001 debut CD, México, in 2001, explored classic Mexican songs from the first half of the 20th century.

With its latest album, Puente a la Mar (Bridge to the Sea), the group highlights the Cuban roots of much Mexican music, particularly trova, an encompassing popular song category that includes son, bolero, guaracha, punta, and habanera. It started as working-class music created by laborers on the eastern side of the island where Spanish, mestizo, and African laborers mingled and blended various musical forms and rhythms. Constant travel between Cuba and Mexico's Caribbean coast, particularly Veracruz and the Yucatan peninsula, brought the music to the mainland, where it flourished.

"The music is a snapshot of the time period, of the connections between Cuba and Mexico during the 1920s, '30s, '40s," Weber says during an interview with the trio at Celadon Fine Teas in Albany.

"There was this idea of nationalism in both countries, while at the same time they were ignoring that and the music was flowing back and forth," Castellanos adds. "The role of the radio was so important in how fast the music moved. Cubans were doing things that Mexicans considered very much theirs, and there's still arguments today. People have read our liner notes and said to me, "Bolero isn't Cuban, that's Mexican!'"

While the album might sound like a musicological study, it's actually a project of the heart, inspired particularly by the great Cuban singer Maria Teresa Vera, who formed a classic vocal duo in the 1930s with voz segundo (second voice) Lorenzo Hierrezuelo. "Maria and her duo with Lorenzo inspired us a lot," Weber says. "In the early years, the first line was written and the second voice would have a more improvisatory style. On the old recordings, Lorenzo was fabulous at creating this counterpoint. I'm still finding what works."

The trio bills its Saturday concert (8 p.m.) at the Freight & Salvage (1111 Addison St., Berkeley) as "Nuestro Viaje" (Our Journey), and promises a program ripe with new pieces gathered during recent travels in Cuba and Mexico. Part of the fun of a Cascada performance is that the group never forgets that dance is an essential element of the music, and also where the group got its start. "Jorge and I met though the folkloric dance world, and we ended up playing in one of the dressing rooms," Castellanos says. "Somebody heard us, and that's how we began performing."

Tickets cost $16.50 in advance, $17.50 at the door. Call 510-548-1761 or visit TheFreight.org for further details.

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