The San Luis Obispo Symphony wants to spice up your summer.
This Labor Day weekend, the orchestra is adding a little Latin flair to its annual Pops by the Sea concert. “¡Pops a la Playa!” will feature appearances by local Univision reporter Mayra Zavala and Brazilian singer-guitarist Téka, plus a musical program that conductor Michael Nowak promises is “muy caliente.”
“It’s a broad spectrum of music from tangos to mambos and salsa, great music from the continent below,” said Nowak, the symphony’s music director for more than 25 years.
According to Nowak, symphony staffers have been discussing a Latin Pops for years.
“We’re reaching out to folks who might not normally come and hear our concerts,” he said, while giving faithful fans something new and exciting.
This year, the symphony is creating a pre-concert “Family Festival.”
Highlights include the popular “Musical Petting Zoo,” Mexican stilt walkers and Latin dance demonstrations by Imagen y Espiritu Ballet Folklorico de Cal Poly, Cal Poly DanceSport Team and SLO Tango.
The concert itself kicks off with a bilingual introduction by Zavala, this year’s mistress of ceremonies.
On the program are such favorites as “Besame Mucho,” “La Bamba,” “Tequila,” “Guantanamera” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”
“We wanted to make sure that we were getting exactly what people would love to hear,” said Nowak, noting that there’s an endless supply of south-of-the-border melodies. “This concert could have gone on for hours and hours.”
Appropriately enough, headliner Téka will sing two songs by legendary Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim — “Quer-covado” and “The Girl From Ipanema,” Jobim’s ode to a beach beauty in Rio de Janeiro.
“He’s responsible for bringing Brazilian music to the United States,” said the performer, whose full name is Téka Penteriche.
Growing up in a musical family in Brazil, Téka started singing and playing guitar at an early age.
“The music I heard my whole life was Brazilian music,” she said. “Jazz was all around but I never paid much attention until I was 17 or 18.”
Then she discovered the work of Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and after studying music education at São Paulo State University, Téka enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She quickly changed her major from flute to voice.
“I couldn’t believe how much people were practicing,” Téka recalled with a chuckle. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that. Singing comes more naturally. I can get away with less practice.’ ”
Over the years, she’s studied with jazz vocalist Dominique Eade, performed with the Santa Barbara Oratorio Chorale and collaborated with the likes of Grammy Award winner Gilberto Gil, Cassio Duarte and Hermeto Pascoal.
Téka released her first album, the environmentally- themed “Garden Planet,” in 1995, followed by “Watercolours of Brazil” in 2001.
Los Angeles Times critic Don Heckman
praised her “velvety vocals” and skilled guitar playing, writing, “Like João Gilberto, she brings everything into a unified expression, combining her vocal lines and rhythmic guitar accompaniments into a single, elegantly buoyant musical blend.”
According to Téka, her personal style incorporates traditional jazz techniques such as improvisation with bossa nova, the samba-inspired sound popularized by Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and João Gilberto in the 1950s and ’60s. She calls the result “new bossa.”
“It’s still as sophisticated as bossa nova, but it incorporates a more contemporary taste,” said Téka, a Santa Barbara resident since 1995.
In Téka’s hands, American standards and pop favorites gain a softer, more sensual flavor.
“People say everything I touch becomes bossa,” Téka said, including songs by The Beatles and Kurt Weill. “Everything I touch has that groove.”
Téka said she’s eager to perform in front a full symphony orchestra for the first time.
“It’s going to be great to have that big sound behind me,” she said.
A salsa band featuring local jazz musicians Dave Becker, Duane Inglish, Bob Harway, Dylan Johnson, Dave Solis and Max Garduno will also take the stage.
“It’s a really great way to kick off the season,” Nowak said.