May 22, 2013
Gospel choir creator Franco Gandullo talks about the local sceneFriday, June 22, 2012
Spreading the word
By Melanie Henderson
For the Herald
“In Argentina we have been laying down solid foundations for gospel music over the past ten years, and today we are able to enjoy a grand selection of talent within the style,” says Franco Gandullo, the leading gospel choir/vocal group producer in the country.
Fresh back from a work trip to New York, I caught up with Gandullo at an event held at the Sheraton Hotel in the centre of Buenos Aires, where one of his new gospel groups was performing for a business event.
So, why gospel? “Because it is a very particular and special genre. It gives the public and the singer a chance to really connect with their emotions in a very profound way. Also, I chose gospel because here in Argentina it almost didn’t exist,” Gandullo told me.
That said, the performance and practice of God’s music is on the rise in Argentina. While some sing songs directly in praise of the Lord and others are creating more of a theatrical show using the music style, gospel fever is spreading through church halls and choir rehearsals across the country.
Today there are at least six notable groups taking this music of worship to the stage, between the city of Córdoba and Buenos Aires, some seasoned professionals, some amateur choirs, all having the love of the music in common.
When the first Argentine gospel choir opened in Córdoba in 2002, (the then Córdoba Gospel Choir) gospel music was almost completely unknown to Argentina, at a time where accessing music was not as easy as it is today. The genre remained exclusive, only brought to the country by big international artists and through certain music media outlets and film.
There were, however, many Argentines paying attention to this spiritual music style, which originates from negro spirituals sung on slave plantations in the US, later developing into a religious musical style in its own right in the African-American church.
Gandullo was one of these people. The Córdoba-born music and theatre producer discovered gospel music long before it was launched in the country, coming across the likes of Shirley Caesar and Whitney Houston. It was there that his dream to open gospel choirs in Argentina began to take light.
“I felt even more of an attraction to the music when I realized that it was a style that had not yet developed here. It was there that I decided to dig deeper and really get to know the genre. In doing so I became more and more in love with it and was overjoyed by the music each day,” Gandullo said.
Since that crucial moment, Gandullo has been involved in every important step that gospel music has taken since its seed was sown in 2002. He began by producing the Córdoba Gospel Choir (Córdoba Gospel Singers today) alongside choir director Gerardo Flores, and, even though he parted ways with the group in 2008, saw them through dozens of performances and participated in the production of two of their three recorded albums. The group continue to tour the country and in the last ten years has seen great success, winning a Carlos Gardel music award in 2010 for their album Uno.
While living in Córdoba, Gandullo did not stop there. In 2008 he also assisted in the opening of the Ensamble Vocal Kumbaya, today led by directors Lucas Salvatierra and Juliana Villarreal, both from the Córdoba Gospel Singers. Today, with its regal and colourful robes and truly talented performers, it is the second leading gospel group in the province, occasionally participating in shows alongside its counterpart.
Bringing the Gospel to BA.
It was in the same year that this producer moved to BA, where he met gospel, soul and jazz singer Natalia Gómez Belbey. Together, the powerful team put together a gospel workshop entitled “Gospel! The Experience” alongside one of Argentina’s leading Mississippi blues experts, Gabriel Grätzer.
Later that year, El Coro Gospel de Argentina was opened, officially laying down the path for gospel music in Buenos Aires. The choir performed in a huge range of venues over the space of three years, starting off with 40 singers and a pianist to later have a full live band and over 100 members. The group collaborated with Oscar-winning pianist and composer Bob Telson and countless Argentine solo artists such as Deborah Dixon, Felipe Herrera and Mavi Díaz and her band, The Folkies.
The Coro Gospel saw immense success, including performances at the annual Feria del Libro at La Rural for the US Embassy, in celebration of US culture, two years in a row.
In addition to this, 2010 saw the recording of their début album, This Is How We Do It, released in Argentina with a mixture of traditional and more modern gospel songs.
The choir was noticed by local and international media, making appearances on TV chef Maru Botana’s cooking show to a news programme on CNN Latin America. Between 2010 and 2011, small groups off the main choir performed with many local artists and appeared on local radio shows. The choir also featured on the BBC website and BBC Mundo news in Spanish.
At the end of 2011, however, the choir closed its doors, making way for new projects to open.
Since then, Gandullo has been plotting his next steps for production of the music in Buenos Aires.
New Gospel groups and Gandullo’s future plans.
Known as one of the ambassadors in the world of Argentine gospel music, these days Franco Gandullo labels himself “a creator of gospel choirs,” and is focusing on smaller gospel projects, bringing together groups of outstanding singers for events and creating new and diverse spaces for the music, including master classes, workshops and more.
“Argentina has got so much talent, and so much more to be explored. I feel hugely fortunate and very happy continuing the path of gospel music here. Some of the new groups aren’t produced by myself, but I continue to support and promote all the projects.”
There are two new choirs that have come out of the Coro Gospel de Argentina: the AfroSound Choir, led by Caterina Finochi and Claudia Tapia, and the Coro Gospel Joy, opened by directors Amado Acosta and Victoria Ponisio at the beginning of this year. Both are performing in Buenos Aires. A smaller group formed independently from the former Coro Gospel, under the name of the Portegnian Project led by David Godoy, and the Boulevard Gospel Choir, under the direction of Gabriel Grätzer.
New York, New York.
During these ten glorious years, Gandullo had dreams of going to New York City to experience African American gospel music first-hand, and at the beginning of 2012 they came true.
“I always had in mind the idea of going to New York to the churches, rehearsals and just experience the music like any other person sitting in the room. The idea wasn’t to go to lots of shows, it was to see gospel in its rawest form.”
During his trip, he was able to attend many rehearsals in the heart of Harlem and eventually came across the Mama Foundation for the Arts, run by Vy Higgensen. There he saw a production put on by Higgensen’s vocal project, Gospel For Teens, and was blown away. There he also met Markanthony Henry, gospel singer, director and master coach for the school.
With Henry, Gandullo presented the work recorded by Argentina’s biggest gospel groups, and out of their conversations came the arrangement for the prestigious Harlem gospel director to come to Buenos Aires in October this year and give a series of workshops and master classes for Argentine singers in Spanish.
Gandullo’s plan is for many more of these meetings to take place – not only in Buenos Aires, but also taking a group of Argentine singers to New York to continue the musical exchange.
“I explained to Mark that with so much talent in Harlem, it’s got to be time to share that musical wealth and bring it to Argentina,” he told me, closing our conversation with a religious metaphor.
“Where there are so many talented singers performing gospel in one place, it’s like a light not being used to its full potential. If just one of those lights comes here, it’ll shine brightly enough to provide new power” to the Argentine gospel scene.
“Each year that goes by I am taken aback by the singers that I come across. May the journey continue,” Gandullo ended.
Where & When
The next big production put on in Buenos Aires is taking place tomorrow at San Andrés Presbyterian Church, in the neighbourhood of Monserrat (Belgrano 579), and will feature performances from the Córdoba Gospel Singers, the AfroSound Choir, the Coro Gospel Joy and special guests.
To keep up with local gospel news, be sure to check out Gandullo’s brand new website www.gospelenargentina.com.ar, where you will find information on all Argentina’s biggest choirs, projects, workshops, auditions and more.