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REVIEW: Banda Magda Brings Mediterranean Color to The JAI at The Conrad

Ken Herman

San Diego Story

October 29, 2023


The enchanting vocalist Magda Giannikou and her six-member Banda Magda offered a dozen songs in concert Friday in La Jolla’s JAI at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center. Like Cher, Magda uses only a single name, and Banda Magda is clearly designed to celebrate her eclectic vocal repertory that includes Greek folksong, French cabaret chansons, as well as pieces with a decided Latin American beat.

She opened with “Outro Verao,” a calm, introspective piece, followed with the highly rhythmic, almost mesmerizing “Matoklada.” Since Magda did not provide a program and never mentioned names of composers in her short introductions to each piece, no doubt we are to assume that she is the source of all of the compositions performed on her program. Magda explained that “Tudo Isso” was inspired by the rugged coastline of the Greek island Naxos, and her rich contralto displayed ample Mediterranean warmth.“

“Deixa Cair,” an instrumental piece, opened with an inventive duet between the two percussionists Keita Ogawa and Marcelo Woloski. This duo provided deft and unusually varied percussive accent and color to this piece as well as to the vocal numbers. Pianist Joanna Kurcharczyk’s delicate pentatonic ostinatos opened “Umi” and gave a recognizable Asian character to this Japanese song. Although the title of “Leleyo” may sound exotic, this proved to be one of the few songs in English. For this selection Magda took the mic in hand and strolled through the audience as she performed.

She introduced “Yerakina” as a Greek folk song whose strong rhythms were ornamented with birdsong whistles handled discreetly by the percussion section. Other instrumentalists in the band are bassist Mark Vanderpol and guitarist Ignacio Hernandez. Several selections—“El Pescador,” “Lua,” and Tentei— required audience participation, which Magda instructed with patient encouragement, and the JAI audience responded with surprising confidence. With engaging dance rhythms, the effervescent encore “Amour” sent the JAI audience out into the balmy evening.

This concert was presented by the La Jolla Music Society in the JAI at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in downtown La Jolla on Friday, October 27, 2023.