by Lily Lyons
Amidst the freezing wind and rain, Naty Hernández’s Caf Show felt like grabbing a cup of hot chocolate and snuggling up in my favorite sweater. When I arrived shortly before 10:00pm, an eclectic and enthusiastic ensemble was beginning soundcheck, surrounded by the blurry backdrop of Mass Ave’s lights. The wide range of instruments—including flute, harp, cymbals, electronics, and a string section—made me wonder whether what I was going to hear would be cohesive. But as soon as the first song began I knew I didn’t have to be worried.
Naty’s breathy, warm vocal anchored the ensemble. She drew the audience into her music with a gentle confidence and it was clear that she believed in the message of the songs and felt joy when singing them. That spirit was contagious to the backup musicians, who played in a relaxed but focused manner, rarely getting in the way of the melody. I felt the string players were particularly strong, laying a lush bed for the vocals (though the conductor wasn’t really necessary for a such a small ensemble.) The electronics faded in and out as a means of transition, using human, physical sounds like baby cries and heartbeats to enhance the impact of the songs.
Each of Naty’s songs featured a guest performer from a different country, varying the flavor of the set. She was generous with everyone she featured, giving them verses to sing solo and creating smooth harmonies. Her selection of duet partners was thoughtful—each person had chemistry with her and honored the meaning of the songs rather than being meaninglessly virtuosic. One of my favorite duets was between Naty and Mariana Secca: Mariana’s voice sounded like cool water and Naty glided in parallel with it gracefully. Gerson Eguiguren also sang in beautiful contrast to Naty’s vocal style, creating a combination that was sweet as strawberries and cream.
Towards the end of the set the tempo picked up, and Naty encouraged everyone to get out of their seats and dance. People began to shimmy their shoulders and twist their hips on the outskirts of the audience as the beat picked up. I had liked the slow, calm vibe Naty set, but it was beginning to feel repetitive, so the faster songs came at the perfect time. The band was able to amp up the energy and speed but stay tasteful, which spoke to their musicianship and Naty’s vision. At the end of the set, the audience asked for an encore and Naty and her band were glowing but surprised by the request, asking the audience if it would be okay to repeat one of the earlier songs. I slipped out before they resumed playing in order to beat the crowd.
As I walked home in the rain, I thought about why Naty’s show felt good to me and was so warmly received. I think it worked well because she thoughtfully fused the international musical perspectives of her collaborators with her own roots. One song she had written about the violence and political turmoil going on in Colombia was strengthened by soulful fiddle with hints of bluegrass. Another tune updated a traditional Colombian groove with the songwriting and arranging savvy she had gained while at Berklee. This kind of respectful cultural interchange is one of the real strengths Berklee has to offer, and it was exciting to see the result of Naty taking part in it so sincerely.
DID YOU MAKE IT TO NATY HERNÁNDEZ’S CAF SHOW? LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS!