Review: Cecilia Zabala & Philippe Baden Powell – Fronteras @ Americas Society & Council of the Americas (New York, U.S. – 26th January 2017]

Hidden away, there is an old Beaux-Arts mansion at 680 Park Ave in New York City wherein members and non-members congregate for various cultural activities. To attend, one first walks through the old mansion’s black gates, into a lobby that could be an art gallery, surrounded by very white walls. On Jan 26, an intriguing musical event would be held upstairs, in enough room for a packed house of celebration, contemplation (width, depth) hysteria, euphoria, and other silent human behaviour.

The event in question, at 7 pm, was that of Cecilia Zabala, an Argentinean musician, and Philippe Baden Powell, Brazilian, “Cecilia Zabala & Philippe Baden Powell: Fronteras”. The duo released Fronteras in 2015, an album that promised and still promises to cross the many borders that human living produces with its listeners.

Upon arrival, when one walks to the old mansion’s front desk, the well-meaning hosts are happy to help, which in this case included guiding a critic, and thus a publication, up a flight of awesomely built stairs, to sit in a room with an majestic wooden floor. Right behind the piano one finds one’s self sitting, browsing through a pretty pamphlet on the society, waiting for what will be a night of piano, guitar, caxixi, kalimba, singing, explaining, and a reception, to begin and end.

Cecilia Zabala played the guitar, sang, and played the kalimba. Philippe Baden Powell played the piano, sang, and played the caxixi. Together, with a video as their performance’s background, they executed a melding of pop-folk acoustic guitar and jazzy, profoundly cosmopolitan, piano playing, the sort that there is very little of on a Thursday in New York City. It all made for a night of travel while being in one’s seat: of being elsewhere, far from the everyday and into the exceptional.

The highlight of the night was Baden Powell on the caxixi, a very small instrument with much to say. He, standing from his piano seat and she, patient as he walked over, met in the middle of their wooden stage to kalimba and caxixi a mix of Argentine and Brazilian folksongs together.

It is a mansion named with precision: AS/COA, short for Americas Society and Council of the Americas. If you are present to write a tale that your life continues to be, it’s in the architecture, the camaraderie, the whiteness of a wall, and the quality of an event that one finds inspiration. The songs that Baden Powell and Zabala did just that, in such a setting, inspire a fairy tale of a memory, starring a cast of impressed patrons, a mansion, an organization’s commitment, a reception, fantasized while on the train home. It was, in the end, a night of sun.

photo ©: Nicolas Manassi/Roey Yohai Photography for Americas Society