Walking by Cuates y Cuetes next to the pier in the Zona Romantica of Puerto Vallarta a couple of years ago, I heard sounds that brought back memories of Paris and the music of Django Reinhardt. I stepped in and was swept away by the local group Moruno, then composed of Diego Mateo from Spain, Nacho Flores from Guadalajara and Osmar Esquivel of Aguascalientes. This group was so wonderful that, thereafter, I never missed them when in town.
Osmar Esquivel, an extremely talented classical violinist and pianist was at the time director of the string ensemble of the OEPV (school of music) in Puerto Vallarta. He met Diego and Nacho and joined them at Cuates y Cuetes evenings and together they transported audiences with their music to the mediterranean and to the Paris of the 30’s and 40’s with its emerging new jazz scene. Utilizing guitar, violin, accordion and a collection of other exotic instruments they brought real depth to the their already exciting music.
Unfortunately for us, a new position took Osmar away from Puerto Vallarta and back to Aguascalientes. Some sleuthing finally lead me to him.
Osmar and two other gifted young musicians have joined together in Leon, Guanajuato as Gato Negro and recently they released their first CD “Ciudad de Arcilla”. They are heavily influenced by the tradition of Django Reinhardt and they take their original music a step further in their new CD integrating the poetry of Deniss Guerra as introduction to each piece.
Django Reinhardt, born in 1910 in Belgium and raised in France, is reputed to have influenced every famous guitar player since his time, including Jimi Hendrix according to a recent review of Michel Dregni’s book Django, the Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend in the New Yorker Magazine. Django, together with Stéphane Grappelli, was instrumental in bringing strings into the exclusive wind and percussion world of the early jazz scene.
With the challenges of no formal education, having to overcome serious burn injuries leaving him with the use of only two fingers on the left hand, wartime poverty and the political upheavals of the times, this determined and talented man impressed musicians and promoters from Paris nightclubs and classy resorts on the Côte d’Azur to New York where he performed with Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington including a performance at Carnegie Hall. Django’s early death at 43, left the emerging jazz world bereft and racing to catch up to his untamed and expressive style. He is celebrated worldwide in yearly Django celebrations.
The members of the group Gato Negro are no exception. The group got its start in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, with founder Victor Quijas, a master double bass player. Eventually, Victor moved his original group to his hometown of Leon to participate in the Cervantinas, a music festival held yearly in Guanajuato. There he met Alfonso Jimenez, a talented guitarist, a university graduate in guitar and also a maker of guitars in his spare time.
Osmar Esquivel returned to the area in 2016 to work as director of Leon’s youth orchestra. He was thrilled to find Victor and Alfonso and with great enthusiasm joined forces with them as Gato Negro. Osmar adds his incredible expertise and energy on violin, guitar and accordion to the group.
Gato Negro’s goal is to bring their music, inspired by traditional French, gypsy and jazz influences and called jazz manouche to the public at cultural festivals throughout Mexico.
The city of Leon is located east of Guadalajara and the airline Interjet now offers low fares on non-stop flights from Puerto Vallarta making it easy to visit the historically rich “Bajio” area where you can hear Gato Negro in the bustling city of Leon and surrounding area including historical Guanajuato.
Recently I was able to make a trip to hear them play and visit with them at two different venues. The first performance was held at an upscale French restaurant, Bistro Du Blé, in a quiet residential neighborhood of Leon. The group started off the evening with a beautiful piece called El Muelle written by Osmar near the pier in Puerto Vallarta exactly where I first heard him play. (https://youtu.be/eyn1aM2UAOM) They followed up with a dozen or so spectacular numbers, each outdoing the one before it with incredible execution by each and all of the musicians.
The second night was more laid back but at the same time even more professional. It was held at a small club in the town’s historic center. Cafe de Los Artistes is owned by a family dedicated to promoting the arts and providing a venue for local artists, poets and musicians. In an intimate space filled with eager listeners the group introduced the music of their new CD entitled Ciudad de Arcilla. A moving introduction by poet Deniss Guerra accompanied each luscious piece. It was phenomenal. As I walked back to my hotel in the rain, I was floating with memories of the enchanting music.
While I was in the area I hoped to visit San Miguel de Allende, another lovely town filled with art and music. Renowned gypsy guitar group Media Luna perform there until December when they will return to Incanto in Puerto Vallarta. They were not playing in San Miguel that night but fortune smiled on me and allowed me to catch them for a lively performance in beautiful Querétaro. These charming young artists, Caleb and Jair Cabrera and cousin Gibran are looking forward to reuniting with all the good people they met last year in our delightful city by the sea.
You can follow both these groups on their Facebook pages for updates, schedules and locations of their performances.
The original group Moruno continues to play here in Puerto Vallarta on Sunday and Tuesday evenings at Cuates y Cuetes. Soprano sax player Oscar Terazzas joins Diego and Nacho along with Jaime Ramon on percussion—a show not to be missed.