It's hard to overstate the excellence of Cascada de Flores. The six-piece band, led by Arwen Lawrence (voice, dance, guitar) and Jorge Liceaga (voice, lead guitar, acting) pay homage to Latin American radio in an act that combines impeccable musicality, theater and the utmost respect for Mexican and Caribbean rhythms and culture. Lawrence and Liceaga, along with Marco Díaz (piano), Kyla Danysh (violin), Saúl Sierra-Alonso (bass) and Brian Rice (percussion) could easily, and quite pleasingly, present a straight-up concert; however, the format of their tour de force of a show (and album), Radio Flor, is old-time radio. Interspersed between beautiful renditions of boleros, guarachas and jazz standards are witty station IDs', comedic "words from our sponsors," dramatic radio skits and dancing. Think Mexican Prairie Home Companion and you start to get the idea.
The ensemble's February appearance at The Freight & Salvage, a jam-packed show featuring reinterpretations of songs by Ricardo Palmerín, "Blue Moon" in both standard and Latinized "La Luna Azul" formats, and a whole ton of heart, was a celebration of their newly released live album, recorded in Berkeley in 2015 and funded by their fans. Honoring and advancing tradition, building multicultural bridges, and celebrating life, the performance was also a demonstration of the best of what can be done with music.
Lawrence and Liceaga began playing together as Cascada de Flores in San Francisco in 1999, but have been steeped in Mexican music throughout their lives. Lawrence toured with the Grammy-winning mariachi band, Los Camperos de Nati Cano, and Liceaga's mentors include Mexico City-based Leonardo Salas. After joining forces, Lawrence and Liceaga traveled throughout Latin America to further catch the spirit of its music and culture. Radio Flor finds them honoring these stories and songs with clear eyes, compassion and joy.
Cascada's love for this music and its people is palpable: A radio segment "One Minute of Culture" depicts a scene of a migrant field worker catching a brief moment of entertainment before a day of toil begins. Their original, "Marla,” was equal parts grammar lesson, audience participation segment, spirited song, and comedy routine. Another sketch, "News From the Future," found the band living in a world where "a breath of fresh air is $25 and a CD $1.99." The band "had to make some sacrifices," Lawrence narrates, and must perform sans instruments, a cappella, with a bit of beer bottle accompaniment. It's social commentary that gets at the uncomfortable truth without being abrasive, all the while showcasing Cascada's talents.
Over their two sets at The Freight (including a costume change) the audience was alternately moved to laugh out loud, cry, and energetically clap. By the end of the evening, most of the audience was on its feet, dancing in complete and unfettered delight. Olé!