The YVCC Latin Music Festival — Taking it to the people
By Pat Muir
The concert you’ll see Saturday night at The Seasons Performance Hall is not just the culmination of the intensive four-day YVCC Latin Music Festival; it’s another in a line of musical celebrations born of a years-long international collaboration.
David Blink, Yakima Valley Community College director of instrumental music and jazz studies, organized the event, now in its sixth year. And, as usual, he’s enlisted s stellar lineup of festival faculty including percussionist Memo Acevedo out of New York; saxophone player Juan Alzate from Yakima’s sister city, Morelia, Mexico; and Seattle-based vocalist Carlos Cascante. Starting Wednesday and continuing through Friday, the musicians have been visiting local schools and conducting workshops as well as putting on public demonstrations.
“We’re taking it to the people,” Blink says. “We want it to be hands-on. We’re probably going to reach over 4,000 people. We’re working these guest artists 9 to 5. They don’t do that at most music festivals. For the amount of work they’re doing, we’re totally underpaying.”
The thing is, the musicians don’t mind it a bit. They’ve all worked with Blink before, some as recently as last month when he took the YVCC Salsa Band to festivals and workshops in Morelia and Puerto Rico. The relationships Blink made during those trips as a musical ambassador for Yakima make it possible to put on a festival like this.
“When I see someone with the passion of David Blink, I want to be a part of that,” Acevedo said in a phone interview before leaving New York earlier this week. “I saw the passion that he had for the young people, and I have the same thing. I want to pass it on to the next generation.”
Acevedo, a Colombian-born musician who has played with Tito Puente and taught at New York University, has been part of the Latin Music Festival since its beginning. Like Blink, he believes in the power of music to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries in communities like Yakima that are often divided along those lines.
“Music removes all social statuses and financial situations — the rich, the poor, they all enjoy music,” Acevedo says. “The arts in general have the ability to change people’s lives.”
Blink has seen that happen time and again, most recently when his YVCC Salsa Band (about half students and half community members) accepted Acevedo’s invitation to play at a jazz festival in Puerto Rico.
“This was one of those next steps for the band,” Blink says. “Can we hang in Puerto Rico, which is one of the birthplaces (of Latin Jazz)? It was a test in my mind.”
The band, which will play alongside the festival faculty at that grand finale concert at The Seasons on Saturday, played its own original music, too. That took a lot of guts, Blink says, although he says it using a different anatomical term. And it worked.
“We had the audience more than any of the people playing that night,” he says. “They got floored.”
Acevedo was there for that performance and marveled at “seeing the guys under the tutelage of David change and grow and get their self-confidence.” It’s the sort of thing he and the other faculty members are hoping to inspire in the students they see this week.
The way Blink looks at it, a student at a local elementary school or high school may take inspiration from one of the festival’s in-school workshops. Whether that student ultimately goes into music or not is beside the point. The key message is that such a thing is possible. Six years ago, YVCC didn’t have a salsa band; now its salsa band is wowing audiences in Puerto Rico.
“That’s what I want to share with people around here,” he says.
And, by the time that concert rolls around on Saturday, much of that work will be done already. Then it will be time to celebrate. The show will include elements from all of the faculty members and many of the students, even if they don’t know yet themselves exactly what that will look like on stage.
“It’s going to be a surprise for everyone,” Acevedo says. “I know the end result will be good. And being able to share that with everyone, to make the whole community, the audience, the band, the dancers become one — to integrate those cultures — it only makes Yakima richer.”