Rana Santacruz is a musical architect, building bridges that link listeners across cultural divides.
And that captures precisely the goal of Legion Arts’ fifth annual Landfall Festival of World Music. Mexico native Santacruz and his band of Americans will perform twice during the festival, which runs Wednesday through Saturday at various venues in downtown Cedar Rapids.
More than 50 musicians from 10 countries, from South America to China, will bring their musical fusions to the CSPS Hall, Opus Concert Cafe, African American Museum of Iowa and Greene Square Park. (See related stories on 3L for details.)
- Festival kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. at CSPS Hall
- Closes Saturday, Sept. 22 with a free slate of shows in Greene Square Park
- Tickets to shows are available at the door for $10 a show — or — $20 for all three shows each day
- A limited number of festival passes are available for $50 each at www.legionarts.org
“For a community like Cedar Rapids, where there’s an increasing presence of international people from other cultures — partly due to the proximity of the university and partly due to larger businesses in town recruiting employees from other cultures — the world music festival is a really great vehicle for highlighting other cultural traditions and other cultural languages,” says event organizer F. John Herbert, Legion Arts’ executive director.
“It gives people living here from Mexico, the Middle East or Latin America a chance to connect with their culture locally and to connect with other people who are experiencing it.”
From a global perspective, “it brings a lot of things” to a community, singer/songwriter Santacruz, 39, says by phone from his day job at Sony Music in Manhattan. “It brings a lot of tolerance, it (takes) down boundaries and brings a lot of curiosity as well, which I think is great,” he says.
“The more that we can jump boundaries — music boundaries or art boundaries — the more that we realize that we are very much alike,” Santacruz says.
That’s what drives his world music blend, melding bluegrass, Celtic and mariachi sounds, infused with elements of polka, rap and yodeling, all sung in Spanish, interspersed with English explanations.
“Stories and humor are pretty much the same everywhere, so I try to mix a little bit of the world music-y, faraway thing, but not too much,” he says. “I like to bring it into the day-to-day kind of thing here.”
Audiences have two chances to hear his band — 6 p.m. Friday at CSPS Hall and 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Greene Square Park.
Born Rene Hubard in Mexico City, he moved north in 2002 to study music business at New York University. He now lives in Brooklyn, uses Santacruz as his professional name and works in Sony’s copyright department.
“That’s the money side to my life,” he says.
But his first love is making music.
Before coming to the United States, he found success with his La Catrina band in his homeland. The group grabbed the attention of several recording labels, but dissolved in the late ’90s when its debut CD didn’t produce a quick hit. That disheartening experience hasn’t kept the musicians down. Several, including Santacruz, are back in the biz in varying pursuits.
“It’s just hard not to do it,” Santacruz says. “We just cannot escape it. It’s who I am. It’s my destiny. I’ve had ups and downs and always end up doing it.
“After a couple of years, it’s useless to doubt it anymore,” he says. “It’s more like a calling. I obviously want to make a good living out of it, but if I don’t, that’s not going to stop me from continuing to do music. That’s sometimes why musicians are taken advantage of, because we just love what we do and people know that.”
The seven-piece band he’s bringing to Cedar Rapids is a hybrid of New York and Midwestern musicians, including an Iowa banjo player. They use an eclectic array of instruments, from fiddle and trumpet to banjo, bass and drums. Santacruz adds in accordion and a small “jarana” guitar common in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Local audiences will hear lots of cuts off Santacruz’s latest CD, “Chicavasco,” as well as a few La Catrina tunes and covers of Mexican songs.
“Mexican bluegrass is an accurate description,” he says of his music. “It does have a little more crossover, with a little bit of European sounding music, but everything revolves around the whole Mexican situation. ... My music has a lot of folksy influences but doesn’t sound like a National Geographic-type of world music. ...
“I just want people to have a good time,” he says.
As a songwriter, he’s inspired by London Celtic punk band The Pogues and loud, acoustic instrumentals. While some of the themes he explores are dark in nature, they’re buoyant in his music.
“It’s involuntary. I don’t think about it, but there is a lot of death in my music,” he says. “I love (that) my band members make fun of me, because I talk a lot about death. And yet a lot of the songs that talk about death sound pretty happy. Some don’t. Some of them are a little bit more tragic. At the same time, a lot of my music that talks about death is also talking a little bit about a celebration of life. That’s why there’s a lot of happiness, too. Yeah, we’ll die, but we’re not dead yet, and we should take advantage and be merry.
“Some of my lyrics talk about love, too, but a little more ironic, with a little bit of comedy there, as well,” he says.
Aside from the Landfall concerts, he’s especially looking forward to working with students during a weeklong residency — and just finally being in Iowa.
“My girlfriend’s from Chicago, but she went to the University of Iowa, so she’s talked about how beautiful it is,” he says.
As for the students, he hopes to instill in them “a little bit of a creative sparkle in their body — just creativity in general is great,” he says. “If I can do something to spark that, to have them want to go home and make music or do a painting and give them a little bit of curiosity to make them do something creative, that would be great.”
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