The upcoming word on the wire-- as old newshounds used to say-- is that ethnic music is making a comeback.
Making a comeback because we've seen it before. A couple of times the country's been through phases where music from "far away places with strange sounding names" filled the airwaves. Remember the '50s and "Que Sera, Sera," "Volare" and "Vaya Con Dios?"This time, however, the foreign sounds seem to have more staying power. They're not based on Tin Pan Alley trends, but on the new pride in ethnic heritage in the U.S. as well as an influx of citizens from other countries.
Utahns have always been able to get a good dose of music from other cultures at the annual festivals, of course. The Greek Festival has a heady array of Greek performers, the Hispanic Festival brings us mariachi music, corridos and cumbias. The Asian fest fills Salt Lake City with those eerie quarter-tones that Western ears haven't quite learned to hear.
But now we're getting more and more ethnic sounds in restaurants, private clubs and in concert.
"I think a lot of interest in the music has come about by the Utah Arts Council and its support of ethnic festivals," says Mark Jardine, a member of Tenpenny, an Irish band. "Our group has been playing around town since 1970, so we've figured out places to play and how to get jobs. We play at Crompton's Roadhouse in Emigration Canyon quite a bit, for instance.
"I also suspect that part of the ethnic awareness here has to do with the LDS influence; people going on missions to foreign countries and bringing back new musical tastes. We're seeing quite a bit on interest now in the Tongan community and the Cambodian culture, for example. Music is a good forum for bridging the gap between cultures. I've played music with a lot of people from several cultures, and music has been a way to get to know them personally, to cut through the normal facades."
I think the expression is "Music: the universal language."
Several restaurants and clubs in the Salt Lake area offer ethnic music. The Grecian Gardens in Murray has plenty of Greek bouzouki on the weekends, La Frontera (Seventh West 14th South) has Mexican singers, and the Rose Bar on State Street brings Caribbean sounds to Salt Lake City.
Black gospel music is also a staple at the Calvary Baptist Church downtown every Sunday.
But your best bet for a full helping will be the Living Traditions celebration on May 20 (5 p.m.), May 21 (12-8 p.m.) and May 22 (12-8 p.m.) at the Pioneer Trail State Park (2601 E. Sunnyside Avenue).
Carol Edison, folk arts coordinator for the Utah Arts Council, is helping to head up the event. She says listeners will hear music from Swiss performers, Scottish and Irish groups, blacks, Greeks and even a Lebanese band that has been gaining a local following.
"There's always been quite a bit of the ethnic music around," says Edison, "but it has never been in such public venues before. People are developing a real taste for music from other countries and, consequently, there's more of it to be heard."
For information on the Living Traditions celebration call 533-5760.
One thing that's happening with the new, higher profile of Hispanic music is more people are having to show a bit more taste. The old notion of songs with a "Latin beat" no longer washes.
First, Hispanics find the word "Latin" offensive (it calls up all the negative stereotypes of "Latin lover," "Latin temper," etc.) But more than that, the idea of there being one beat in Spanish-speaking countries is silly. The heady bongo rhythms of Cuba, for instance, have little in common with the sharp syncopation of a Bolivian "cueca."
The most popular Hispanic sounds are Mexican, because most Utah Hispanics are from Mexico. Rancheras (Mexican country songs) are gaining in radio play, as are the jaunty northern Mexico tunes with the accordions, guitar and snare drums.
Mexico's independence day, "Cinco de Mayo" (Fifth of May), will be on local calendars next week. The Mexican Civic Center on Sixth West and Second South will be officially christened. Popular Mexican performers such as Mariachi Aguilar and Martha Chavez will also be on hand to keep things lively.
On May 6 and 7 Ken Garff will be offering a variety of Hispanic music as well at the dedication of a community project. Call 521-6604 for information there.
In the end, whatever your background, whatever your taste, Utah probably has a place for you.
And, if the trend continues, we'll be seeing more and more diversity in our music and citizens as the years go by.