One of the most significant aspects of the artistic contribution of Beny Esguerra to the art of the KUISi is not mentioned anywhere on the notes or the CD package, but it is all over the music of Northside KUISi – A New Tradition Vol. 3 and that is his social activism. You see, Beny Esguerra comes from a family of activists on Colombia. He spent his early years in Barrio Policarpa in Bogotá, Colombia, a neighbourhood with an almost mythical reputation for resilience and resistance.
The occupation of Barrio Policarpa [the name was chosen to honour the woman who established the neighbourhood]. Mr Esguerra’s grandmother – Ludmila – and aunt – Amelia Arcila – were among the founders]. This foundation took place on June 29, 1961 and was named after the heroine of the Colombian independence movement Policarpa Salavarrieta, born in 1795 and executed by Spanish Royalists in 1817 [at the time Colombia was referred to as the Viceroyalty of New Granada], who took over vacant land that was an extension of the old Hortúa Hospital on which immigrants from rural areas settled. These “rural immigrants” were displaced by the civil war called “La Violencia” [1948-1958] that caused in millions of Colombians to abandon their ancestral lands. Due to its working-class nature, conflicts arose over the legality of the neighborhood and the right to housing of its inhabitants, which also served as the seed for the foundation of the Central Nacional Provivienda CENAPROV. Today Barrio Policarpa retains its iconic reputation as the centre of various artistic and political movements.
Although Mr Esguerra’s music does not subscribe to any party affiliations, he is clearly an activist voice, one that has stayed with him as he replanted his Barrio Policarpa roots in the under-served yet resilient inner-city community of Black Creek, particularly in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of the Greater Toronto Area. Here Mr Esguerra also brought his remarkably deep understanding of the music of resistance and his unparalleled virtuosity of the KUISi, a Native American fipple [duct] flute made from a hollowed cactus stem, with a beeswax and charcoal powder mixture for the head, with a thin quill crafted typically from seagull, turkey and eagle feathers, which is used as the reed through which it is played.
Employing this instrument in hip blend of música de gaita, champeta and modern cumbia Mr Esguerra has fused the rhythms of this Colombian music – and dance – in the unique bouncing, hopping processional entrances on stage. More importantly, Mr Esguerra has seamlessly fused those forms with the music of the inner city activism, namely hip-hop and the über-entertaining form of spoken work and beat-boxing – both created with vocal percussion and beat-boxing made with electronic instrumentation. The new idiom that emerged has been appropriately called [and branded] as New Tradition Music – Northside KUISi, so named after the iconic flute, and the Jane-Finch area of the GTA.
Through his residency in this region, Mr Esguerra has also become a noted music educator founding and developing music development programmes that mine the prodigious talent pool from Jane and Finch and also built the mobile music unit called the Wheel It Studios. See Wheel It Studios Vol. 2 – Parallel Intersections and Wheel It Studios Vol 3 – Ride It Out Using staff who were a part of the now erstwhile Palisades Media Arts Academy [PMAA] Mr Esguerra and other committed associates created music programmes that sought to unearth gifted composers and performers. You can read what precipitated this here.
Meanwhile, pursuing a career as a master of the KUISi, Mr Esguerra has composer an impressive library of traditional Colombian roots music using the KUISi together with the tambor alegre, the human voice, modern electronic instruments [as mentioned above], in a remarkable collision with the inner-city music of hip-hop, spoken word and beat-boxing. The singular idiom that resulted from this big bang is an idiom all its own. And this music has been captured on three volumes of A New Tradition.
On this third volume of A New Tradition, Beny Esguerra & New Tradition Music, has gone all out to concentrate on the socio-political and psychological aspects of retelling the inner-city story of triumph over the trials and tribulations of life in an economically and socially deprived community. Elegant imagery is thrown overboard and the story is told with lyrics that pull no punches, in keeping with the depravation that has been foisted on this community by successive administrations seemingly blind to the needs of ethnic minorities and new immigrants, who largely populate this geographic area of the city of Toronto, which prides itself as one of the best cities to live in.
Not so, say the composers, lyricists and musicians on this disc, through music voiced by Beny Esguerra and a stellar cast of musicians who have emerged from the rubble of Jane and Finch. The result is music woven by into the ethereal sound of the KUISi bunsi and the KUISi sigi. [Watch the video above to hear Mr Esguerra describe the technical and musical aspects of each form of the flute]. Mr Esguerra’s vocals are built on the magic magnetic power of hip-hop to make inner-city life come alive before your eyes [in the videos] and ears. Mr Esguerra’s colourful suit conjures images of the colourful traditional costumes worn by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of New Orleans and the Guardians of the Flame mask curated under the leadership of Maroon Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson, daughter of Herreast Harrison and Donald Harrison, Sr that honors Mardi Gras Indian culture.
Mr Esguerra’s dramaturgy mines an interesting and novel slant on songs such as “Northside KUISi” and “One Dish”, his rationale and stage geography is such that the energetic life force of the inner-city offers much to shout about. The elaborate cast of musicians – vocalists, spoken word poets and instrumentalists are fully attuned to Mr Esguerra’s artist vision. The inimitable multi-dimensional musician, trombonist and percussion colourist Luis Orbegoso and turntablist DjGrouch soar in their respective roles and propel this music with their pulsating rhythms.
The rest of the cast may have made seemingly nondescript contributions. However taken as a whole, what everyone brings to the table makes for a wall of melody, harmony and rhythm that, in turn, makes this album something to die for. It’s no wonder that the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has thought this album worthy of recognition and it is up for Juno Awards, 2022 post-pandemic edition on the centre-stage of Canada’s biggest music awards in the Global Music Album of the Year category. Bravo…!
Track list – 1: Al Norte; 2: Newsflash Update; 3: Northside KUISi; 4: Dejaron Huellas; 5: One Dish; 6: Flooded in Flames; 7: Let the Rain Fall; 8: She Was There; 9: Stay Rooted; 10: We Won’t Let It Happen; 11: Thin Line Remix; 12: To Da Ones; 13: Take Care; 14: Newsflash: Hidden Frequencies
Personnel – Beny Esguerra: writer, lead vocals, percussion, violin, beat-making, turntables, KUISi bunsi, KUISi sigi and flauta de millo; Luis Orbegoso: arranger, backing vocals, percussion, trombones and beat-making; Paul “Savilion” De Francesco: beat-making; Siez Swift: turntables; Adam Solomon: electric guitar; Jonathan “Alacran” Amador: electric bass; Ernesto Espinoza: violin. Special Guests – Leang Manjarres Wong, Dj Grouch, Dj Classic Roots, Cynthia Pitsuilak and Charlotte Qamaniq; Steve Sanchez and Raven Kanatakta; Malikah Awe:ri, Nimkil Osawamick, Orlando “Chato” Alvarez, DJ Chino, Artson, Jotaika, Mystro, Nathan Baya, Tracey Kayy, Larry Blu, Zakisha Brown and Louwop; Mc McWatch and J Wize; Che Uno and Rod Starz; Mamarudegyal and Hope; Back up vocalists – Luz Marina Sandoval, Alexa Esguerra-Carranza, Aliyah Esguerra-Carranza, Mikeia Esguerra-Carranza, Millie Carranza, Mat Stevens, Pepa Baby, Young Sav, Lyrical Flips, Raekwon, Mini Rudegyal, attendees of the OHCC Rally [TO City Hall], Toronto attendees of the Cacerolazo Rally [TO City Hall], North Kipling Students, KRS-ONE and Jalal Mansur Nuridin; Narrators – Lena Recollet, Jesus Natividad Perez Palomino, Ivy Cuervo and Fabian Esguerra.
Released – 2021
Label – LulaWorld Records
Runtime – 48:25