Anthems in the Afternoon
Migguel Anggelo at the Bronx Library Center, November 22, 2014
Migguel Anggelo is a performer who is difficult to box into a specific genre, a dynamic and operatic singer who combines several different means of expression—music, theater, storytelling, and dance. Venezuelan-born and Brooklyn-based, he credits much of his drive to Latin heritage and culture. Most of his songs are inspired by, and retell, stories of dictatorship, history, immigration, and architecture in both folkloric and modern traditions from both North and South America. His November performance was well received by a diverse audience in the intimate community space at the Bronx Library Center.
Anggelo began his set promptly at 2:30 p.m. He walked on stage draped in a burlap robe adorned with an assortment of brightly colored flowers, a palette splattered with dry paint in his left hand. Approaching the microphone, he began to tell the life story of the famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to the quiet melody of a piano. He narrated her life from her birth in Coyoacán, Mexico City, through all her trials and tribulations—from her struggle with polio to her tumultuous relationship with her partner, the painter Diego Rivera. After a short introduction in English, he switched to more melodic singing in Spanish as he chronicled her more liberating experiences of finding her identity as a painter. This was his latest single, “La Casa Azul,” and was the highlight of the performance, setting the tone for what came afterwards.
Next, he and his band performed two famed boleros in traditional 3/4 time. He started with the Afro-Cuban classic “Lágrimas Negras,” which his group initially interpreted traditionally before later introducing a more contemporary salsa rhythm. The pianist’s impeccable style was notable in this song, which mirrored Rubén González’s recognizable precision on the instrument and his embrace of both mambo and modern jazz. The group swiftly transitioned to the second bolero, the beloved anthem “Besame Mucho,” to which the audience sang along.
After this came an original song, “Inmigrantes,” and another standard, “Los Pájaros Perdidos” by Ástor Piazzolla, the famed Argentine tango composer. “Inmigrantes” seemed didactic at times as it told the story of Anggelo’s grandfather’s immigration to Venezuela and the singer's own subsequent immigration to the United States, but the song demonstrated his interest in theatrical storytelling, showcasing his dynamic voice in a way similar to “La Casa Azul.” He was clearly embraced by his audience; several members shouted words of approval as the song concluded. His rendition of “Los Pájaros Perdidos” was an ode to both Ástor Piazzolla and the Mexican singer Agustín Lara, performed with his point signature operatic vocals and animated stage presence. He also performed the Mexican anthem “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” and concluded by having each of his equally talented bandmates present the audience with a solo.
It was quite refreshing to see a performance outside of the usual late-night venue with community members who are present purely for the experience of witnessing, free of cost, works to which they can truly relate. Perhaps this is a model more artists should aspire to, considering that they might be overlooking a large demographic for their performances to potentially reach. It was obvious that the audience was enraptured with his performance as they added their own voices to his songs and lauded his more polemical pieces. For anyone with an affinity for Latin American nostalgia and musically theatrical performances, Anggelo’s performances are not to be missed.
Andrea Gordillo is a writer based in New York City.