In the film Violeta se fue de los cielos (Violeta went to heaven –Trailer here), the acclaimed folk singer (and much more) Violeta Parra wants to build a peña, a gathering place for musicians and activists singing lyrical songs such as folk music, on the top of the mountain where she lives. She does, but perhaps because of its remote location, or because of fear of the government, it fails. But the peña format, which was revived by Parra in Chile, lives on in Latin America, in Vancouver, and many other places around the world. I think it’s not strictly necessary for the music to be in Spanish, although it most often seems to be. And much to my delight, I have seen and heard the peña format in Jerusalem where (no coincidence, I am sure), an Argentinian was leading one in my hostel. I have seen peñas in Spain, the United States, Mexico, and Argentina too, even if they did not use that title.
In Vancouver, peñas are most often put on by Festival Internacional de Trova de Vancouver. At the last one, on January 31 at Rocio’s Saltenas and Pastries, the restaurant was full of fans of this music. A highlight was when Sonia Mejia sang Violeta Parra’s classic song, “Gracias a la Vida”, accompanied by Joaquin Ernesto. Most, though not all, of the songs were either Latin American or from Spain (and flamenco-influenced if so). For whatever reason, I think there is probably no other language that can evoke and express emotion like Spanish, particularly in the form of song. But there were songs in English and in Serbian too, all of which expressed emotion so beautifully as well.
Vancouver is fortunate to have a significant population of Latin American musicians, dancers, artists, and other creative types. By participating in the arts, you help to support their work and beautify the world too.