Where Jazz Met Mariachi

Mexican musicians Amanda Tovalin and Alex Mercado, on leaving behind a quake-struck home and their first trip to India

Written by Andrew Amsan | Updated: October 4, 2017 12:03:45 am
mexican jazz, Amanda Tovalin, Alex Mercado, Jazz festival, delhi jazz festival, indian express Amanda Tovalin and Alex Mercado during their performance in Delhi

Mexican jazz duo comprising Amanda Tovalin, 28, and Alex Mercado, 44, wrapped their 10-day tour of four cities in India last week. Their sojourn had begun with ICCR’s Jazz Festival in Delhi. Their concerts seemed unfathomable against the backdrop of the massive earthquake in Mexico, one that left more than 350 dead and 5000 injured. Tovalin, a new-age jazz singer and violinist, and Mercado, a seasoned pianist, wanted to call off their programme but chose to respect their professional commitments. It was tough decision given the circumstances, but it’s not one they regret. “The kindness and warmth of the Indian people has been lovely. Coming here was kind of cathartic,” said Tovalin.

Even though the tour gave them a temporary escape from the conditions back home, they couldn’t forget their countrymen. “Deep down I was sad and worried about my family back home. And that came out during my performances,” said Mercado. “We are still worried. A building next to my house fell down during the quake. It is tough to see the destruction that has been left behind,” said Tovalin.

Both Tovalin and Mercado are independent musicians, but have been collaborating since 2013. “Alex used be one of my music teachers so I have known him for a while,” said Tovalin, who is also a music instructor at a school in Mexico City.

For their tour, the duo went the extra yard to prepare and chose songs that displayed their broad jazz repertoire. Ella, a song about the moon as if it were alive; En el río (Vetusta Moral), a song about a fantasy tale of going into a river where mermaids and dragons co-exist and fight each other; and Paisajes, a voice adaptation. Tovalin said that jazz, although not very popular at the moment, is growing gradually. According to him,“People are not very familiar with jazz and that is why we need more festivals.”

Tovalin’s tryst with music began during early childhood. Her father, a doctor, played the flute and wanted his children to take up music. “I learnt the guitar, piano and later took up the violin. I was not really interested in learning the instrument initially, but soon realised that understanding violin made me a better musician,” she says. No wonder that Tovalin, during their performances, effortlessly switched between singing and playing the violin, as Mercado wove magic while gliding his fingers across the piano. Their compositions, they say, are heavily influenced by local Mexican music.

“When I write music I try to blend in classical music. But in this project, Amanda has written beautiful compositions which are more traditional and Mexican. We open up a space to improvise and to mix jazz and traditional music,” said Mercado, who fell in love with piano after his uncle gifted it to him but sensed a void despite classical lessons. “I could not express myself. But jazz had space for improvisation and that is why I took it up. It has to be different each time,” he added.

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