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By Howard Campbell–

 Chilean-born Maria Cecilia Toledo and guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith.

WITH rolling Nyahbinghi drums as the perfect backdrop to her Latin guitar licks, Maria Cecilia Toledo was in fine voice as she led a spirited rendition of Guantanamera, the Cuban patriotic standard.

An opera singer of international repute, the Chilean-born Toledo is not into labels. “I’m a musician and I love music, it’s my passion,” she said during a break from rehearsals at guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith’s St Andrew home.

Toledo, wife of Joachim Schmillen, the German ambassador to Jamaica, will perform with Smith’s Bingestra group at a June 28 show at The Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston.

Dubbed ‘Opera Meets Nyahbinghi’, it is the closing event on this year’s Kingston On The Edge (KOTE) arts series, a fund-raiser to help revive the 103-year-old landmark which has deteriorated over the past 20 years.

Though her husband took up official duties in Jamaica less than one year ago, Toledo said she was aware of the storied Ward before coming to the country.

“My mother saw it on the Internet and said to me, ‘since you’re going to be posted there, I’m sure you would like to see this’. So, I came to Jamaica with the idea of visiting the Ward Theatre.”

What she saw nine months ago, through a tour from the Ward Theatre Foundation, was a decaying facility crying out for help.

Administrators at the foundation eventually introduced her to Enola Williams, co-founder of KOTE, which staged a benefit show for the Ward last year.

“I wanted to be part of any movement that has to do with the refurbishing of this theatre,” said Toledo.

During her performance, she will share the stage with Smith, a veteran musician whose credits include countless sessions and tours with Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley.

Toledo was involved with another cultural project in Nigeria where her husband was previously stationed.

She was part of a national programme that encouraged children in the west African country to pursue careers as singers and musicians.

Maria Cecilia Toledo was born in Santiago, the Chilean capital. Her father was a military man, her mother a painter. After her talent as a vocalist/musician was identified, she moved to Austria where she studied at the acclaimed Mozarteum Salzburg.

While she is known for her work in the classics, Toledo said she has never lost touch with the sounds that first influenced her.

“I never forgot my roots. Even when I was a professional singer I was always participating in projects that involved jazz, bossa nova, etc. To me, music is one.”

Toledo recently returned to those roots by recording songs with two respected South American musicians — her compatriot, jazz pianist Valentin Trujillo, and Peruvian folk singer Susana Baca.

Both projects are scheduled for release this year.

In addition to Toledo and Smith, Jamaica’s leading classical artistes, led by Jon Williams, Peter Ashbourne and Steven Woodham, will perform on Opera Meets Nyahbinghi.


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