Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator


“In a sense, we are giving an emotional voice to the characters on the screen. In a spiritualist sense: we are channeling them!” says Juan Díes, explaining the challenges of Sones de Mexico Ensemble’s newest project, an original score for Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s seminal film from 1931, ¡Qué Viva Mexico!

As one of the founders of the ensemble, for over 20 years, Díes along with Sones de Mexico has taken the Mexican son to places it’s never been before, finding connections to Irish music, Led Zeppelin, Mayan cycles of life and the Chicago blues (and along the way, garnering Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations), but this is the first time the ensemble tackles scoring a live performance to accompany a film.

The project is a collaboration with the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest), an organization that produces an annual four-day festival that highlights film and music as a unified art form, and the score by Sones was performed along with the film at sold-out performances at the 7th annual CIMMfest last spring.

It has been a complex project, explains Díes, as the soundtrack has the burden of carrying the film’s emotion, creating and enhancing what the viewer feels when seeing the images on a screen. For example, says Díes, a horror film without the music ends up being much less scary, adding that another layer of difficulty was that Sones had not only to interpret the emotional core of the movie, but perform the score as the film is being viewed by a live audience,

To do this, says Díes, one of the band members, multi instrumentalist and composer Zacbe Pichardo, took about two months of time to develop the music selections for ¡Qué Viva Mexico! Additionally, as the original film was narrated in Russian with English subtitles, Díes made the film accessible to Spanish-speaking audiences by translating the narration, which was then recorded by Stefan Nikolov, an Eastern European who grew up in Mexico and speaks impeccable Spanish with a Russian accent.

The classic film was created (and actually never finished) by Sergei Eisenstein, who through his friendship with the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera became fascinated with Mexican history, architecture and art. Eisenstein uses surrealism and expressionism and scenes from different regions of Mexico including Oaxaca and Chiapas to document the events during the Mexican Revolution of  Mexico’s of 1910 that inspired Russia’s own revolution in 1917.

¡Qué Viva Mexico!’s haunting images were never edited into a definitive form by Eisenstein, but reconstructed by assistant director Grigori Alexandrov in 1979, almost fifty years after it was filmed.

In a different way, the live score of Sones de México Ensemble reconstructs Que Viva Mexico anew once again, sharing the musical vision of Mexican immigrants of their homeland, a Mexico once described by Eisenstein as “lyrical and tender, but also brutal.”

Sones de México Ensemble will perform its original live score to Sergei Eisenstein’s classic silent film ¡Que Viva Mexico! Saturday, Dec. 5, 7:30 pm at Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.

The performance is part of the annual holiday fundraiser for CIMM. Tickets for the option VIP pre-party and/or the showing and live concert are available now through Eventbrite.



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