Sapo Verde Music stepped out in a big way this weekend with an all-star program of female artists at the newly remodeled DTLA venue Civic Center Studios. A packed house was treated toLatin-Grammy nominated rock guitarist Alih Jey and wildly popular Vanessa Zamora. Opening act Ruzzi warmed the house up with her gut-grabbing electric guitar licks and Cuñao backed the girls-with-guitars with their eclectic rhythms and world melodies.
Sapo Verde Music is AlihJey’s record label and production company. The Civic Center Studios night was its debut live event and if they are all this good, LA now has another first class promoter of live American Latino Music.
Set for an 8 pm opening with 9 pm music, you knew quickly that something special was in the offing when the crowd was already thick by 8:30 pm – unusually early in the LA music scene. That something special started with Mexico City-based Ruzzi, who broke from a gaggle of friends and fans in the back of the club to stride onstage, push back her trademark hat, plug in her guitar and welcome an eager crowd. As the projected light show streamed across her face and body, she picked a 50’s slow dance rhythm and then looped it. Once the beat got going she caressed her axe’s high strings for a bit of 50’s nostalgia before taking us through a set that included whistling, Vanessa Zamora in a duet, hard rock, sweet ballads, and of course, her magic fingers. Singing almost completely in Spanish, but talking to the audience in Spanish and English, Ruzzi not only set the stage, but she showed us a rising talent to watch.
Ruzzi perfectly set the stage for the first headliner, Latin-Grammy nominated Alih Jey, backed by the incredibly talented LA-based world folk band, Cuñao. Jey is known for her hard rock blues and pop in English and Spanish (”Steal My Boyfriend” “Aqi Voy”) butshe surprised everyone with songs by her father and grandfather – both cherished musicians in her native Dominican Republic as is her mother. Jey got very personal, telling us the stories of her family, especially her grandfather, one of whose songs, popularized by his son – her father – she gave us. Her sweet voice and superb acoustic guitar filled Civic Center Studios high-ceilinged space, carried by the percussion and color of Cuñao’sjoyful, energetic music. The effect was one of songs swirling around like the dynamic designs projected on the walls. She was joined at the end of her set by Alexandro Hernandez of ¡Apparato! who deepened and extended Jey’s guitar notes with his own world-class playing.
Closing the night was Vanessa Zamora, Tijuana-born and, like Jey, from musician parents.Zamora began playing piano at 8 and developed her voice and style throughout university at Guadalajara, releasing her first album, Hasta la Fantasia in 2014 – an instant success. Shehas followed up with a series of singles, building a deeply dedicated fan base on both sides of the border. Talking to the audience in English and Spanish, but singing in Spanish, Zamora was often echoed quietly by audience members softly singing the memorized lyrics to her popular singles. Ruzzi, joined Zamora onstage for two songs, adding her electric color to the acoustic rainbows that Zamora shaped with her liquid gold voice and seamless guitar. Seeing Zamora onstage is always surprising. She draws little distinction between audience and entertainer, standing with friends or circulating through the crowd during other performances, inviting other musicians onstage with her, carrying on conversations with the audience while she tunes (which she does often and precisely). Her casual clothing (bomber jacket over black tights and sleep length t-shirt) emphasized that this is the music of the people, and the people only get the best.
A silent talent in the room was the room, the Civic Center Studios. A high quality boutique film and video studio that reconfigures itself for public and private music events, CCS is a white room for colorful music. With a bar at one end and a stage at the other, full lighting and a cracker-jack sound system, plus full dressing rooms for musicians and an upstairs lounge, it has the facilities to make both the audience and talent feel like they are getting the royal treatment. The curved white walls lend themselves to visual projections and the studio is well equipped to use them to change reality and create a vibe. While a few of projections on the artists were distracting, especially in the dim light selected for the evening, the overall result was one of comfort, luxury and quality. The remodeling is still underway, but CCS is bringing a welcome touch of class to the DTLA music scene.