The multi-Grammy award-winning pianist and composer both plays and speaks passionately because for O’Farrill each song is as much a political statement as it is a piece of music. Throughout the concert, the orchestra marries the distinct styles and rhythms of different nations, proving that music — and art in general — is boundaryless. Pounding at the keys with an incredible finesse, O’Farrill leads the 18 other musicians on stage with a playing style that is as percussive as it is melodic. In this way, his playing blends with the orchestra’s rhythm section, which truly drives their best pieces. This becomes clear early on in the show when a few of the performers are given a chance to shine with unaccompanied solos. While technically impressive, the band works best when they swing, jump, and pound together.
Saturday’s show may have suffered from a last-minute change of venue due to weather. Relocated from the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard to TD Arena, it felt slightly odd that there was no space set aside for the audience to move with the music. While I have no doubt that those in attendance were captivated by the performance, many seemed confined to their seats as they tapped their feet along with the rhythm. This is a shame because this is music that demands you move.
Prior to each song, O’Farrill steps away from his piano to offer a bit of an introduction, setting the scene for what the audience is about to hear. Jumping from Cuba to Argentina, crisscrossing Latin America before circling the globe, each composition highlights what is special and specific to the styles of a certain location, while supporting O’Farrill’s main argument — music unites us. It breaks down borders and transcends nationalism.
The concert’s most exciting moment came near the end as O’Farrill took to the microphone to introduce one of the last songs of the night.
“I am a Mexican-American. I am not a rapist or a drug dealer,” he said in a clear swipe at presidential nominee Donald Trump. He went on to explain the shadow that Trump casts over New York City, where O’Farrill was raised. Going from talking about breaking down musical borders to national ones, O’Farrill jokingly apologized for his language before introducing a track titled “Trump? Fuck Trump.” The orchestra then launched into a fiery piece of music. They had been having fun all evening, but this was the performers at their most lively. It was purposeful, exciting, and rebellious. It was a swinging assault on prejudice. It was weaponized jazz. And like are the songs that preceded it, it was a clear sign that nothing should divide us.