Appearing with his band SantaBanda, the Argentine musician continued CAP UCLA’s history of excellence with a stirring performance at Royce Hall on March 17, 2022.
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/19/22 – Presented by the Center for the Art of Performance UCLA, the Argentine musician, composer, and record producer brought a rare level of genius and inspiration to Royce Hall. Imagine the street bands that might play in Heaven, and you get a scent of Gustavo Santaolalla’s brilliance. A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and composer, Gustavo’s joy in performing is reflected by SantaBanda, the Argentine band of virtuosos that supports and loves him. During the performance, the band celebrates music from throughout Gustavo’s career, easily mixing genres that range from the traditional music of Argentina and soulful animated ballads to video game electronica and modern progressive rock.
The CAP UCLA show began with two pairs of local musicians, a man and a woman interacting as they played delicate singing bowls filled with water. The microphones capture both the effervescent sound of the bowls and the rhythmic movement and dripping of the water. Transportive and sensual, this beginning is reminiscent of the soulful moments in Altered States, the Ken Russell film that starred the late William Hurt. With the great actor passing away this past week, such an opening felt like a momentary tribute. The softness otherworldliness of the opening shifts quickly as the curtains open and SantaBanda takes over.
What remained unknown from his entrance to the end was the physical well-being of Gustavo Santaolalla. Perhaps having injured his knees or hips, the legendary musician had to be helped to his place on stage. Once seated, however, his vitality returned with a bang. Indeed, it almost felt like the rickety entrance by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Still, this scary moment, however, was not fictional. Given the man’s genius and kindness of spirit, we hope he is okay, merely recovering from an accident.
In the “Message From The Artist” in the CAP UCLA program for the event, Gustavo expresses with passionate sensitivity, “We shall be grateful for the opportunity of seeing each other, face to face again, no computers in between, after these difficult years we have undergone as a humanity. We shall celebrate this long-awaited moment. Thank you for being here tonight. We will give it all for you, and we deeply hope you enjoy the journey.”
Indeed, it proved impossible not to enjoy and celebrate this magnificent journey. The band’s joy conveys to the audience as they make musical changes that are swift yet complex. Gustavo’s voice possesses a range that defies his age and covers tremendous ground from the transcendent softness of a ballad to the wild celebration of traditional Argentine music. It is not surprising that Gustavo has been awarded 16 Latin Grammys and two Grammys for his work as producer, songwriter, and artist. Also, in 2007, he became the third composer in history to win two Academy Awards consecutively, for Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2006) and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (2007).
Gustavo Santaolalla and SantaBanda are masters of the atmospheric as the performance sets moods and feelings that transport the audience to otherworldly realms. From his music for the video game, The Last of Us, to his harrowing ballads in collaboration with Paul Williams for the animated film, The Book of Life, Gustavo Santaolalla’s music manages to cover so much emotional and spiritual ground. Indeed, the night’s highpoint was Gustavo’s woeful rendering of “The Apology Song,” his masterpiece from The Book of Life.
Indeed, when Gustavo sang the painful lyrics by Paul Williams, “Toro, I am frightened, but I’ll use my final breath, / to tell you that I’m sorry, let us end this dance of death,” it felt like a siren call to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. As he ends the song by pleading, “And if you can forgive, and if you can forgive / Love, love will truly live,” it felt like a message to all of us, Now is the time to move on from the tragedies of this pandemic and celebrate life again. Having turned 70 in 2021, we can only hope that Gustavo stays in good health and continues to bless the world with his musical offerings.
Photos by Ale Burset