The south of Gran Canaria was treated to an extraordinary show, on Friday night, by a line up of world class musicians, with the happiest faces, occasionally casting furtive sidelong glances towards the rolling waves of the incoming tide on San Agustín Beach, as they performed for the more than 5,000-strong crowd who’d come to join them for the Maspalomas Costa Canaria Soul Festival 2022.
Since the Maspalomas Soul Festival began back in 2015 it has grown and grown into, what is today, the biggest free music festival of its kind anywhere in Spain devoted to the Stax records and Atlantic records sounds that developed into the Motown records we all know and love. It is a credit to The Canary Islands, and the San Bartolomé de Tirajana town hall that this collaboration between the Porretta Soul Festival and D&D Productions (who also produce Womad here) has been able to flourish, even after a two year interruption.
On each of the two main nights thousands of people from across the island, and across the globe, now travel to celebrate this music that was still new when tourists really first started to discover Maspalomas as a world class destination. More than simply bringing the authentic sounds of this universally adored musical genre to the beach front stage, this event also acts as a necessary and important link between the various cultures that call this place home.
Soul music speaks to all of us, it speaks of truth and struggle, sexuality and relationships, Soul can speak of difference as much as it speaks of unity, and tells us a story that goes even beyond the epic battle for civil rights in which it first flourished, and that was just starting to spill onto the streets of North America at that time. Soul speaks of honesty, pain and dignity in a way that few genres can and it brings together communities, to a place where colour and language matter little when compared to the outpouring of joy and creativity that the human condition encompasses.
That so many talented musicians are prepared to cross an ocean to bring this music to us still, more than 60 years after it all first began, is testament to the importance of an age through which so much has changed within our living memory.
It is, this year, 60 years since the top secret Mercury Project space station risked exposure, following the boom of the jet-age, with holiday makers snapping memories, that started to bring bikini clad tourists and wealth to the south of this island. In fact that pretty much began on this very beach where our visitors perform this weekend, the very first holiday makers headed for the sands of Maspalomas Costa Canaria, and San Agustín, with the first restaurant, La Rotunda, and the first hotel, Las Folias, built along with the Little Swedish bungalows of Rocas Rocas, looking out towards the dunes of Maspalomas.
The local town hall are to be congratulated for maintaining such a significant annual event that can and must increase the profile of Europe’s only sub-tropical holiday and entertainment destination.
Passion and deep reverence for the lifelong musical experience brought by this year’s visiting artists had flavoured the press conference presentation for this sixth edition on Friday morning in what has now become the primary reference event in Spain for the celebration of authentic soul music. Styles born out of the USA’s deep south, and the African American communities of Memphis, Old New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and from across the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. San Bartolomé de Tirajana’s progressive Mayoress, Conchi Narváez, presented this years talent, alongside Councillor for Culture, Elena Espino; the festival director, Dania Dévora and the director of the Porretta Soul Festival, Graziano Uliani, whose efforts ensure outstanding collaboration and participation from the US artists.
Notable performers on the bill this year include, once again, LA’s hardest working curator of the genre, Anthony Paule with his extraordinary soul orchestra (this year also including Dubliner, Mister Eamonn Flynn, the renowned hammond keyboard and piano player from the famous soul movie, The Commitments).
Presented as ever by that soulful English man abroad, Rick Hutton of the Rick Hutton Band, some of this year’s special treats include the inimitable Mitch Woods, the King of Boogie Woogie; the outstanding soul vocals of Leon Beal Jr.; San Francisco Bay, Billboard ranked, Gospel Queen, Nona Brown; the legendary smooth Dallas sound of the lofty, Louisiana-born Li’l Ernie Johnson; the downtown Memphis SugaShack empresario and star performer Larry Springfield; returning to us once more the Memphis-born Music Hall of Fame star Chick Rodgers (whose sultry prowess and confidence rivals even that of the Mighty Aretha), joined also on the back line by Blues Foundation music awards nominee Larry Batiste and the soul-fuelled power of Omega Rae, with whom, this year, performing we have well loved Canary Islands Soul music protagonists: Lorena Román and Esther Suárez (Midnight Soul Band), César Martel (M&M Connection feat. Cristina James) and DJ (Vinyl Historian) El Especialista Manel Ruiz.
Mayor Conchi Narváez and Councillor for Culture Elena Espino welcomed the return of this major cultural event, held directly on the pristine sands of one of the best recognised beaches in The Canary Islands, adding, said the mayor, “a festival of great quality and international recognition” to this wide ranging sun and sea destination. The festival director, Dania Dévora, herself a Grammy Award winner, thanked the administrations and the local town hall for “returning after a two-year break, in the best possible conditions”.
Graziano Uliani whose Porretta Soul Festival (a tribute to Ottis Redding and the vital link with the authentic soul performers of the deep south) introduced each of the international artists present, a week after their appearances with him in Italy, “as The Real Deal”; while resident band leader Anthony Paule, director of the Soul Orchestra, admitted feeling “excited” to return once again to the Maspalomas Costa Canaria stage on the beach with “a renewed band,” which he proclaimed as “the very best version of the Soul Orchestra so far”.
Friday night warmed up with the M&M Connection featuring Cristina James, delighting the huge crowd with Anthony Paul’s Orchestra backing the Boogie Woogie of Mitch Woods (who returns again on Saturday, and for a Sunday workshop) followed by the soulful mastery of Mister Leon Beal, the regal Gospel blues of Queen Nona Brown and top line act, the pink suited L’il Ernie Johnson a legend in his own long legged silken pants.
Saturday will see the Midnight Soul Band start the crowd moving, before Anthony Paul et al take us on to meet Mitch Woods once more, then Lady Chick Rodgers, the smooth croon of Larry Springfield and a grande finale which is sure to see thousands upon thousands on the San Agustín beach kicking up sand, unbound by gravity, as they show just how much Maspalomas got soul, if we didn’t, they wouldn’t be here!