By Leigh Morrow
This November, during National Conservation week, jazz lovers will be making a pilgrimage of sorts. Much like those loading the car, and traveling long distances to check off their bucket list, this summer’s solar eclipse. The International Mazunte Jazz Festival, in its 12th year, is like that. Millennials and boomers, and all ages in between travel, mostly from the Americas, make the trek to the tiny beach community of Mazunte, Oaxaca a ten-minute walk from my home in San Agustinillo. These jazz aficionados listen to musicians they may or may not recognize, attend music clinics, eat regional Oaxaca cuisine at the artisan marketplace, do group morning yoga and watch in awe, as rehabilitated turtles are released back into the ocean.
Sponsored by the Mexican Tourism Department and the Federal Mexican Government, the three-day event which runs from November 18th-20th, 2017 is all about putting Mazunte on the map, but the origins of the jazz festival date back long before Mazunte was proclaimed a Pueblo Magico and gained status as a tourism destination. Pure fused jazz and rhythms like trova from the roots of Cuba, reggae and jazz rock all have their notes included in the menu. Iraida Noriega, Earl Thomas and Jennie and the Mexicats are three of the double digit headliners who crowds will dance and bop on the beach to, while the magnificent Pacific Ocean waves crash, like a constant back beat at the venue.
Jennie and the Mexicats mix jazz, rockabilly, folk, flamenco, reggae into a signature style that is almost impossible to imitate. The band’s lyrical topics jump from one location to another, from a table at a flamenco cafe, to a beach in Jamaica, or a plaza in Mexico, this band has no borders or limitations on creative expression.
Earl Thomas is another headliner who has wowed the North American stages and ignited enthusiastic audiences across Europe. With his musical background in Rock and R&B, he is a wickedly infectious story teller, sharing his memories about growing up in small town Tennessee. According to his biography, he owned a transistor radio that he rigged with a coat hanger antenna wrapped around a kitchen cabinet door. When he tilted it in just the right direction he could pick up the faint signal from Nashville. There was an unknown singer that Earl loved to listen to, but never quite caught his name. One evening he tells the story, of his family gathered round the TV to watch the American Music Awards. When one of the performers came on and started singing his song, the young Thomas jumped up and started yelling “That’s him, that’s him” . That mystery voice he had listen to over so many nights, was none other than Rod Stewart. The two singers have never met, but no doubt that meeting is on Earl’s bucket list. Those early radio waves filled with jazz and rock, shaped this musician who has a very large fan base in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. A night of drinking in his contagious stage performance goes down as smoothly as the fine Tennessee whiskey produced in his hometown hills.
Our last guest preview profile goes to Iraida Noriega. Born in August of 1971, she splits her time between radio broadcasts, songwriting and auditioning. She is one of Mexico’s top jazz singers. Iraida began singing alongside her father Freddy Noriega at the age of seven. Ten years later she left home for the bright lights of New York City where she studied music for three years. In 1993 she returned to Mexico and has remained an active participant in the jazz music scene. However, Iraida has been recently performing in front of thousands in places like Boston, Los Angeles and the Latin Festival in Lincoln City. Iraida has been awarded a federal funded project that took compositions by Mexican composers from the early 1940s then performed these old songs by The Big Band and Iraida. This new composition from the files of post war years, will be recorded in the fall.
The International Jazz Festival in Mazunte is a rich diverse program with plenty of room for new talent to have a stage and be recognized. If for nothing else, it is a great time to go to Mazunte, San Agustinillo or Zipolite, for the beach and surf action, and get treated to first class music entertainment in the evenings. It’s a bit of magic that lands in Mazunte for three days in November, fitting for a pueblo nick-named just that.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the seaside community of San Agustinillo. You can view her property at www.gosanagustinillo.com