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Auspicious Timing : Strunz and Farah Ride a Tide of World Music's Burgeoning Popularity


Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah represent the sound of two acoustic guitars operating in high gear. They dish out sensuous melodicism and knuckle-busting guitar technique over pulsating Latin rhythms, much to the delight of a growing audience.

But this is no overnight-sensation story.

Strunz hails originally from Costa Rica, and Farah from Iran, and they met on the neutral turf of Los Angeles nearly 15 years ago. Strunz had just left his Latin fusion group Caldera to return to the acoustic guitar of his musical upbringing. The pair embarked on a mutual musical adventure, building a reliable, if modest, cult audience for their dizzying guitar handiwork and Latin-Middle Eastern hybrids.

Suddenly, come the '90s and the release of their albums "Primal Magic" and the more recent "Americas," Strunz and Farah found themselves airlifted into another strata of popularity and fame. Now, the group--which will play at the Ventura Theater on Jan. 22--is on the verge of launching its own label under the auspices of Rhino records.

Auspicious timing and persistence paid off. In the last several years, world music has come into its own as a viable corner of the music industry.

There is also new age "Nouveau Flamenco" phenomenon Ottmar Liebert, whose immense popularity has no doubt helped to fuel interest in the Latin-tinged acoustic guitar textures that Strunz and Farah employ. On the subject of Liebert's watered-down Flamenco music, Strunz has mixed feelings.

A rare musician who is articulate both in person as well as on his instrument, Strunz spoke in an interview last week about his duo's continuing saga.

How does it feel within the group--have you hit a stride artistically to coincide with your market success?

It feels very good. As you can imagine, it's gratifying after playing for so long and committing ourselves as wholeheartedly all our lives to the guitar to be able to arrive at a music that pleased a large number of people.

It's a challenge, in and of itself, to maintain that at this point. You're in competition with yourself, which is always a difficult position to be in.

How does the collaboration work? Is it an East-meets-West kind of a liaison between you two?

Well, it certainly has been that, although we've been together since 1980. So this is our 14th year as a duo. We've gone through a lot of different manifestations, in terms of the cultural blending. Right now, I would say that we've been emphasizing the Latin-American rhythmic aspect of the music. That's proven to be popular with the people. Still, I give Ardeshir full reign as a soloist to put whatever melodies he feels are appropriate on top of that.

The guitar, of course, has a long history. Flamenco is one of its strongest--possibly still its most developed--form. That's a southern Spanish music with a lot of Gypsy influences that has a long history into the Middle East. It's a mixture of Middle Eastern and Celtic and Latin music that has evolved in Spain for a long time.

Was guitarist John McLaughlin a catalyst for the both of you?

Well, he was certainly an inspiration to both of us--no question of that. He's been very supportive of our music so he's been both a spiritual support and an actual, hands-on supporter of our music. We're delighted that he does appreciate what we do. Both he and Paco de Lucia support us, and we feel honored that people of that caliber enjoy and respect what we're doing.

We saw Paco play in Anaheim a couple of months ago. He's always such a gentleman and he was saying he's so happy to see us more successful and that our music was gaining greater acceptance.

He did express some concern, however, that certain other guitar players--who shall remain nameless--were giving Flamenco a bad name. He said that was a source of concern for him, and that he was here, among other things, to set the record straight as to what Flamenco really is.

You're speaking, now, of Ottmar Liebert.

But, you know, I mean, all power to him. To me, I'm delighted that people like Hispanic and Latin guitar and I suppose for a lot of yuppie buyers, it's safe Latin Guitar. It doesn't require translation.

Unfortunately, it's not the real thing. It's a sad substitute for a very rich tradition. But, maybe it will serve to introduce people to other things. I certainly wish him well, because it doesn't hurt us in any way, shape or form, that I can tell.

Did you have any idea that it would last this long?

No. I knew that the music that I was envisioning was going to be good for more than one record, because the traditions were so huge and the resources were massive. The colors available were unbelievable, so I knew that if we could make ends meet, there would certainly be no dearth of inspiration and ideas for the instruments themselves.

Josef Woodard is an avowed cultural omnivore who covers art and music.


* WHAT: Strunz and Farah

* WHEN: Jan. 22, 9 p.m.

* WHERE: Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura

* COST: $16.50

* FYI: 648-1888

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