About an hour outside of Bogotá, near where the Andes Mountains cut through Colombia, the Rio Tobia flows past the community of Naranjal. The name means "orange grove," but orange trees no longer grow there. They did when harpist Pavelid Castañeda was a child.
"I remember the colors. The clear water of the river, the small dirt roads, the green of big trees and the yellow from the orange trees," Castañeda says. "Today the colors are different. There are no oranges anymore. The river is a little darker. When I go back, we still have reunions. We sing. The river passes by my mother's house, so we can see the river from there, and listen to the music, and make a picnic."
Such memories inspire "Colores de ayer," a song on Castañeda's new album, Fiesta en Naranjal. The entire record reads like a collection of old Polaroids and new sketches, looking at once backward and forward at the Castañeda family's tale. In the past two decades, their various peregrinations have carried them from Naranjal to Chapel Hill, New York City and beyond. This weekend, Castañeda will welcome many of his relatives and several local musicians to his 10-piece band. They will play Colombian music seldom heard in Triangle venues.
At age 57, Castañeda makes a significant step forward with the new album. He previously made several recordings of traditional llanera folk music, and in Colombia, he recorded a few of his own songs as the piano player with a salsa band called Alta Temperatura, though those acetate discs have not survived. Fiesta en Naranjal represents his first real outing as a composer and leader.
To complete the project, Pavelid worked closely with his son, Edmar Castañeda, a young jazz harpist of growing international renown based in New York City.
The task took three years.
"For me, it is a very big relief," says Pavelid of finishing the record. "This was a great opportunity to do this with my son, and to put on my record my feelings and my music."
In fact, all of Pavelid's children, plus a few of their spouses, played on Fiesta en Naranjal. Johanna Castañeda sings professionally in New York City in a wide range of Latin styles, from salsa to Afro-Peruvian music. She plays in two bands—the all-female mariachis Flor de Toloache and her husband Ronald Polo's folkloric Grupo Revolu. Angela Castañeda Calderon, a cuatro guitar player, has spent the most time accompanying her dad. Pavelid Jr. sometimes fills in for his father on the harp; both live in the Triangle.
But it was Edmar who arranged, recorded and produced the CD on his own Arpa y Voz label. He drew on childhood Colombian memories to craft the album's sound.
"I used to see my dad playing tropical music in a salsa band—cumbia, vallenato, porro. That was what I had in my mind about him since I was little," he says. "So I tried to mix some different rhythms, like a little bit of flamenco and a little Brazil music, with those Colombian roots."
Each tune on Fiesta en Naranjal shares a story; together, they serve as a family album in song. "Fuga de ilusiones" outlines the romance of Pavelid's parents, who eloped and endured hard times to establish their family. "Gladis," a swaying porro, hints at the sweet, melancholy temperament of Pavelid's wife of more than 30 years. With its introspective solo harp introduction, "Song for Fahir" memorializes a younger brother who died of cancer in 2001. A handful of songs celebrate the next generation—Pavelid's children and grandchildren.
The Castañeda family immigrated to the United States in the 1990s. The Catholic Church, Pavelid's longtime employer, assisted with the move. He teaches music lessons and performs in services at St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill.
"We came to the United States, probably looking for money. We didn't get too much money, but we got God," says Pavelid.
Indeed, one of the album's best tracks, "Yahve," extols Pavelid's faith through a rocking, Latin jazz number. Appropriately, it is a song about the toils of migration. "I tried to describe how the people with Moses were moving from Egypt to Israel," Pavelid explains. "If you listen to the groove, it's more or less like that, how the people are moving, and moving, for 40 years."
While the concert provides a new perspective on Latin music for local audiences, it has potential to transform the Latin scene by integrating long-time local musicians into the Castañeda fold, too. Both saxophonist and flautist Tim Smith and bassist Peter Kimosh, who play in Orquesta GarDel, will join Castañeda, as well as veteran percussionist Beverly Botsford. She spent significant time traveling throughout Colombia as a teenager; Pavelid's music means reconnecting with the culture.
"I remember laying in bed every night hearing the cumbia and vallenato music that people would pipe super loud all over the little towns. It gets inside you," Botsford says. "Music that has that Colombian signature and character hasn't happened very much around here. I'm happy to help support it."
The CD release party won't be a one-off, either: Pavelid plans to keep a band together and build collaborative projects with local musicians.
"That's the idea, to start my group. I've already started writing songs for my next CD," he says. "My CD has opened doors to me with other musicians. So now I'm trying to show what I can do, together with them."
For the Castañedas, the Durham concert will be not only a source of family pride but an on-stage reunion, much like those picnics by the river in Naranjal.
"I'm excited to play again with my dad because it's been many many years," says Johanna Castañeda. "This is going to be great that we can all get together."