New And Old Sounds From Mexico's Festival Internacional Cervantino World music DJ Betto Arcos returns from a major performing arts festival in Mexico with music from some of his favorite acts.
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New And Old Sounds From Mexico's Festival Internacional Cervantino

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New And Old Sounds From Mexico's Festival Internacional Cervantino

New And Old Sounds From Mexico's Festival Internacional Cervantino

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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I'm bringing back an old friend now. World music DJ Betto Arcos has hosted shows on NPR stations and contributed to a number of NPR programs. He's been a special favorite of WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED over the years, even though he gets to go to more places and have more fun than most of us do. Case in point - he just got back from the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which he has told us is the most important artistic gathering in Mexico and perhaps the whole of Latin America. And he brought in some of the music he heard there so we can enjoy it, too. Betto, welcome - welcome home, I should say.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Such a pleasure to be with you here today, Michel. Thank you.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for coming. So I've never heard of this festival. I'm sorry, what makes it so special?

ARCOS: Well, put it this way - the festival has been happening for 43 years. I mean, there's nothing like it really anywhere.

MARTIN: South by Southwest, take a seat, right? Take a seat.

ARCOS: Yeah, and the thing is it's three weeks. And usually, they invite one country. This time, they invited three countries - Chile, Peru and Colombia. And it includes every art form, so you can see music, you can see dance, you can see theater, you can see visual arts, you can see - you name it.

MARTIN: Well, OK, so I'm already jealous. So maybe we should get to the music, OK, so I feel like I can participate, too. What have you got for us?

ARCOS: Well, first is a chamber orchestra that's been around for almost 50 years. The group is called Camerata Bariloche.


ARCOS: This is their own rendition of a tune of a composition by the great Astor Piazzolla, the biggest name in tango from Argentina, really, and his composition that he wrote for a play in 1962 called "La Muerte Del Angel" or "The Death Of An Angel."


MARTIN: That's exquisite. That's exquisite.

ARCOS: Now, imagine you are listening and watching this orchestra in a church - in a colonial church from the 16th century in the hills around Guanajuato. That's where I saw them. I can tell you, I was - I had goosebumps. I said oh, my God, this is just heavenly.

MARTIN: That's lovely. It's lovely. What do you have next for us? You already set a high standard. I don't know how you're going to meet it, so keep it going.


ARCOS: Next, I want to share with you a singer who happens to be my favorite jazz singer in the USA. She performed during the first week. Her name is Cecile McLorin Salvant. This is a record that just came out. And we're going listen to a piece composed by none other than Burt Bacharach and Hal David from the 1960s. This is what she said - in my research to put together this record, she said I wanted to find a song that was sort of the sexist songs in the history of American music. And she found...

MARTIN: You mean the most sexist songs in the history of American music? Is that...


MARTIN: OK, it's a good thing you're sitting across the table. I'm going to sit here and brace myself.


CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) Don't think because there's a ring on your finger, you needn't try anymore, for wives should always be lovers, too. Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's hilarious. I remember this song. I remember this song. I think Dionne Warwick sang this song.

ARCOS: I just think she is brilliant. And she does this with every other song. You know, she writes her own songs. She's a great songwriter, too. But she takes all of these tunes from the '30s or '40s and she reimagines them.


SALVANT: (Singing) Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers.

MARTIN: And it's interesting though because you kind of feel like this little - I don't know how to describe it - maybe a bit of an edge to it, like you can kind of hear the wink in her voice.

ARCOS: Oh, yeah.


ARCOS: Yeah, she's...

MARTIN: Yeah, OK...

ARCOS: She's laughing - she's just having a blast with this song, like...

MARTIN: It's hilarious.

ARCOS: ...Really?

MARTIN: I'm still mad at you but it's OK, but thank you.


MARTIN: What else do you have for us?

ARCOS: I want to share with you perhaps my favorite band from Romania, if not from Eastern Europe. This is a group that I followed for two decades, Taraf de Haidouks. We're going to listen to a piece called "The Fields Are Blooming." And I thought of this piece because even though it's a song that's originally for sort of the spring time and things are changing, you know, the changing of the seasons, there's also a changing of the seasons happening in the East Coast. And when I was flying over, as we were landing into D.C., I was looking at the colors, and I thought wow, what a beautiful kind of rainbow of colors. And sure enough, you walk around the streets in Washington, and you get these beautiful changes, which I have to say living in Los Angeles, I don't see that. So I really appreciate the change. And so I thought this is the perfect tune for the season.


MARTIN: It's exciting - you know, I've got to ask you this because I bet other people are listening to this as I am and wondering how on earth do you keep up with all this? How do you keep up with all this?

ARCOS: I'm - there's a word in Spanish - I don't know if there is an English - it's melomano - I just listen and listen a lot. I listen to music from China, from Japan. I listen to music from Cuba, from the Caribbean. But I have some things that I am close to that I'm really, really in love with.

MARTIN: OK, I think we have time for one more piece of music. You have one more thing to play for us?

ARCOS: This is very close to my heart, and this is very close to home. We're going to listen to a new collaboration, which was premiered - another great thing about the festival - premiered at the Cervantino Festival - none other than the great multi-instrumentalist Paquito D'Rivera, a Cuban musician, a wonderful homage and a tribute to one of the great songwriters from Mexico - actually, he's from Yucatan. His name is Armando Manzanero.


ARCOS: Americans recognize his composition because back in the '60s, I think, Tony Bennett recorded that tune - (singing) yesterday, I heard the rain - you probably remember that melody. But it was a very popular - Elvis Presley - many people have recorded his music of the years. He's sort of like our Cole Porter, our Ira Gershwin, you know, that kind of thing. He's a tower of song. So Paquito D'Rivera in this case pays homage in an album that's coming out actually in January, so we're hearing it for the first time here. I was 8 or 9 years old when I first heard this song. And it's called "Somos Novios," and the translation is we are dating.


MARTIN: That's music from Paquito D'Rivera. Our guest has been Betto Arcos. He's a regular contributor to NPR, an old friend of the program. Thank you so much for coming back to see us again, and I should mention he's also host of the weekly podcast The Cosmic Barrio. Betto, thanks so much for stopping by.

ARCOS: Thanks for having me, a pleasure to be with you.


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