The usual course taken by immigrants and their families when coming to North America is for the older generation to hold on their former culture while picking up enough English to get by. Children who are either born here or are young enough when they arrive to not be set in their ways, are far more quick to assimilate as they are immersed in the new world's culture through their educational experiences. Five days a week for most of their waking hours they live in the new environment, speaking the language and adapting their behaviour so they can fit in.
Yet what happens if they end up in a multinational city like New York in the U.S. or Toronto in Canada, where depending on the neighborhood, you might very rarely hear English spoken. Sure they may receive their education in that language, but the children they play with might speak anything from Spanish to Russian among themselves and with their parents. Growing up in that type of environment, there is going to be less pressure on them to blend in with some homogeneous image of America or Canada. So not only will they not be in a hurry to forget where they came from, they stand a good chance of being influenced by what they see and hear.
Such was the case with Marta Topferova who was eleven years old when she and her mother and sister arrived in America from what was then Czechoslovakia. Not only was she influenced by the new dominant American society around her, she fell under the sway of Latin American music, while still retaining a desire to be connected to the land of her birth. While her musical early education was in classical music, her professional career has followed a far less conventional path. There are plenty of examples of musicians who perform in more then one ensemble or group, it's not often that each of the groups not only plays a different type of music, but performs in a different language.
Topferova not only records in her native Czech, but the two major languages of her new homeland, English and Spanish. Not having heard any of her other recordings I can't speak to her success in either of the them, however, if her newest release Trova, being released on the World Village Music label December 8, 2009, and her ability to perform in Spanish and play Latin music are indications of her overall quality, she is a rare talent indeed. In fact, even if she were to perform nothing but the Latin music you hear on Trova she would have to be considered a singer, songwriter, and musician of extraordinary capabilities.
Trova is not only the root of the Spanish word for troubadour, the wandering storytelling musicians of the middle ages, but is the name of a traditional Cuban music movement. Both meanings of the word are fitting to the nature of this album as not only did Topferova set out to create songs reflecting the Caribbean influences of Latin music, there is definitely something of the troubadour about her. The material she performs on this disc, both the eight she wrote and the three traditional tunes she's interpreted, are either stories about the world around her or expressions of emotions, a repertoire similar to those wandering minstrels of old. Of course she's also a bit of a wanderer, as this disc of Latin music, featuring Spanish musicians, was recorded in a studio outside Prauge in the Czech Republic.
As for the music and the songs themselves they are wonderful to listen to and feel as they work that magic on you that only well performed Latin music seems capable of doing. Now I'm not talking about the stuff you hear on radio that passes for Latin music these days that sounds like the performers are more concerned about the smiles plastered on their faces than the emotional content of their music. Although Topferova claims this disc is more upbeat then her previous release, you can still feel the heat of the Caribbean sun making sure nobody moves too quickly. Each phrase, whether sung or performed on an instrument, is savored and expressed to its fullest without ever being taken over the top.
With all the material being sung in Spanish, without the liner notes to hold onto while listening to the disc, one has to rely on the feel the music generates, and the expression in Topferova's voice in order to guess at song's meanings. What was most impressive for me about Trova was even though I was unable to understand specifics of individual songs, the overall feelings that they generated in me meshed with what I read after the fact in their English translations. For while the music is inherently sensual, and there is a languidness about it at times that evokes a particular atmosphere, there are enough moments in each song expressing its individual characteristics we are able to discern something of each ones nature.
While a lot of credit has to go to the musicians accompanying Topferova; Aaron Halva (tres, accordion, and background vocals), Roland Satterwhite (violin and background vocals), Pedro Giraudo (acoustic bass and background vocals) and Neil Ochoa (congas, bombo, cajon, pandeiro, bell, and cymbal), its her abilities as a vocalist that push this disc beyond merely being nice to listen to. When she sings she sounds like she is expressing the very soul of the music, giving voice to the story in the notes and echoing the heart beat of the rhythm. At times as smoky as a late night spent drinking rum, at other times echoing the sound of calm waters washing ashore at sunset in a secluded bay, she is able to communicate a wider range of emotion with just the sound of her voice than most singers are capable of no matter what lyrics they are given to sing.
I've heard any number of Spanish speaking vocalists over the past few years, and while I have to admit my ear isn't the greatest, Topferova sounds as at home in that language as anybody else. Maybe this is what is meant by somebody being a "World Music Musician", that they are able to play the music of their world, whatever that world might be. With Trova it's obvious that although she was born in Eastern Europe and raised in North America, a very big part of Marta Topferova's world is Latin America.