In describing the evolution of her musical style, Cuban pianist and vocalist Zahili Gonzalez Zamora compared her journey to that of the protagonist in the popular Paulo Coelho novel, The Alchemist. In the novel, a young Andalusian shepherd embarks on a quest that takes him thousands of miles away in search of a treasure, only to discover that the treasure was buried near his home all along.
“It’s kind of like that, where you go through this whole journey to then come back home to find what you’re looking for,” she explained.
Zamora’s musical journey began in her native Cuba, where she trained as classical pianist from a young age before playing in a series of traditional Cuban bands. Subsequent years took her on a six year long tour of Asia, where she played mainly Top 40 hits with a resort pop band. That experience inspired her to begin taking music more seriously, and she decided to enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was there, after Zamora dove into the world of jazz and improvisation, that she met percussionist Takafumi Nikaido and bassist Gerson Esteban Lazo Quiroga.
Together, the three formed Mixcla, a Latin jazz trio that will perform this Thursday (3/14) evening at 7:30 p.m. at All Saints’ Peabody Hall in Ashmont, in the latest installation of the Dot Jazz Series.
The group’s name, Zamora explained, is a reflection of its multiculturalism--it combines the English and Spanish words for “mix,” a nod to the cultural and musical exchange and understanding among Zamora, who is Cuban, Quiroga, who is Chilean, and Nikaido, who is Japanese.
The music they play, which is based mainly in traditional Cuban styles like rumba, son, cha cha chá, and bolero, represents a return to Zamora’s roots--a culmination of her musical journey.
“When I was growing up, there were no [stereos] or music players, but my grandfather would get together with his friends and just sing all afternoon with a bottle of rum,” recalled Zamora. “So I was always listening to this music, even from when I was very young...it took me quite a while to find my path in music. Now I’m finally finding myself as a musician in Boston.”
In Boston, Zamora is one of few Cuban-born musicians, not to mention one of the only female Cuban pianists and bandleaders in the country. Historically, men have dominated most fields and genres of music, while discouraging women to pursue musical interests. The same is true in Cuba, said Zamora, to an extent.
“We are there, but we are a minority,” she said of women musicians in Cuba. “When you play well, they tell you you play like a man. At the same time, I come from a wave of female bands--that’s how I was introduced to traditional Cuban music, playing in these all-women bands [in Havana]. But it’s true, you have to look sexy, and sell your image. But the music is played hard and at the same level of the man.”
As for her upcoming performance, Zamora said she’s looking forward to bringing her music to a new audience. Noting the current “craziness” going on in the world, her band is just happy to spread positivity through their music.
“The whole idea of this, what we’re representing, is to be able to make people happy with our music,” she explained. “If at the end of the night we get smiles, we get people feeling better, that will be alright with us...music is the healing instrument right now.”
Tickets for Thursday’s show are available for purchase for $15 at the door or online at mandorlamusic.net. Admission includes soft drinks and dessert, and wine will be available for purchase. Doors open at 7. The Dot Jazz Series is presented by Greater Ashmont Main Street and Mandorla Music.