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Carried away on a cello and a songbird

It was so good to get back to Casa Domenech tonight for live music.  We had stayed away for a while because Casa D was an all inside restaurant venue and my wife and I preferred outside venues as protection against Covid-19.  However, cases have pretty much leveled off in Chapala, our county, with only two new cases this week and 11 deaths overall.  

I called Ray Domenech, the owner and a dear friend, and apologized for being a stranger.  He said they had cleared out the dining room so there was plenty of social distance between tables and the band, so come on over for a special treat, a cello.

Now, the cello is not a stranger to popular music.  Apocalyptica covered Metallica with cellos.  Fear Of The Dark records songs by Iron Maiden, other bands have covered System of a Down and Katy Perry songs, among others, with cellos. But tonight’s treat was not cover songs played on cellos.  It was Areli Medeles on the cello, playing her heart out on both original and popular songs, weaving a deep emotional texture into songs both new and old. This was not a quartet musician slumming into pop; it was the real thing, an integral part of the band, sometimes accenting, sometimes leading, always adding a depth of emotion no other instrument could touch.  

She was joined by a group of musicians I know in Ajijic – “Chuco” Soto on keys (usually sax); Ray Domenech on guitar, and the incomparable songbird Barbara Sagrey on vocals. The band was squashed into a corner and visually a little fuzzy with glaring light from two spots,  making video and photos difficult, but the sound was great.

I have not paid much attention to the cello;  it was one of these stringed instruments found in quartets which put me to sleep (sorry – I appreciate the complexity and depth of classical music, but it never resonated with me), and it was sad.  I began to change my mind when I became a fan of We Are the West, the psychedelic country/rock/Americana/ jazz band that produced packed  concerts in a parking garage in Santa Monica. Standup bass player John Kibler sometimes brought a cello, and it sounded just right – emotional, melancholy, deep,  even in country rock tunes.

 I remembered Kilber’s cello  as we sat at a socially-distanced table with our eyes closed while Areli Medeles intertwined her magic around Barbara Sagrey’s urgent vocals in “Llorona,” the classic Mexican ballad of a ghost of a woman who drowned her children and is cursed to search  endlessly for them at night, wailing as she drifts fruitlessly through towns and lakes and graveyards.

Other songs followed – “Quisiera ser Alcohol (I Want to Be Alcohol” — a beautiful Mexican song with a very strange title),  the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and others new and old, always highlighted and sometimes led with the cello and elevated by Sagrey’s voice.  My ear is good enough to realize that what I was hearing was not Yo-Yo Ma (although it was close), but it was perfect for “Llorona” and everything else Barbara Sagrey sang.  Together, Areli Medeles and Barbara carried us away.

It was so good to get out, to get back to Casa Domenech, where I had spent many nights immersed in music before Covid got in the way.  It was even better to be welcomed back by Barbara Sagrey and her songbird voice and Areli Medeles and her magic cello.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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