Thornton students showcase melding of Latin and pop music

Students from the Thornton School of Music performed songs with Caribbean, Mexican and Colombian influences such as “Oye Como Va” and “The Girl from Ipanema.” Photo by Wanting He | Daily Trojan

On Monday night, USC Thornton School of Music students held their Latin Pop Showcase, a live event that featured performances of iconic pop songs with influences from the Caribbean, Mexico and Colombia. This showcase served as a final assessment for the students’ Latin pop class and was led by professor Andy Abad, who has had experience with both Latin and popular music from touring with artists like the Backstreet Boys and Jennifer Lopez.

“We tackle as much music as we can,” Abad said. “Everything we brought to the table [throughout the course] we played tonight. This was the longest show we have ever done.”

The showcase began with the entire student ensemble playing an original rendition of Santana’s Latin rock-inspired “Oye Como Va,” a Spanish song with the rhythm and tempo of cha-cha-cha, a quarter-note pulse that originated in Cuban music. The song featured an electric guitar solo from Mallory Fleming-Hauser, a junior majoring in popular music performance.

Throughout the show, Fleming-Hauser switched between the electric guitar, nylon string acoustic guitar and the Cuban tres, a three-course chordophone that she learned for the course. Fleming-Hauser said that she has always been interested in playing all of the different stringed instruments showcased in Latin music and decided to explore and familiarize herself with the different Latin musical styles even further by taking Abad’s class after spending a Maymester in Cuba.

“[Latin music] has a very upbeat and syncopated rhythm, so it took time to adjust to that,” Fleming-Hauser said. “There is a common thread through all of the different types of Latin music, and it was really nice to be able to put all of those together for this one show. I was able to have a greater appreciation for the Latin culture from this course.”

After “Oye Como Va,” the ensemble shifted gears to one of the most popular Latin songs to date: Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” a Mexican cumbia pop song infused with reggae influences.

The song saw Joanna Ceja, a second-year vocal arts graduate student, as the lead vocalist. Ceja’s voice proved versatile throughout, as her strong, belting notes often contrasted with her subtler and more soothing vocals in songs like “Despacito,” which Abad describes as the start of a new and upcoming wave of Latin pop in the music industry.

According to Ceja, one of the main difficulties the students had when preparing the songs was picking up the Spanish language. Although she is a native Spanish speaker, she found that helping her peers with the proper pronunciation of words helped her improve as well.

One of the highlights of the showcase was Ceja’s solo rendition of Juan Gabriel’s “Una Vez Más,” which required Ceja to exhibit her dynamic and powerful vocal range. The performance garnered several standing ovations from other Thornton students.

“[The song] was originally too low for me, so Andy transposed it up a whole step,” Ceja said. “He arranged it to be shorter without some of the instrumental breaks. That’s kind of one of the main issues with arrangement, just making it more adaptable for a school production, shorter and more seamless.”

The showcase featured several Latin musical instruments and introduced a brand-new Portuguese element to the mix when Moira MacKesey-Green, a senior majoring in popular music performance, sang the Brazilian bossa nova jazz song “The Girl from Ipanema.”

“Every year, I am always surprised by the overwhelming talent from the students,” Abad said. “Because I work with a lot of these Latin artists, it gives me special insight to these songs and how to teach them how to play them.”