A HIDDEN tributary of the D.C. music scene lies out of the mainstream, in the smaller restaurants and cafes of Adams-Morgan. Two of these--El Caribe and the Kalorama Cafe--recently turned up performers of disparate origins and diverse idioms.
El Caribe is a narrow rafter-and-beam-ceilinged room belted by hundreds of empty wine bottles on a chest-high ledge. A six-foot-long white marlin with a menacing, 12-inch stilettolike beak adorns one wall and on another hangs a Caribbean seascape painted by Kensington resident Francisco Castillo, a former Grenadan and lifelong friend of house guitarist Torcuato Zamora.
Zamora, a man of proud bearing and old world charm, speaks in heavily accented but nearly faultless English of his family's move from Grenada to Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War. His father fought with the Republican forces against Franco and after the war he was imprisoned and condemned to death, but the sentence later was suspended. "Life was very difficult, everybody was starving--it was really misery over there for many, many years. Barcelona was the industrial city where everybody went to find work," Zamora recalls. As a youngster he worked in the fields making "50 cents a week to bring something to eat for my family."
Zamora began on the guitar when he was 10 but did not have a teacher until he was 14. A confirmed cosmopolitan, Zamora determined early "to get out from Spain before I die," and his musical career eventually took him to Luxemburg for work in TV and, in 1963, to America, which he explored from coast to coast before deciding on Washington as his preferred location.
Rising from the table in the rear of the restaurant, Zamora perches on a stool, his spine as straight as the post he leans against. Effortlessly his hands draw spirited flamenco dances, popular Spanish songs and a classical piece or two from his guitar. All are his arrangements. It is the type of program he presents at the restaurant seven nights a week in the early part of the evening; at 9 p.m. he repairs to the Georgetown El Caribe for several sets. This has been his nocturnal life for the last two decades in a number of District venues and he also plays concerts on the university circuit. A writer as well as a musician and composer, Zamora has had articles published in area Spanish-language periodicals and is putting the finishing touches to his autobiography.
A couple of blocks away, Washington native Victoria Peyton plucks and strums her harp in the tiny Kalorama Cafe. She is there on Tuesdays nights, 6 to 10; guitarists work the restaurant other evenings. The sounds one is accustomed to hearing from the instruments are supplemented by Peyton with various special effects produced by a phase shifter she operates with a pedal.
"Sometimes you can really feel the movement of water," says Peyton. "I like to try to create the colors of water, like on that 'Little Sea Flower,' " one of her own compositions. Another piece is marked by the sort of dry, flatted tones one associates with certain Japanese stringed instruments. Other numbers have sustained pianolike chords or a deep resonance not unlike that of a bass violin.
There is not a vacant seat at any of the dozen small tables and conversation is lively. It is nearly 100 degrees outside but brick walls, a tile floor, large ceiling fan, hanging plants and, of course, air conditioning, help suspend belief that it is August. A patron leans over to the harpist and smilingly compliments her playing. She nods in thanks, her fingers poised for the opening notes of the next piece.
Victoria Peyton attended McKinley High School, went through the D.C. Youth Symphony program on clarinet and flute, studied piano, graduated from the old D.C. Teachers College and began classical harp five years ago. As a soloist she free-lances, playing clubs, parties and weddings, and she takes whatever compatible combo gigs come her way. "The type of music that I play is considered avant-garde jazz," Peyton says. Much of her repertoire is by her own hand, "but I do play other things," and if a request is made, "if I know it, I'll play it. I try to rearrange jazz standards to fit the harp style."
Peyton's inspiration to play the harp was the result of peering inside her own grand piano one day. "I noticed that it looked just like a harp," she says with a touch of wonder in her voice. "Once I started to touch the strings with my fingers, I decided to play the harp."