Sunday, December 21, 2008

Live Rumba Tonight at Rumba 54

Tambor Vivo will play a special Mambo Dinamico holiday party, 6-9 pm Sunday (12/21) at Rumba 54 (formerly Montas Lounge). Children are welcome, and guests are asked to RSVP and check the evite for what they might bring to this potluck-style event.

Lately, Betto Herrera (director of Mambo Dinamico) has been a regular at the newly installed Cuban nights at Mosaic Lounge, where he may be heard singing rumba guaguanco at the mic with Tambor Vivo.

Tonight's holiday party will feature live percussion and dance lessons in this folkloric Cuban dance style, as well as Dominican bachata, at 6pm.

For details, please see the website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Man With A Horn

And now, it's time to pay tribute to one of our local musicians on the eve (literally) of his departure for greener pastures. Jay Kaufman has been a professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health, but many of you know him better as trumpeter in many local jazz and Latin bands during the past decade. Jay is moving to Montreal to take up an endowed chair in Population Health at McGill University.

dia 5 jazz y vina 301a.jpg

Jay says he's looking forward to having greater flexibility in his academic research, and to splitting his time between Montreal and Santiago, Chile, where he also holds a teaching post at La Universidad de Chile. (Nice work if you can get it!)

"Eventually, I'll try to time it so I am down in the southern hemisphere for the Canadian winter, which would mean perpetual summer. But I don't quite have that worked out yet!" says Jay.

"Of course I'll continue playing music," he adds. Helping Jay to forge some Montreal connections is Ramon Ortiz, his bandmate in Orquesta GarDel. Ramon moved here 2 years ago from Montreal, where he was very active in the salsa and merengue scenes. Thanks to Ramon, Jay will arrive there with a long list of contacts in hand.
GarDel 032708_1.jpg

Some background on Jay: He moved to the Triangle in 1999 from Charlotte, and before that has lived in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Nigeria, Baltimore and Puerto Rico.

On the jazz side, his resumé includes John Brown, the Raleigh Jazz Orchestra, Kevin Van Sant, Ben Palmer and Russell Lacy.

On the Latin side, you know him from Charanga Carolina, Samecumba, Orquesta GarDel, West End Mambo, and Sajaso.
"I'll really miss all these great musicians in this area, and especially their really positive attitude and sense of camaraderie," Jay says.

kaufman_jay_2008_1.jpg
Jay Kaufman, many blessings in your transition, we wish you all the best! Thanks for all the music.

Cubanismo @ Mosaic Tonight (12/18)

Mosaic has decided to make the unofficial rumba night "official" - they are calling it Cubanismo, one Thursday a month, featuring Cuban rumba and other drum rhythms by Tambor Vivo "featuring Robert Cantrell".

So, tonight is your night, people!

Live sets are 10:30 and 11:30, DJ'ed salsa etc. in between. Cuba freaks, expect your people to be here, all the rumba guaguanco classes from Paso, and other folks crazy for rhythm.

Quoth Eduardito, in Paso's newsletter:
"Though Mosaic is quite refined in its presentation, I can still taste the dirt of Cuba within the sounds of Tambor Vivo."

A Morroccan wine cellar with blues trains rolling by on Jones St., Mosaic is bohemian with worn, stone floors, low light and comfy enclaves. It does feel like a solar when the Cuban dancers get going. Their staff is exceptional, polite and welcoming.

Oh, and it's FREE, there's NO COVER. So rumba on down.

Mosaic Wine Lounge, 517 W. Jones St (near Glenwood corner), Raleigh. See calendar!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Black & White' Photos

I was glad to see so many people having a good time at George's Garage last Saturday. The dance floor was packed with mambo dancers busting moves.




Orquesta GarDel
played, and have added another Eddie Palmieri chart to their book. "Nunca Contigo" from the Sun of Latin Music. They still play "Nada de Ti," and ended the night with "Adoración." Ray Barretto's "Al ver sus campos" still plays nicely.

The sound wasn't as pleasingly balanced as the August show, when GarDel pianist Eric Hirsh brought his own mixer and Latin musician Jerry Leon was the soundman. I am not a technician so I don't want to harsh on anybody's efforts this time around. The difficulties in mixing and amplifying salsa bands are well known. But for the record, I thought the NC Salsa Fest in August had some of the best sound I've heard at a Latin show in NC.

Nataki and I were discussing future repertoire we'd like to hear from GarDel, and Nataki suggested that songs by one of her favorite soneros, Victor Manuelle, might really suit the timbre of Nelson Delgado's voice. I can hear it.

Another direction to go, and my suggestion, would be to reach beyond the well-known albums of well-known artists, and begin to find some more out-of-the-way artists and gems to cover. This is not only a process of self-discovery, but conveys different messages to the savvy audience and casual listener alike. Now that you've established that you can do the Fania thing, I want to know, what else can you do? The Eddie Palmieri Monster Groove is seductive and undeniable, but be mindful of the fact that every salsa band from here to eternity wants to sound like Eddie Palmieri. There comes a time when one should set oneself apart from every other salsa band, and continue to calibrate your sound via your repertoire.



The Cobo Brothers Dance Company
did a short mambo performance in between sets. The Cobo's student team led, followed by a few out of town guests. The Cobo's semi-pro team, 3 synchronized pairs, were looking really good, in my non-pro opinion, to cap off the show. (No pictures, sorry, it was hard to get a clear shot through the huddled crowd of onlookers. If anyone out there has good ones we can post, I will be happy to give you photographer credit and appropriate links.)




All photos courtesy of Nataki Kambon - you can see many more by joining her Salsa, Merengue and Bachata Meetup.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Party Fight: GarDel VS. Sajaso

The battle of the bands is on tonight, Saturday (12/13), with two live salsa groups competing for your inner clave:

Sajaso lists a Carmen's gig tonight on their myspace.

Carmen's PR has been a little lax on this. Their web calendar says "Puerto Rican Night," but management confirmed today by phone that a live "salsa band" is booked.

On the other foot, Orquesta GarDel is presumably ready for the big Cobo Brothers "Black and White" Latin soiree at George's Garage.

The policy seems to have shifted a bit on ticket prices for the GarDel event. In my inbox this morning, the Cobo Brothers have announced that they have extended the deadline to get discounted online tickets for $15 until 6 pm TONIGHT ("no exceptions").

However, only the first 25 people dressed in "all black and/or white" will get in for $15 at the door. After that, it looks like the door price is going to be $20 for everybody.

The Black and White party at George's will start at 11, and will go an hour later than usual, until 3 am. GarDel plays two sets. In between, the Cobo Brothers Dance Company and guests will put on a mambo show. If this equals the style and atmosphere of the GarDel performance there in August as part of the NC Salsa Festival, it will be a night to remember.

Rock & Shop - This Saturday

12.12.08

Some photos from the procession. More pictures by clicking on...

mobile shrine

flower girl

viejitos?


chavito!

Friday, December 12, 2008

La Maldita Vecindad

This was my first visit to "la maldita vecindad." The directions were not very good, but I saw red, green and white lights from the highway and recognized the buildings from the documentary.

Virgin of Guadalupe shrine

This beautiful shrine was set up in a alcove constructed out of plywood at one end of the large event tent. As you poked your head in, the smell of roses and perfumed candles hit you. The dance formations were oriented toward it, so it seemed like the matachines were offering their dances to her. I heard one person approach the shrine and speak to her. So the shrine seemed to function like a living presence or participant, a guest of honor.

diablo

This "handsome" diablo greeted me in the parking lot. I asked why the devils had babydolls, and he said, "because we're devils" and devils carry away babies. Then he said something fresh, and the girl next to me started laughing. The devils also carried whips.

A couple more pictures are at my flickr stream--click on either photo to go there.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SCHEDULE - GUADALUPAN Events in Durham

Here is your OFFICIAL SCHEDULE for Thursday and Friday activities in Durham:

THURSDAY 12/11
6:30-11 pm: Matachine dancers will be dancing at "La Maldita Vecindad," address Savone Court, Durham 27703, which is a right turn off Hwy 98, just after the 70/98 split. Outdoors; rain or shine.

THURSDAY Midnight through FRIDAY MORNING 3 am:
Various local groups will be singing songs to the Virgin at the Immaculate Conception church, Chapel Hill St. in Durham. Indoors, sanctuary.

FRIDAY MORNING 12/12
3 am: Mariachis will sing songs for the Virgin and the official "Las Mañanitas" to greet her arrival. Indoors, sanctuary.
4 am: Mass. Indoors, sanctuary.
5 am: Breakfast of tamales and hot chocolate. Outside, church parking lot. There will be matachine dancers.

FRIDAY EVENING 12/12
5:30 pm: Procession. Outdoors, staging area in church parking lot. The procession will go through the surrounding neighborhood (probably kicking off in earnest around 6 pm). Expect traffic in the area to be blocked off!
7:00 pm: Mass. Indoors, sanctuary. This will probably be followed with some dancing outside around 8.

Heavy, Again: Machito!

There is some dispute about the exact date of his birth, but in all likelihood 2008 is the 100th birth year of Machito.

Frank "Machito" Raúl Gutíerrez Grillo
came to New York from Havana in 1937 and founded the Afro-Cubans in 1940. He was a talented maraca player as well as a great sonero (as is his sister Graciela, who is still kicking today in her 90s). Mario Bauzá soon became his musical director and together they crafted the early New York mambo sound, which combined Cuban rhythm section and dance music with jazz arrangements and horn section (trumpets and saxes) modelled after the top American bands.

This is the first Latin band to use the term "Afro-Cuban" or any allusion to African descent in its name. Notably it was not only mentioned, it was emphasized: Machito and His Afro-Cubans. The term "Afro-Cuban" is of course, now in standard use to mean any and all styles of music with Afro-Cuban roots.



Machito was one of the three top bandleaders who dominated the mambo dancehalls such as the Palladium, and who therefore were referred to as the "Mambo Kings" or "The Big 3": Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Today, children of all three bandleaders perform together in a big band called The Big 3 Palladium Orchestra.

Machito died on April 15, 1984 after collapsing during a stage performance in London. He did some very tasty albums in the 80s with his "Salsa Big Band" (no longer called mambo, but essentially still an Afro-Cuban big band) and won a Grammy in 1982 for Live at the North Sea.

Here's a little more information as told by his son, Mario Grillo. The video was made by LP (Latin Percussion) founder and music documentarian Martin Cohen. Mario demonstrates a bit of timbale at the end.



How Afro-Cuban Is It?

You be the judge. This brief piece of video from a concert (not sure where or when, I'm guessing sometime in the late 70s or early 80s) features Candido, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie AND Machito (whew!). Machito comes in at the end, singing orisha songs to Yemaya and Ochun:



After 40 years living outside Cuba, Machito still greets the African gods in their native tongue. Now THAT'S Afro-Cuban culture with deep roots.

Traigan sus flores!

UPDATED 12/11, 5:30pm:

Here is your OFFICIAL SCHEDULE for Thursday and Friday activities in Durham:

THURSDAY 12/11
6:30-11 pm: Matachine dancers will be dancing at "La Maldita Vecindad," address Savone Court, Durham 27703, which is a right turn off Hwy 98, just after the 70/98 split. Outdoors; rain or shine.

THURSDAY Midnight through FRIDAY MORNING 3 am:
Various local groups will be singing songs to the Virgin at the Immaculate Conception church, Chapel Hill St. in Durham. Indoors, sanctuary.

FRIDAY MORNING 12/12
3 am: Mariachis will sing songs for the Virgin and the official "Las Mañanitas" to greet her arrival. Indoors, sanctuary.
4 am: Mass. Indoors, sanctuary.
5 am: Breakfast of tamales and hot chocolate. Outside, church parking lot. There will be matachine dancers.


FRIDAY EVENING 12/12

5:30 pm: Procession. Outdoors, staging area in church parking lot. The procession will go through the surrounding neighborhood (probably kicking off in earnest around 6 pm). Expect traffic in the area to be blocked off!
7:00 pm: Mass. Indoors, sanctuary. This will probably be followed with some dancing outside around 8.

I have this info on good authority from youth organizer Ivan who has been working on these events at the Immaculate Conception Church for years.

This is the first year that the sanctuary will be open from midnight on, rather than just starting at 3 am when the mariachis arrive. He says anyone who wants to witness the dancing and celebrations is welcome, although for media/press they like to have advance notice. So, feel welcome! This is a once-a-year event and worth checking out.


*******(original post starts here)

Ok, here's your scoop for celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe's feast day in Durham, which is THIS FRIDAY (12/12).

The thing to remember, however, is that people start celebrating at Midnight Thursday (TONIGHT).

rise and shine

My tipster, Ramona, says that at the Immaculate Conception Church, there will be songs and dances starting at midnight; at 3 am there will be mariachis, singing of Las Mañanitas and other songs for the Virgin, and at 4 am, early morning mass. Following the mass, there will be hot chocolate and tamales. Ramona is a reporter on Radio Kilombo and she issued a general invitation over the show last night, so if you are interested, the public is invited.

A lot of people bring roses to place at the Virgin's shrine, because of her legend. According to the story, she appeared as an indigenous girl to a poor peasant, Juan Diego, on December 12, 1531, and caused roses to bloom on Tepeyac Hill.

flores para tu altar

On Friday evening, there will be a full procession through the neighborhood. My past experience says 6 pm, but I haven't vetted that information this year. Will update if I hear more. This is a cool thing to see if you can't do the all night mariachi mass.

Backstory: Read about past processions and a recent documentary about them which was filmed in Durham.

updates

Posted a few party photos from the Arbolito de Esperanza celebration, see "Jíbaro Hoedown" post below.

Monday, December 8, 2008

RADIO ALERT: Odetta Tribute, and a Very Jíbaro Christmas Special (12/8)

I'm hosting WXDU's one-hour folk music show today: The Golden Vanity airs 6-7 pm ET.

I intend to pay homage to the recently passed Odetta with a set of songs, and to play some Puerto Rican aguinaldos and other musica jíbara played especially around the holidays. Artists in the lineup include Ramito, Maso Rivera, Felipe "La Voz" Rodriguez and El Indio de Bayamon. Y'all tune in!

WHAT: The Golden Vanity (folk specialty show) Odetta/Puerto Rican Christmas edition
WHEN: TODAY, Monday 12/8, 6:00-7:00 pm Eastern Time
WHERE: WXDU 88.7 FM-Durham, live streaming with iTunes at www.wxdu.org

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Some bad news, and some holiday cheer

First the bad news: UNC performing ensemble Charanga Carolina will be taking a break until Fall 2009, while Director David F. Garcia takes a semester of sabbatical leave. We (charanga fans) will greatly miss them, but I wish David well in his research and writing. They went out with a bang on 12/2 with the Salsa/Swing Dance in the new Kenan Music Building. The UNC Jazz Band led by Jim Ketch opened with a lot of refined swing, animating a large turnout of swing dancers. Jim later sat in with Charanga and took a trumpet solo, cued by his former student Alberto Carrasquillo.

In the meantime, I plan to console my sorrow with as much Orquesta GarDel as I can get, starting with the big holiday dance this Saturday (12/13) at George's Garage. The "Black & White Latin Night" will feature two sets of live salsa, bookending mambo performances by the Cobo Brothers Dance Company, Annie Zendejas & Natalia Weedy, and Jose “Bernardo” De la Vega.

Copa Night regulars, be advised that admission is $20 at the door, $15 if you follow the party theme and wear "all black" or "all white."[Note: see revision below.] A limited number of advanced tickets will be sold for $10 at the NCSalsa.com website until Wednesday, 12/10, at the latest.

UPDATED Saturday 12/13: Be advised that door policy has changed for this event. See latest posting here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jíbaro Hoedown

Now that you've whetted your appetite for música jíbara, you can get a taste of a real Puerto Rican-style parranda (a musical Christmas party) this Friday (12/5) at Diamante's Arbolito de Esperanza celebration in Cary. Local musicians Ricardo Granillo, Pako Santiago and Luis Rivera are slated to accompany the singing of traditional Puerto Rican Christmas songs at the casual potluck dinner and treelighting ceremony. Kids age 8-12 will also be chosen to be "prince" and "princess" in the upcoming Dia de Los Reyes parade.

Guests who wish to donate to Diamante's Estrella de Esperanza campaign, which provides aid to low-income Latino families at the holidays, are asked to bring an unwrapped toy or non-perishable food item. Last year, the drive raised enough food for 37 familes and provided gifts for 107 children. This year, Diamante Executive Director Lizette Watko plans to top that, since they have identified over 300 kids and 105 families in need of assistance.

WHAT: Arbolito de Esperanza - potluck, treelighting & food drive

WHEN: Friday (12/5) 6:30-8:00 pm

WHERE: Herb Young Community Center, Room B, 101 Wilkinson Avenue, Downtown Cary (Chapel Hill Rd. & North Academy St.)

Lookee here: The Raleigh-Cary Spanish Language Meetup has made this an official meetup event.



Adults dressed as the Three Kings give candy to kids at last year's Dia de Los Reyes (Epiphany, Jan. 6) parade in Cary.



UPDATED Thursday:

güiro boricua
Photos from the party. Click on the world's best guiro to see more.

Ricardo Granillo, Pako Santiago, Billy Marrero did some musical accompaniment for the singing of traditional Latin American Christmas songs. Except for Feliz Navidad, I hadn't heard any of these before, but a little girl just arrived from Cuba with her parents was singing along. "El Burrito Sabanero" was cute. I finally figured out as I was listening to this that "Belén" equates to "Bethlehem." From the other songs I've heard (like Celia Cruz), I always thought it was a Havana neighborhood! (I guess it's both.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heavy: Chano

Today is a heavy anniversary: 60 years to the day of the murder of Chano Pozo, the Cuban conguero who molded Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban jazz style with landmark tunes like "Manteca." Chano was shot down over a drug dispute in a New York bar, El Rio, on Dec. 2, 1948. He was 33, and dancing to music on the jukebox at the time.

Local factoid: Chano's drums were once stolen on a tour stopover in Raleigh, NC! As a Cuban poet friend of mine once commented, maybe they are still echoing around here somewhere...



Above: clip from the 1991 documentary Routes of Rhythm, narrated by Harry Belafonte, that features Dizzy telling how he met up with Chano, and some background on Chano's biography.

More Backstory: Chano Pozo entry with biographical facts and discography at AllAboutJazz.com.

Thanks for the history tip to DJ Arturo "Marcané" Gomez at KUVO-Denver, where you can hear him regularly host jazz and Latin jazz programming, and yes, even dish up his favorite paella recipes.

Burritos con Salsa (12/2)

Just added to the calendar: Saludos Compay is playing a Burrito Bash Benefit at the Pittsboro General Store tonight. $15 at the door gets you a burrito dinner, salsa lesson at 6 pm, and live dance music at 7pm. You can also take part in live and silent auctions later in the evening.

Proceeds benefit two Chatham County non-profits: El Vínculo Hispano/Hispanic Liason, and Shakori Hills.

See OC calendar for details!

Backstory: Read about Saludos Compay at the Carrboro Music Fest.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Salsa/Swing Dance (12/2)

WHAT: UNC Jazz Band and Charanga Carolina
WHEN: 8-10:30 pm TUESDAY (12/2)
WHERE: Rehearsal Room, Kenan Music Building, UNC-Chapel Hill


COST: $5, proceeds benefit Jazz Band's Habitat for Humanity service project/performance tour to New Orleans.

This will be the last chance to dance this semester with the Charanga, and the farewell performance for flutist Christina Smith. The Jazz Band opens, Charanga Carolina plays around 9:15 pm.

The Rehearsal Room in the Kenan Music Building, located on South Columbia St. between Franklin and Cameron, has a new hardwood floor. Swing and salsa dancers are encouraged to break it in!

Backstory: See pics and read about past Charanga performances.

de la vieja escuela

old school

I love to watch elders dance.

elegance

So much is said in the position of a hand...

the elders

Sunday, November 30, 2008

speaking of jug bands...

Now, why does this make all the sense in the world?



Mungo Jerry's 1970 jug band revival pop hit, in a Caribbean context? This is the beat I had in mind when I compared the groove of some jíbaro tunes to jug bands.

I'm no musicologist, but now that I think about it, this catchy Mungo Jerry/Shaggy beat is a habanera bassline, from the old Havana contradanza which gave rise to danzon and son. You hear this bassline in tango, in European classical "habaneras," in North American jazz, and even--as Robert Farris Thompson pointed out--in today's reggaeton.

Everything really is wired through the Caribbean...

Parranda Navideña

An excellent update has just been added to the AfriColombia blog on Puerto Rican "jíbaro" music (see sidebar for the list of "Blogs We Like"). The articles are in Spanish. There are also some nice album covers and MP3s.

I love this "country" music of Puerto Rico's highlands, which is heavily played around Christmas time. The long-form, improvised verse styles are influenced by Spanish/Andalucian oral poetry, and the more finely grooved Puerto Rican guiro, or gourd scraper, gives a characteristic, sandpaper-like groove. Some of these rhythms sound to me like distant relatives to North American jug bands. Maybe I'm not crazy, since according the article, música jíbara is a "favorite dish" for black Colombians in places like Palenque, Barranquilla and Carthagena.

The first singer profiled, Chuito El de Bayamon, is said to have been an important influence on Hector Lavoe. It's easy to hear it in Hector's distinctive salsa phrasing, and he even recorded several Christmas albums of jíbaro music with Willie Colon and Yomo Toro in the early '70s. I was discussing this one time with Rei Alvarez of Bio Ritmo, a Ponce native like Lavoe, and he concluded nostalgically that, had Hector lived, he probably would be making albums of jíbaro music right now. A lovely hypothetical. Come to think of it, maybe Rei should consider it one day.

Another all-time favorite in this genre is Ramito, whom you can also hear on the Africolombia page. I remember talking to Yomo Toro a few years ago about some radio shows and albums he did with Ramito in the 50s and 60s, and he recounted a gruesome story of how Ramito ended up taking his own life due to some terminal illness. A sad ending for a really, really happy guy (just look at him). Ramito had two brothers who also sang (maybe still living? don't know) and I have one CD they recorded as a threesome in the 90s. Ramito albums are around, that is to say he made many, and they sold well, or so I deduce by the fact that it's not that unusual to find them in used vinyl bins or on eBay.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Messengers for Dignity

Runners carrying the flame from the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City will be passing through Durham today, on route to New York City. It's a religious pilgrimage designed to put focus on immigrants' rights with the motto: "Messengers for the dignity of one people divided by a border." The run got underway in October, and will end in New York on the Virgin of Guadalupe's feast day, December 12.



Runners will be arriving from High Point to the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St in Durham today, Saturday (11/29). One of the organizers at Immaculate Conception told me they will be welcoming the torch at 7 pm. The public is welcome.

Some video about the run and a full schedule of the route is available here, at the Tepeyac Association of New York's website.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Party 411

Carmen's Tropical Night with DJ Salsa Mike is CONFIRMED for tonight, Friday (11/28). This date is posted on Carmen's website, and was confirmed via word-of-mouth from Salsa Mike via Nataki (of NCSalseros Meetup). It was also announced at last Tuesday's social at Carmen's.

The Brazilian Party at Oliver Twist in Raleigh is CANCELLED for Saturday (11/29). Triangle Fiesta's website is ambiguous on this point, but management at Oliver Twist confirms that this party has been discontinued at this venue through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the following holiday cancellations were announced by Salsa For You: this Sunday's (11/30) social at Triangle Dance Studio is CANCELLED. The next Sunday Salsa social will take place December 7.

Also, their 3rd Saturday Salsa/Mambo Dance Party at Fred Astaire Dance Studio is cancelled for December. The next monthly party there will take place January 17, 2009.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Workout

Triangle Fiestas is moving their Thursday Latin Party at the Red Room to Wednesday night (11/26), this week only.

Also this week only: Admission will be free for everyone.

See calendar for more info.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eye of the Beholder

I suppose that The People's Cube, an anti-progressive satire site, generated this as some kind of ironic commentary.



Fittingly perhaps, the right-wingers had the palo (stick) upside down on their original graphic. This corrected version, with stick flipped (and irony removed), was created by musician and graphic designer Gary Eisenberg. You can read the thread about it in the Latin Jazz Yahoo Group. (Membership and moderator approval are required.)

UPDATE:

Gary is on a roll. Check out Obama as Rumbero-in-Chief:



Vaya!

...and, ONE MORE TIME with aché:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dil Valay Update!

Some of you recall the story I wrote on Asim, a Pakistani musician in the neighborhood, back in August. Well good news: his band Dil Valay has reunited. They even played a gig at the recent Cary Eid Festival, a celebration at the end of Ramadan. Too bad we missed that, but as you might have guessed, there's video.

I believe this song features Asim (far left) on vocal:



And don't miss out on Khalid's very different vocal style:



Backstory: Read my first post about Asim, an unusual nightclerk at the Town & Country convenience store.

That was fun

I wish I had a documentarian to follow me around like this all the time. One of Lisa's spontaneous moment-captures, backstage at La Ley Festival 2006. All the acts were Mexican regional except for one bachata singer, Domenic M [Marte] and his band, who were some top-notch Dominican musicians. Here I am dancing in the green room with the back-up singer, while the bass player improvises some beats.


Who needs music? from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the vaults...John Santos Quintet

Vilató solo 3

I just posted some 2006 photos of the John Santos Quintet at Duke over at my flickr photo stream. Click on the link or this photo to browse the series. John gave an animated and informative talk before the performance, and I had an incredible front row seat for the action. Personnel included John Calloway, flute, Saul Sierra, bass, Marco Diaz, piano and Orestes Vilató, timbales and bongo.

Also includes photos of some of our local musicians who were in attendance: Beverly Botsford, Ricardo Granillo and Nelson Delgado.

Backstory: Read "Hell's Bells," a column I wrote about it at the time in the Independent Weekly that includes a short conversation with Orestes Vilató.

Discography: John Santos has two excellent 2008 releases out now, one with his quintet, and one with his folkloric group, El Coro Folklórico Kindembo. You can contact him for more info at his website, www.johnsantos.com.

update: "El Benny" review

I've posted my movie review of the Cuban film about Benny Moré. Click on any link to see the updated post.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cornelio Campos Reception @ Peace College

Works by one of my favorite local painters, Cornelio Campos, will be on display at Peace College for one week only, Nov. 17-21.

Campos paints complex, large-scale works with strong symbolic themes related to immigration and life in the U.S. He grew up in Morelia, Mexico and later studied in Guadalajara. His work has been exhibited locally at La Fiesta del Pueblo, the Antorcha Guadalupana, Durham Artwalk, and are featured in a new documentary about the culture of Mexican immigrants in Durham, The Virgin comes to La Maldita Vecindad.

WHAT: Cornelio Campos art exhibition
WHEN: Nov. 17-21
WHERE: Peace College, Flowe Building 3rd fl.

RECEPTION TODAY: Wednesday (11/19), 7 pm. Campos will speak about his paintings and answer questions. Dessert will be served. Both the exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

mother of all guitar auctions


For a long time, I've toyed with the idea of dedicating an edition of Azucar y Candela to something very special in salsa history: the electric guitar solo.

Elliott Randall, known for his work with Steely Dan and the early SNL Band, is responsible for a lot of those, infusing rock flavor into salsa albums by Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentin and Larry Harlow.

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, Randall will be auctioning off some of his rare and storied guitars at London's FAME Bureau, an auction house that has handled the music memorabilia of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra. (If you can't make it across the pond for the live auction, you can still bid online.)

Check out the catalog of beauties and read more about Elliott Randall's career at his website, www.elliott-randall.com.

Correction added: auction will indeed take place on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 27, not Nov. 29 as previously posted.

Friday, November 14, 2008

updates

I'm going to start adding concert reviews and photos to the original event postings, in most cases, rather than as new blog posts.

Recently updated: Latin Grammys, Tambor Vivo, Calexico, and Bio Ritmo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Charanga Carolina & ELM Collective Friday

Charanga Carolina opens for the ELM Collective at the Carrboro Arts Center this Friday (11/14).
¡Feliz cumpleaños!
Here are some details from Charanga director David Garcia:

Charanga will start at 8:30 pm followed by jazz-world music fusion group ELM Collective at 9:30pm.

Charanga Carolina will feature guest artists Nelson Delgado, Pako Santiago, Alberto Carrasquillo, Ramon Ortiz, Jay Kaufman, and Brevan Hampden!

Charanga's set list will include music by Eddie Palmieri, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Tipica 73, Orquesta Aragon, Soneros del Barrio, and other salsa dura music from NYC, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Tickets are $15 general; $12 for ArtsCenter Friends and UNC students (w/ One Card)

The dance floor will be open!

ELM Collective
I'm excited to hear ELM Collective for the first time, which brings together musicians from Lebanon, Italy, Suriname, the Ukraine and the U.S. Several of their members also play with Children of the Horn.

UPDATE, added Saturday:

ELM Collective - what a cool band. These guys are each heavy musicians in their own right, and they pool their virtuosity and international influences in really interesting ways. It's a unique palette to begin with--flutes, oud, keyboard, guitar, percussion, drumset and bass--but what I also liked about it was that each tune had rhythmic integrity from identifiable, different sources like James Brown funk, middle-eastern odd meters, samba blues, etc. combined in seamless, intricate ways. After only one year of playing together in this format, these guys have great synergy and momentum. I'm looking forward to hearing more from them.

The "chemistry" with Charanga musicians was palpable in backstage conversations, it would be cool to get these musicians together on stage to sit in or jam in an "all star" setting. The connections have been made.

el vacilon

(click on photos to see more)

Charanga was gorgeous, the new student violinists this year are bearing the torch of their predecessors, and it was flutist Christina Smith's second-to-last gig with the group: Smith graduates from UNC in December and moves to Atlanta. Charanga is in her blood now, I'm pretty sure some Latin band in Atlanta will be inheriting her stage presence and her talent. You can swing with Christina one last time, at the Charanga Carolina's December 2 show at UNC. See calendar!

pretty christina

Oh yeah, that...

I can't say that I'm really excited about it, but the 9th annual Latin Grammy Awards are on Univision tonight (Thursday, 11/13) at 8:00 pm. You can see the [was nominees, now winners] list here.

Among the weirder matchups: Kenny G. goes head to head with Bebo Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the "Instrumental" category, and Andrea Bocelli stares down Cafe Tacuba, Juanes and Julieta Venegas for "Record of the Year." In the "Jazz" field (where Gonzalo should be, doncha think?) there is only one award category! At least there are a few good entries there, like Dave Samuels and David Sánchez. As for salsa, I'm guessing that Marc Anthony's El Cantante soundtrack will trump the usual suspects.

Anyone want to tune in to see Gloria Estefan (who has an entry in the "Traditional Tropical" category, believe it or not) in a wiggle sheath dress accept a Person Of The Year Award? That's what I thought. Set the DVR, just in case something newsworthy happens, and come out to the rumba at Mosaic instead.

Afterparty: Read Jon Pareles' intelligent rundown of the Latin Grammys show (New York Times may ask you to register to read online, but it is free)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rumba Thursday @ Mosaic

Tambor Vivo will be back at Mosaic in Raleigh again this Thursday (11/13).

La rumba me esta llamando...

What it is: Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble, two short live sets at 10:30 and 11:30 pm, with DJ'ed salsa in between. FREE, no cover.

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

This party is happening. More and more people turn out each time for this (soon to be regular?) monthly percussion performance, with sweaty interludes of salsa. DJ Steven Feinberg played Bio Ritmo from the new album, the fortified plena/salsa mix "Dime Vida," also some Cuban timba (why wasn't I paying closer attention?), some Willie Colon (I think it was the real thing, "Todo Tiene Su Final") and some Marc Anthony from the El Cantante soundtrack, "Aguanile." Betto and some of his Mambo Dinamico crowd turned out, as well as the stalwarts from Paso, with their rueda and rumba guaguanco students, and members of the NCSalseros Meetup group. It was a good feeling to see a large crowd responding to live drums. Tambor Vivo sounded the best I've heard them at this venue, possibly feeding off the crowd energy. They were doing a samba batucada thing when I came in, at the tail end of the last set. After the intermission, they entered with a shekere procession, and Beverly (Botsford) was in her element. One of her percussion buddies drove in 100 miles from Greenville. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. This wouldn't be happening 20 years ago," he said during the second set's long guaguanco, for which Betto and Beverly improvised some vocals. Like a tiny flame, we shelter it and watch it grow.

Open Border Rock


Calexico, with their desert twang and mariachi brass, revisit the Cradle Wednesday (11/12), just back from a European tour.

To get a really good preview, check out an entire live show on Fabchannel that the Tucson sextet played in October.

Opening for them are The Acorn, a similarly ambient, wallpaper-of-sound folk rock quintet out of Ottawa.

Doors open at 8:30, show at 9:15. Tickets are $15.

Back story: Read The Miles Davis of Mariachi, my interview with Calexico's Jacob Valenzuela in the Independent Weekly in 2003.

stage set

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

Calexico has grown in confidence since I heard them last, probably a couple of years ago. Joey Burns has really stepped up to the mic, literally, I can make out much more of the lyrics to their songs now in live performance. This is a good thing.

It's been awhile since I was in a rock club, and conditioned as I am now to hardcore salsa, there were a few times I had to check my expectations. It's a different (pleasant) sensation to hear indie rock in a club, the way the sound hits you makes different parts of the body tingle. The sea of aromatic humanity struck me as polite and nonaggressive, in non-dancing appreciation. Instead of Corona, empty PBR cans and Jamaica stripe bottles littered the edge of the stage. With salsa, you get used to an incredibly high level of technical fire and virtuosity, particularly in the horns and percussion, so the muted atmospherics favored by Calexico as they juggle a rotating parade of instrumental extras--marimba, accordion, French horn, peddle steel, something like an electronic shawm, etc.--took a different listener's mindset. It's a certain enchantment they've honed to fine points over the years.

multitasking

Trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela (pictured, left), whom I interviewed in '03, sang a nice original song in Spanish, "Inspiración." Just like his trumpet playing, he's got a wide vibrato and warm sound to his singing voice, and the more intensely punctuated Latin rhythms of this tune caused a noticeable crowd reaction. I chatted with him after the show, he said he's contemplating a Latin solo project. Sounds good; hope he keeps me informed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bringing Sacred Power to Durham Neighborhoods

An important new film about life in Durham makes its world premiere at the Latin American Film Festival tonight:

The Virgin comes to La Maldita Vecindad documents Mexican immigrants in Durham who celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on her feast day, 12/12, as matachine dancers. They participate in outdoor religious processions that wind through an East Durham neighborhood, aka "La Maldita Vecindad," as well the area around the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St., where the Antorcha Guadalupana makes an annual stop. The sacred flame is relayed by runners all the way from the basilica in Mexico City to New York as a pilgrimage of faith and a demonstration for immigrants' rights.

(click on photos to see more at my flickr stream)

young girl as Mary

I love these celebrations; I've been to several of these processions since Guadalupe became such a powerful presence in Durham, including the two torch relays shown in the film. The power they generate is palpable: hundreds of people peaceably taking to the streets, led by a Franciscan monk and ordinary people carrying their images of the Virgin, shutting down traffic with their songs for her, as curious residents come out of their homes to see what's going on. Kids dress up in a tableau of the Virgin and Juan Diego on a flatbed trailer float, youth dancers dress as Aztecs and demons with bells on and dance snake-like circles around the marchers, as if they were forming a spiritual membrane of protection around us.

Last year, in 2007, I didn't intend to go, but absentmindedly drove right into it. I had been preoccupied with a problem of some sort; this seemed like a sign. I pulled the car over and jumped out, just as the torch was approaching me, and as it passed, I fell in step with the crowd following behind and joined in the chorus: ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana es algo esencial.

Guadalupana

I'm not Catholic, but the Marian rituals and the people power they inspire, me hacen vibrar. I don't really need a doctrinal framework to feel comfortable with that, I just go. Marching through the dark streets of Durham, it's a like a spiritual power surge, a solidarity lightning bolt.

The filmmakers, Elva Bishop, Altha Cravey and Javier Garcia, and community dancers who are in the film, will be present at the screening, which happens tonight (11/11) at 7 pm at the ERC Auditorium at Durham Tech's main campus.

Friday, November 7, 2008

EL BENNY Cuban Film SATURDAY



Latin American Film Festival Main Page


Must-see Cuban film depicting 1950s bandleader and charismatic singer Benny More, paired with a documentary on Mexican guitar makers at the Latin American Film Festival tomorrow:


Saturday. NOVEMBER 8


Family Life Recreation Center at Lyon Park (1309 Halley St. Durham NC 27701) 5:30 pm

“Guitar Holiday.” Dennis Conway. (USA-Mexico) 2007.

English and Spanish. 47min.

It is a documentary about the guitar makers of Paracho, Michoacan and the Mexican National Guitar Festival that continues to acknowledge and celebrate their world renowned craftsmanship. Guitar Holiday features compelling interviews with guitar makers in their homes and workshops, and an occasionally drifting frame invites viewers to witness the rich culture and cherished traditions of the people of Paracho. Dozens of guitar shops line the main plaza and side streets of Paracho, where you can buy a guitar from the person who made it. Every August Paracho comes alive as it hosts the Mexican National Guitar Festival. The festival features classical guitar concerts, parades, mariachi and Purepecha folk performances and competitions for guitarists and guitar makers. But ultimately, it is the town that emerges as the main character in a spirited display of tradition and community pride.

&

“El Benny.” Jorge Luis Sánchez. (Cuba) 2006

Spanish with English subtitles. 120min.

It is a fictional story based on the life of the famous Cuban musician Benny Moré. It includes new versions of his songs performed by musicians including Chucho Valdés, Juan Formell, Haila and Orishas. The film premiered in Cuba in July 2006, and was presented at the Locarno International Film Festival (2006). The film was Cuba's candidate for the Academy Awards. The film won the "First Work" (Opera Prima) award at the New Latin American Cinema festival in Havana in December 2006. U.S. premiere at the "Palm Springs International Film Festival" (2007), and its east coast premiere at the Miami International Film Festival (2007). The director is distantly related to Benny Moré. [--Wikipedia]

In partnership with Durham Parks and Recreation.

Synopses from the festival website.

Footage of the real Benny More:



Lots more great stuff in this FREE festival which runs through November 21.


UPDATE

Posted 11/20/08


The El Benny film was excellent. Made in Cuba in 2006, co-written by Abrahán Rodríguez and director Jorge Luis Sánchez, the role of Benny was played by actor Renny Arozarena, with vocals provided by Juan Manuel Villi. Other contributions by musicians who did not appear on camera were a conspicuous piano solo provided by Chucho Valdés, and a tribute arrangement by Juan Manual Ceruto with the voices of Haila Monpie and the rap group Orishas.

What El Benny gets right: the body language, from the facial gestures, to the sleight of hand of stashing a joint underneath a shirt collar, to the physicality of Moré's conducting style, to the way Benny enjoyed alcohol without imbibing it once he had ruined his liver (by rubbing it between his hands and cupping them over his nose and mouth like an oxygen mask).
And of course the music and dance vocabulary, the look of the settings, the language, the cubanía of it all.

What the film embellishes on is the fictional narrative, what one might call the propaganda frame. I say this advisedly, not only because I don't fancy that a movie about Beny Moré that depicted him playing dominos with Batista (which according to family and friends is a biographical fact) could ever be made in Cuba. No more than movies get made in Hollywood that don't conform to certain narratives that will be palatable to audiences and studio powers.

Besides, the film doesn't waste much time on a subplot about fictional associates of Moré's who are engaged in revolutionary activities. There is a lot of time spent, relatively, a surprising amount, on the ins and outs of the music business, especially the negative aspects behind the scenes: racism, envy, swindles and double-dealings. This probably reflects the reality pretty accurately, in spirit if not 100% in fact.

It's easy to imagine the ways Hollywood would get this story wrong. Cultural things like Moré's humble roots ("Soy Guajiro"), and the African spiritual practices he inherits from his grandfather, would have been opaque to Hollywood. They would have simply left it out, or tried to overexplain to outsiders, just like El Cantante did with the Fania story. Hollywood usually underestimates the average movie viewers' ability to follow a suspenseful narrative, even when it means taking on unfamiliar assumptions. Just look at the vast appetite for plot twists and fantasy worlds on the part of today's video gamers, film and TV viewers. Really you just have to get people to identify with and care about your characters and they are along for the ride.

The advantage a Cuban filmmaker has is he can use all these cultural allusions as vehicles to tell the story (to his culturally literate audience) in a non-literal way. So for instance, "death" was portrayed allegorically, with a sort of Santería twist, as one of Benny's fans, a sexed-up, middle-aged nurse who has the hots for him after he's hospitalized with liver failure. There was a delightful sex scene in the movie too, (and I don't the mean the quick, funky bang in a nightclub men's room), refreshingly absent of the airbrushed, high-pressure Hollywood cliches. The camera seemed to move with a Cuban sensibility, from the novel way it maneuvered through the lovemaking, to the unapologetic delight it took in the fleshy curve of a young woman's back.

I liked the way the film shows snippets of the real Benny at the end, as well as footage of the massive mourning at his funeral. The way modern musicians are incorporated in the closing credits of the soundtrack captures how vital Benny's music remains to the music of Cuba today, even though popular styles have changed drastically. The film captures his sheer genius, and the effect it had (and still has) on people.

This interview on the America TéVé talk show "A Mano Limpia" with host Oscar Haza features the grandson and Moré's trombonist Generoso Jimenez. My sense from this was that Benny was "of the people" but above politics, and to be fair to the film, it does give Benny lines of dialogue that intimate this. The upshot from the interview was that while some characters were invented, and much of the story is a fantasy, it does lock in to true events at times, and the characterization is spot on.

Bio Ritmo @ Local 506 TONIGHT!

Friday (11/7) marks the long-awaited arrival in Chapel Hill of Bio Ritmo. The Richmond salsa band is touring nationally with their new album Biónico (which includes a spoof of the '70s TV show action theme The Six Million Dollar Man). Showtime is 10 pm at the Local 506.

Backstory: Read my review of Biónico, the Indy's album of the month, out in this week's edition of the Independent Weekly.

sabor ponceño
Rei Alvarez, of Bio Ritmo.

UPDATE, posted Friday AM:

Has Bio Ritmo really gone bionic? I've heard all these songs before, but they were etched deeper, customized with craftsmanlike sectionwork (horns) and longer, more introspective solos (Marlysse). If you know the album, it was satisfying and up to that standard without mimicking the studio performance. Good show.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

RADIO ALERT: Branford Marsalis on WUNC THIS HOUR

Branford Marsalis will talk about this Brasilianos tour on The State of Things TODAY at NOON.

WUNC 91.5 FM

Update: stream or get the podcast of the Marsalis interview here.

Added Friday morning:

It was a lovely concert, the Filharmonia Brasileira is a versatile, small chamber orchestra, with a fanciful, light touch on a lot of works that merit it by Villa-Lobos and Milhaud. In the interview, Marsalis talks about the jazz motifs in these classical works, and what he had to do technically to adapt and blend with the delicate, subdued colors of the strings, relative to loud horn-based jazz. We got to hear a little Brazilian rhythm toward the end, as one of the percussionists played a dancing rhythm on the pandeiro. Local composer Eric Hirsh was there and tracked down some of the unprogrammed encores. In fact, the orchestra itself didn't seem to want to go home, and just kept offering up gem after small gem. Milhaud's "Creation du Monde" was the highlight for me, a sweet, quirky jazz creation story; picture the first man and woman as Matisse cutouts cavorting in a jungle painting by Rousseau. They also played a dandy Scaramouche by Milhoud, and a few Bachianas Brasilianas and other works by Villa-Lobos; Branford executed very cleanly and with a very even, well-tempered tone, sticking largely to soprano sax, with a few pieces calling for alto. There was a very healthy turnout and several standing ovations. The Brazilian musicians seemed well-served by a very laid-back demeanor, which does not translate into a lack of musical discipline, but rather a sort of relaxed agility. Notably blurring the lines of "standard" classical concert deportment, the excellent clarinettist wore a bandana on his head, and Gil Jardim, Marsalis and other members of the orchestra exchanged soul brother handshakes. This orchestra was hip without ironic detachment, cool without pretension. Pretty much everything I had hoped a Brazilian classical orchestra would be. It's a very special repertoire, as well; it would be worth catching the remainder of this tour if it's in your area; remaining tourdates are at Branford's website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marsalis Brasilianos: Thursday


Branford Marsalis comes home to Durham Thursday (11/6) with 30 of his newest, closest friends: the Filharmonia Brasileira led by Gil Jardim. Together they are touring a program of majestic orchestral works by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and his kindred spirit and friend, French composer Darius Milhaud.

It's an 8 pm show in Page Auditorium on Duke's West Campus. Duke Performances has the hookup.

Marsalis' love for Brazil goes back to at least 1986, when he included a Villa-Lobos composition on his classical debut, Romances for Saxophone. His latest album with his jazz quartet, Braggtown, pays homage to that neighborhood here in his adopted Bull City.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Charanga Tipica This Wednesday

A late add to the calendar this week: UNC's Charanga Carolina will play a free, public concert from 6-7 pm Wednesday (11/5) at the FedEx Global Education Building on UNC campus. Director David Garcia reports that the group in its "charanga tipica" formation will perform son montuno, songo and danzon. See calendar for directions.

Adopting Mexican ways to get by in the US

Not about music, but interesting nonetheless: Today's LA Times has an article about Central American immigrants "Mexicanizing" themselves to get by in the US. Although the article's focus is on SoCal, I wonder if this is sometimes the case here in Norte Carolina as well?

VOTE! Election Day November 4

You know what to do.

7:00 am - I just voted. I was 16th in line and the 60th person to cast a ballot in my precinct. Get out there and exercise your franchise, people! Let's make America more beautiful. Our democracy needs to hear the voices of people who care about music and culture.

I keep meditating on Ismael Rivera this morning. However, rather than post about that just now, here's a link about the actual soundtrack I was listening to on my way out to the polling station: Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall, the new live album from the now infamous 1998 concert. What music were you listening to ten years ago? How have you, and the world, changed since then?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Souls Rumba

As great as it was to have El Gran Combo here in N.C. last night, I can't help but feel some longing as to where else I might have been:



This is fresh footage from the Nov. 1 reunion concert of Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, the legendary '70s jazz/folklore experiment at the Hostos Center in the Bronx.

If you ever wanted to know what motivates those of us who love rumba, check this clip out and make a commitment to watch the whole thing through to the end. If you don't have 10 minutes, just skip it. Staying power is not encouraged by the current pace of our popular culture, but you have to build intensity to get to ecstasy.

This starts small, but passionate with Jerry Gonzalez on trumpet recitative. Assembled luminaries include Jerry's brother Andy Gonzalez on bass, and Manny Oquendo on timbales, who played in Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta in the '60s. Those who stay to the end are rewarded with some rumba dancing by lead singer/conguero Pedrito Martinez.

If those steps look familiar, you may have seen them before. Pedrito unleashed similar rumba moves at the Cat's Cradle three years ago, in a much more contemporary context--the urban melange of Latin styles known as Yerba Buena.

Cuban Hip-Hop Doc Opens Film Fest TODAY

The free, fantastic Latin American Film Festival opens TODAY (Sunday 11/2) with a much anticipated documentary on Cuban hip-hop: Jovenes Rebeldes (2005). Screening is at 7pm in the Campus Cinema in Witherspoon Student Center, North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

A live performance by local rappers (including Nino, a Panamanian rapper who was on Azucar y Candela last week) will follow the film.

More on the rest of this 3-week, multi-campus festival line-up to follow; for now check out the full schedule here.

First Photos

El Gran Combo in Greensboro last night. Click on to see more at my flickr stream.

ambiente y color

iSalsa

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Puerto Rico's Great Combination

I've seen some great shows in Greensboro: Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the Afro-Cuban All Stars (where I danced, albeit briefly, in a front row clench with Pedrito Van Van).

Now tonight, El Gran Combo moves into view at Rumba D'Cache on W. Market St. (see calendar).

The band formed in 1962, as an off-shoot of the estimable Cortijo y su Combo, and is still going strong 46 years later with pianist Rafael Ithier at the helm. Known as "La Universidad de la Salsa," some of its 'graduates' include bongocero Roberto Roena and trumpeter Elias Lopez, who went on to work as band leaders in Puerto Rico, and sonero Andy Montañez and bolero singer Pellín Rodriguez. The band's current signature lead voices are Charlie Aponte, Jerry Rivas and Papo Rosario.

El Gran Combo rejected a signing offer from Motown in the early '70s to create its own label, Combo Records, a business decision that has put them in control of their own commercial and artistic brand. Their output has been voluminous, producing new albums, compilations and live recordings almost yearly for most of their career, and hits that are still widely played and recognized by salsa fans around the world. Evergreens such as "Un Verano en Nueva York," "Azuquita Pa'l Cafe" and "El Menu" resonate as markers of Puerto Rican identity--and for tonight's Halloween theme, there are hits like "La Muerte" and "Brujeria." More recently, their 2001 El Nuevo Milenio - El Mismo Sabor spawned the dancehall staple "Me Libere" and a tribute to the passing in 2000 of timbal king Tito Puente. Their last album was Arroz con Habichuela in 2006.

Here's a pre-1977 clip of the band from YouTube, featuring Andy Montañez at his height:



Three men sharing a microphone may be old school, but it captures the convivial force of the art form, the essence of salsa's stage presence. Nice dance moves, too; musicians, you can polish up your stage footwork with these fine fellows.

At the end of the clip, there's an Easter egg of La Sonora Ponceña, Puerto Rico's other iconic, long-running salsa band. You will catch a glimpse of Yolanda Rivera, one of the first ladies of salsa, and the great Luigi Texidor spinning a soneo. Seeing the two bands bookended is a great combination, indeed. Thanks to L.A. Times music critic and author Ernesto Lechner for suggesting this clip as essential viewing.