Photo: Berta Rojas and Paquito D’Rivera
Guitar virtuoso Berta Rojas blends classical music with jazz and folk music from her native Paraguay. Performing duets with the 11-time Grammy winner Cuban-born saxophone great Paquito D’Rivera, Berta shows both prodigious technique and improvisational skills on South American classics included on a new album called Dia Y Medio or A Day and A Half.
“There are jewels of the Latin American music that are featured on this album,” said Rojas in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “Some of them are compositions by Agustin Barrios Mangore, one of the most important guitarists in Latin America.”
Some of the songs on Dia Y Medio mirror Berta’s nostalgia and deep passion for Paraguayan music, including “Recuerdos de Ypacarai” or “Memories of Ypacaraí.” Ypacaraí is a town on Lake Ypacarai in Central Paraguay. Her playing of classics such as “Las Abejas” (The Bees) in particular, reveals a deep affection for the music of legendary Barrios, and other Latin American artists like Argentina’s Miguel Mario Clavell, who incorporated Paraguay’s native rhythm of Guarania in his music.
“I have been a great admirer of Berta’s exquisite artistic ability for years,” said D’Rivera in a promotion on his Web site. “When this extraordinary guitarist invited me to join her on this project in honor of fellow countryman Mangoré, with a repertoire from the master himself, and from other renowned Latin American composers, I felt as if I were dreaming. I felt as if the great Charlie Christian had invited me to perform, and record all of Duke Ellington’s songs.”
For Rojas, Dia Y Medio was a great opportunity to showcase the recreations of Paraguayan compositions, many of which are considered “hidden jewels of Latin American music.” The opportunity to partner with D’Rivera “has been a privilege, as it has offered me a chance to pay tribute to the rich music of my homeland,” said Berta who teaches guitar music at George Washington University.
On Dia Y Medio, Rojas and D’Rivera show an eloquent interplay between a guitar and a saxophone. They both captivated the audiences when they toured Latin America in 2011 for concerts and performances. The joint tour included a day and a half stop in Rojas’ homeland, Paraguay. D’Rivera felt that the time was not enough to fully appreciate all the beauty of Paraguay, its panoramic views, cultural richness, the warmth of its people, and its music. Therefore Dia Y Medio was born as a tribute album.
Among the 12-tracks are Folk music from Paraguay re-arranged by Berta Rojas and D’Rivera, who is one of the most beloved Latin artists in the world. Dia Y Medio also features instrumental compositions that offer a unique combination of Folk, Jazz, and the sounds of classical guitar. The style has gained her popularity not only in her native Paraguay, but also in many other countries in the Americas and in Europe.
In the 1990s, Berta became immensely popular in Paraguay. She was chosen to open the 1995 Summit of the First Ladies of the Americas in Paraguay, attended by then-U.S. First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“She [Clinton] gave a speech, it was a beautiful speech, and after her speech I had the pleasure to play three pieces for her along with 14 First Ladies,” said Berta who was called “guitarist extraordinaire” by the Washington Post in 1993.
Berta studied guitar music at Escuela Universitaria de Musica in Uruguay. She holds a Master’s Degree with honors from the Peabody Conservatory, John Hopkins University in the United States, and she’s currently a Guitar Professor at George Washington University.
She’s performed in major cities around the world, including Washington, London, Dublin, Vienna, Bonn, Brussels, Rome, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Santiago, Montevideo, Salzburg, and Budapest. Berta will be traveling to Korea and other countries to perform and promote her latest album.
Some other albums by Berta Rojas include Terruno, Paraguay according to Agustin Barrios, Intimate Barrios, Concierto Latinoamericano, Almay Corazon, and Cielo Abierto.