National Arts Festival 2016: Mateo Mera

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A review by Etienne Shardlow:

Uraguayan multi-intrumentalist Mateo Mera performs with his band members at the Thomas Pringle Hall, National Arts Festival, 4 July 2016. Mera and his band presented songs from his first album Sobre los Puentes y Las Alturas (Over the Bridges and Heights) as well as some popular covers songs from bands like the Bee Gees. (Photo: Cue/Dani O’Neill)
Uraguayan multi-intrumentalist Mateo Mera performs with his band members at the Thomas Pringle Hall, National Arts Festival, 4 July 2016. Mera and his band presented songs from his first album Sobre los Puentes y Las Alturas (Over the Bridges and Heights) as well as some popular covers songs from bands like the Bee Gees. (Photo: Cue/Dani O’Neill)

On Monday evening, the Artsvark team made their way up to the 1820 Settler’s Monument to see Mateo Mera and his band, who have travelled from Uruguay for just two performances at this year’s festival.

Mateo Mera is a very talented and self taught musician, proving so by opening the band’s performance seated alone on the stage with his sitar. The sitar has always fascinated me, and I wondered what inspired a young man from Uruguay to learn to play this Indian instrument. Later in the band’s set the inspiration was made clear when the band covered George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, The Beatles being the first band to use a sitar in a pop song. This number also allowed bass guitarist Gonzalo Diaz the opportunity to pick up an ukelele, which added a special magic to this cover.

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The opening number was slow, peaceful, beautifully performed by Mateo who was joined at the end of the first piece by the rest of his band, for what could be described as a pop song with very catchy melody, Mateo still on Sitar. This reminded me very much of the kind of music Damon Albarn records, and again I was left wondering about the band’s influences.

The sitar was then packed away, and Mateo returned to play the first number to feature him on guitar and vocals. Mateo has a great singing voice and without doubt voice can be added to the list of instruments this multi-instrumentalist can play. Again I was left considering musical influences as I was reminded of the music of British band Pulp.

The show then took on a decidedly retro rock ‘n roll sound, with Mateo Mera and band playing a cover of the Bee Gee’s song “To Love Somebody” which allowed Rodrigo Baeza to switch guitar for saxophone. A few more original pieces of music followed, sticking to the band’s retro rock ‘n roll sound.

The last number allowed drummer Rogelio Lago to show that he is more than just a drummer by taking the opportunity to add a rap verse to the song. The band was finally joined on stage by guest Sakhile Moleshe from Soul Housing Project who put Lago through his paces in a rap duet.

The gig was good fun, and Mateo has some very talented musicians in band members Diaz and Baeza. I’d have enjoyed hearing music with a stronger influence of their home Urugauy, and maybe if the band had a longer show this would have been the case.

Mateo Mera only has two performances at this National Arts Festival, the last of these happens today 6 July 2016 at 15:00.

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