Afro-Caribbean Music Headlines This Year's Black Music Symposium

Elio Villafranca
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Elio Villafranca

The U of A Black Music Symposium is the U of A's annual conference dedicated to educating and exposing the community to the music contributions of Black Americans. The 11th annual conference will be held Jan. 31 to Feb. 4.

The theme for the 2024 symposium, "Celebrating Afro-Caribbean Music," explores the rich culture of the Caribbean nations and their contributions to music genres ranging from reggae and salsa to merengue, calypso and more.

Throughout the symposium, there will be lectures that support the theme exploring the ways in which Afro-Caribbean music relates to the experiences of Black musicians as well as social movements. Masterclasses and clinics will demonstrate the intricate rhythms and specialized instrumentation within Afro-Caribbean styles with students on campus.

Evening concerts will include major artists, including this year's headliner, Elio Villafranca, and oboist Jared Hausner, along with the U of A's own faculty and student ensembles in concert and peer-reviewed lecture presentations during the day. 

Supported by generous funding from the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Alice L. Walton Foundation, this event has proven to be a major boon for the arts at the U of A and to Northwest Arkansas.

All events are listed below and are open to the general public.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 31

7:30 p.m. - Guest Artist Recital
Jared Hausner, oboe
Faulkner Performing Arts Center

THURSDAY FEB. 1

2 - 2:20 p.m. - LECTURE - Faulkner Performing Arts Center
O'Neil Jones, presenter
"The Search for a Post-Colonial Identity as Expressed in the Composition and Arrangement of Jamaican Choral Music."

2:30 - 2:50 p.m. - LECTURE - Faulkner Performing Arts Center
Violeta Lorenzo, presenter
"Pedro Antonio Valdez's Palomos: Coming-of-Age Through Reggaeton Music"

3:30 - 4:30 p.m. - LECTURE  - Faulkner Performing Arts Center
Caree Banton, presenter
"Between Two Giant Sounds: Jamaican Politics, Nationalism, and Musical Culture in Transition, 1974-1984."

6 - 7 p.m. - WORKSHOP - Faulkner Performing Arts Center
Elio Villafranca with the World Music Ensemble

FRIDAY, FEB. 2

11:50 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. - LECTURE -  Faulkner Performing Arts Center
Elio Villafranca, presenter
"The Music of the Afro Diaspora in the Caribbean"

2 - 3 p.m. - MASTERCLASS - Faulkner Performing Arts Center
Elio Villafranca, facilitator (with students from U of A Piano Studio)

7:30 p.m. - HEADLINING CONCERT
Elio Villafranca, piano
Faulkner Performing Arts Center

SATURDAY, FEB. 3

Noon to 2 p.m. - Afro-Carribbean Food Bazaar - Multicultural Center Gallery
(with performance by Darril Harp Edwards, steel drums)

1-1:20 p.m. - LECTURE - Union Theatre
Melanie Rodriguez, presenter
"Cariñito De Mi Vida" As Distinctive Symbol of Dominican Bachata"

1:30-2:30 p.m. - CONCERT - Union Theatre
World Music Ensemble and Darril Harp Edwards, steel drums

About Elio Villafranca: Born in the Pinar del Río province of Cuba, Steinway Artist, GRAMMY nominated and 2014 Jalc Millennium Swing Award! recipient pianist and composer Villafranca was classically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba.

Since his arrival in the U.S. in mid-1995, Villafranca is at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable pianists, composers and bandleaders. His concert Letters to Mother Africa was selected by NYC Jazz Record as Best Concerts in 2016. In 2015, Villafranca was among the five pianists hand-picked by Chick Corea to perform at the first Chick Corea Jazz Festival, curated by Corea himself at JALC. Villafranca's new album, Caribbean Tinge (Motema), received a 2014 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Nomination by the German Records Critics Award, as well has been selected by JazzTimes and DownBeat magazines for a feature on their very competitive section Editor's Pick. He also received a 2010 GRAMMY Nomination in the Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year category. In 2008 The Jazz Corner nominated Villafranca as pianist of the year. That year, Villafranca was also honored by BMI with the BMI Jazz Guaranty Award and received the first NFA/Heineken Green Ribbon Master Artist Music Grant for the creation of his Concerto for Mariachi, for Afro-Cuban Percussion and Symphony Orchestra. Finally, his first album, Incantations/ Encantaciones, featuring Pat Martino, Terell Stafford and Dafnis Prieto, was ranked amongst the 50 best jazz albums of the year by JazzTimes magazine in 2003.

Over the years Villafranca has recorded and performed nationally and internationally as a leader, featuring jazz master artists such as Pat Martino, Terell Stafford, Billy Hart, Paquito D'Rivera, Eric Alexander, Lewis Nash, David Murray and Wynton Marsalis, among others. As a sideman, Villafranca has collaborated with leading jazz and Latin jazz artists including Corea, Jon Faddis, Billy Harper, Sonny Fortune, Giovanni Hidalgo, Miguel Zenón and Johnny Pacheco, among others.

In 2017, Villafranca received The Sunshine Award, founded in 1989 to recognize excellence in the performing arts, education, science and sports of the various Caribbean countries, South America, Centro America and Africa. He is based in New York City, and he is a faculty member of Temple University in Philadelphia, The Juilliard School of Music, New York University and Manhattan School of Music in NYC.

About the Arkansas Center for Black Music: The Arkansas Center for Black Music's mission is to advance the research, development and dissemination of Black music; the growth of leaders and scholars in this field; and the elevation of Black music in academic, professional and community music spaces.

Jeffrey Murdock, professor of music and founding director of the center, said that according to the National Core Arts Standards, music educators are required to teach music relative to history and culture, and that programs that involve singing and playing instruments should encompass a varied repertoire of music. "The Arkansas Center for Black Music will allow our Department of Music to have these tenets at its core," Murdock said. "In modern music programs, there is a growing trend among educators to work toward including all genres of music in the educational setting." The center also hosts events the UARK Jazz Festival and the Jazz Signature Series and performances by the U of A Inspirational Chorale and other campus groups.

"The Arkansas Center for Black Music has tremendously elevated our department's profile, especially for our jazz program, by providing a forum for incredible events, master guest artists and opportunities for students and faculty to share their artistry and research," said Jake Hertzog, assistant professor of music, head of the U of A's jazz program and associate director of the center.

"We are so thrilled that the University of Arkansas will be a home for the next generation of artists and scholars in Black music in all its forms, from jazz to rock to gospel to hip-hop and beyond," Hertzog added. "Through its artistic, research and service work, the center will nurture Arkansas musicians and researchers while attracting incredible talent from around the world. "

For more information about Arkansas Center for Black Music and its related events and research, please visit the U of A's Department of Music online or the center online.

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