Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Venue-surfing the Carrboro Music Fest

Carrboro Music Festival (9/28) was the best way I've spent a Sunday in a long time.

What a great concept for a festival: instead of herding people into a narrow, fallow tract, the town of Carrboro transforms their whole downtown grid into a living, breathing festival space. They get local bands to play, all day and evening long, at over 20 indoor and outdoor venues within strolling distance. They do it on a Sunday, when parking is eased, and the coup de grace: they make it free. Streets and sidewalks are full of people venue-surfing, giving the pleasant sensation of urban bustle in an area with the geographic footprint of a village. Music lures into courtyards, concert halls, grassy knolls and parking lots. Real kitchens and bars offer food and drink (especially drink) fit for grown-ups. It's a truly civilized, all-ages show.

I won't describe every song in the jukebox, but blog-relevant: I did catch Razpa's set. They were very well-received, I looked around and saw lots of heads bopping, feet moving. Nice crowd. Particularly inspired by the guitar-driven cumbia, Manu Chao cover "Desaparecido," a Mick Jagger lookalike did noodly dance steps, with a tall can of Clamato Chelada in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That about sums it up.

The party really got started, for me, at twilight, when I got to Tyler's Parking Lot in time for a quick cuddle (figuratively speaking) with the Tim Smith band, before my dance date with Saludos Compay. Tim, aka Mr. Goodvibes, will give you a contact-high on life with his jazzy flute, sax of plenty, and that remarkably floating falsetto voice. Orquesta GarDel's Peter Kimosh shares bass duties here, a most excellent foundation for the reggae-inspired groove, and Robert Cantrell brings his Afro-Cuban skills to the congas.

As dusk fell behind the porch-like bandstand with a rustic American flag mural painted on the wall behind it, dancers coagulated in the yard in anticipation of Saludos Compay. I was heartened to see Robert Cantrell keep his seat behind the drums, adding weight to the trio's backbone, Pablo Valencia, Erich Lieth and Chuck Nolan. Though tiny (as Latin bands go), without timbales or vast horn choir, Saludos Compay generates an authentic dance groove by hewing close to the simple, time-tested formula of Cuban son montuno, with some of cumbia's rasping bounce.

Rather than edgy, hard and urban salsa, this rural dance music springs from the tilled earth. A perfect fit for the freespirited Orange/Chatham milieu. Dancers sprawled like wheeling cogs across the courtyard, reverberating to the hypnotic, primal pace of son. It's been awhile since I caught a full-blown dance set by Saludos Compay, and it was nice to be reminded why they have one of the most dedicated followings in the Triangle.

Join their e-list to get schedule updates via the band's website. Saludos Company will occupy the dance tent at Shakori Hills late Saturday night during the Grassroots Festival (10/11).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dafnis Prieto at Duke Saturday (9/27)

Dafnis Prieto

Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto is only touching down in Durham for a day, this Saturday (9/27), but he has a full plate:

2:30 pm - Dafnis Prieto master class at Duke. He will discuss his ideas about music in general and demonstrate some specific drumset techniques. Free, the public is invited. Baldwin Auditorium, Duke East Campus.

8:00 pm - Dafnis Prieto Sextet performs at Duke Performances. Reynolds Theater, Bryan Center, Duke West Campus. See our events calendar for ticket info.

Sextet personnel for Saturday's concert:

Dafnis Prieto, drums
Peter Apfelbaum, sax & melodica
Felipe Lamoglia, sax
Avishai Cohen, trumpet
Yunior Terry, bass
Manuel Valera, piano & keyboard

The touring band reflects one line-up change from the new album, Taking the soul for a walk; Lamoglia replaces Yosvany Terry.

While known for his unique, even emotive approach to the drumset, Dafnis Prieto composes at the piano. He has two sparkling albums of chamber jazz on the Zoho label, 2005's About the Monks and 2006's Absolute Quintet.

Taking the soul for a walk appears on his own label, Dafnison, and includes tributes to late musicians: a danzon dedicated to conguero Miguel Angá Diaz, and a fanfare inspired by saxophonist Mario Rivera. Other tunes are dedicated to people and places he left behind in Cuba when he emigrated in 1999. These include his mother, Rosa, and childhood friends from the poor neighborhood where he was born, in Santa Clara.

After 8 years of study at Havana's Escuela Nacional, his orientation to the drumset is as much classical as it is carnaval. "I love the timpani," he says. Yet one metal instrument on his drumset resembles an upside-down frying pan, the kind of thing you'd expect to see clanging in a comparsa street orchestra. In fact, on About the Monks, Prieto recreated a one-man comparsa by layering his own vocal and percussion tracks.

Like all creators, he thinks coming up with labels is "a waste of energy"--but when pushed to describe his music, he calls it "contemporary Latin jazz." Minus congas on this most recent outing, and making use of variable meters and counterpoint, his sound does not resemble mambo, or traditional, dance-based Latin jazz. Still, like any good Cuban, his "favorite band" is still Los Van Van. He even describes one tune on Taking the soul for a walk as a "songo," the Caribbean song form first elaborated by Los Van Van guru Juan Formell.

Want to hear more?

Tune in to my radio interview with Dafnis Prieto from 1:00-3:00 pm Saturday on WXDU 88.7 FM, or listen online with iTunes at www.wxdu.org.

Find out more at the artist's website, and order tickets for the Dafnis Prieto Sextet concert Saturday night at Duke Performances or Duke Box Office.

Sajaso Live Tonight in Raleigh

Sajaso plays the monthly salsa party at jazz club Zydeco tonight, Friday 9/26. This local band plays flavorful Puerto Rican salsa and boogaloo; leader/sonero Chino Casiano has a Joe Bataan-like sound on English standards. Click here to read my review of a show they played there in August.

Zydeco is located in Raleigh on Wolfe St. in the City Market area, near Moore Square. This event is highlighted as a Triangle Salsa Meetup of the Asociacion de Puertorriqueños Unidos de Carolina del Norte.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Night of the Iguana comes to Smithfield

In Ava Gardner's Mexico, men, like maracas, come in two's:

Night of the Iguana will make an interesting projection in downtown Smithfield this Thursday night, with all that's been going on in Johnston County.

In case you haven't heard, Sheriff Steve Bizzell faces calls for his resignation over disparaging remarks he made about Mexicans; a prayer vigil is slated for 3 pm Sunday (9/28) in front of the Johnston County courthouse in Smithfield. If you want to add your name to an online petition condemning Sheriff Bizzell's remarks, you can do so here.

Meanwhile, Night of the Iguana, the John Huston film made in Mexico and starring Smithfield native Ava Gardner, will be shown free, outdoors in Smithfield Town Hall Park Thursday (9/25) at 8 pm. The screening is part of the 4th annual Ava Gardner Film Festival that lasts through Saturday.

Richard Burton stars as a disgraced preacher-turned-tour-operator, seduced by the gingham hotpants on an underage American tourist from a small Baptist town--one perhaps not wildly unlike Smithfield. Gardner plays not the blonde Lolita, but a middle-aged American motel owner, living in Mexico on her own terms.

While the film, based on a Tennessee Williams play, serves up some sultry stereotypes about Mexico, it also tackles sexual repression, and ends up offering an impassioned plea for sexual tolerance and personal freedom.

Filmed in Puerta Vallarta in 1963, Night of the Iguana brought a flood of American tourism to the town--for better and worse. Here, one travel writer describes the film's long-term effects on Puerta Vallarta.

The Ava Gardner Film Festival includes quirky short subjects and docs on a wide range of other subjects, as well as several of her full-blown Hollywood features. Get the whole picture here.

Also on the festival calendar: a musical performance by Clang Quartet's Scotty Irving paired with the doc film about him, Armor of God, at 7 pm on Saturday (9/27).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rethinking Reengagement Conference at UNC (9/26-27)

There is a high-powered academic conference coming up this weekend on US-Cuba relations. From the press release:

The United States and Cuba: Rethinking Reengagement Conference
September 26-27
Sonja Haynes Stone Center
150 South Road, Chapel Hill

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, will deliver the keynote address on September 26, 2008 at 7:00pm in the auditorium of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

Attendance to all conference events is free and open to the public.

Ob. musical tie-in: In an eerie pact of synchronicity, Jackson Browne is on Colbert Report just now, singing a song about breaking the embargo and "going down to Cuba...where the rhythm never ends." Perhaps he's running on empty...?


Thanks to Georg for this link ...

This is why I heart the internets ... how else would I have learned about the Yugoslavian love affair with Mexican culture of the 1950s? Make time to browse the gallery of Yu-Mex record covers, and don't neglect to listen to some of the song samples.

Ahh, stuff like this reaffirms my faith in humanity

Dance Seen: The Mansion

The Tree House, Havana, Patio Loco, El Chilango--these are all names that summon up nostagia for Triangle salsa dancers. They are some of our favorite by-gone haunts in the Chapel Hill scene. It's always had a smalltown flavor, with a lively traffic of youthful dancers and the emphasis on fun and participation rather than an obsession with technique.

I was pleasantly surprised (well, not too surprised) last Friday night to discover that the Latin spirit parties on in Chapel Hill, at The Mansion 462, located next to the Carolina Brewery on the far end of Franklin Street. Their monthly Latin party (3rd Fridays) features an early live music set by Razpa, from 10-11-ish, followed by a deejay spinning copious salsa, with bachata, merengue and tropical mixed in. Sound levels were comfortable for the relatively cozy space, so I had earplugs handy but realized I could take them out after awhile. Kudos to the management's powers of sanity and restraint.

Razpa is a "rock" band but they thread Latin rhythms through their tunes, making it possible to dance to fuel-injected cumbia or salsa with heavy metal breakdowns (highly recommended for what ails you). It may not be for purists, but then Chapel Hill has never been about that. As they used to say on Salsa Carolina's advertising: "Where no one will ask you where you're from, only if you'd like to dance."

The Mansion's atmosphere is elegant, without being cold or overly formal, with wood floors that make for fine dancing, and Persian rugs hanging around the walls. There's a $5 cover for Latin nights. I recommend you go early to catch Razpa, they seemed to rock a little harder there, where they are in their element. Definitely a band worth hearing, and the venue deserves encouragement for taking a chance on live music.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Where to go when you're in Henderson...

Bar El Mexicano

Posting this not so much for the show tonight (I know nothing about the bands--local?), as for the venue.

Found at Valencia Records on Guess Road in Durham.

Bionic Band: Bio Ritmo CD Release Parties

Bio Ritmo gets the party started for their new album, Bionico, tonight in Brooklyn. They are bringing the party home Saturday night (9/20) to the Capital Ale House in Richmond, Virginia, together with friends Soulpower and the No B.S. Brassband.

Bionico is the culmination of a metamorphosis for the classic salsa band. They emerge from a period of intense songwriting and studio work with master salsa engineer Jon Fausty expressing more of their experimental side. They seem to be reaching for a heartier piece of the World music piechart, with a sound that approaches the hip, funky dance fusions of New York-based Latin bands such as Los Amigos Invisibles and Yerba Buena. They've been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn lately, and the urban village seems to suit them.

If you're a dancer, don't despair. They may have rebuilt themselves better than they were, but Bio Ritmo remains a salsa band with 100% all-natural cojones (and hearts and brains), made in Puerto Rico, and points beyond. They've simply completed a trajectory they, as artists, were always on.

It's the same spirit that drove "classic" salsa in the '70s, from Roberto Roena's Cuban experiments to Willie Colon's Brazilian touches, to the seminal rumba variations of Grupo Folkorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, and La Sonora Ponceña's jazz sounds and spacious song structures. Our urban guajiros have always experimented with the plugged-in and the organic, the native and the import, the music from the street or barrio next door and that from faraway "home" islands.

Electric sounds have blended before with the shimmy of beads on the naked gourd, the elemental resonances of hierro y cuero, metal and skins. I think of Larry Harlow putting charanga strings and psychedlic interludes into an Arsenio Rodriguez song like "Lo Que Dice Usted," or, as critic Ed Morales recently pointed out, the way Tito Puente dug up mambo sounds from pop culture.

The subtext for these borrowings is often just how "Latin" our pop culture really is. From Star Trek to The Six Million Dollar Man, what's a big adventure-flick or TV theme song without bongos?

Besides, Bio Ritmo's cover of The Six Million Dollar Man theme isn't really a cover. It's a big gulp, an incorporation of who we are, in this generation, into what came before. By daring to fuse new expressions in the salsa idiom, Bio Ritmo is keeping the art form alive in ways that have nothing to do with virtuosity. Plenty of exhilarating bands are producing museum-quality standards, but la musica del pueblo has to continue to speak new things.

Bionico is now available here on iTunes and at all digital retail stores as of Sept. 23. You can purchase the digipak with CD, poster, etc. on the band's website, www.bioritmo.com. Their next Triangle tour date is Nov. 7 at the Local 506.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Rey Norteño album due out next week

Raleigh's Rey Norteño's second album A La Conquista is due to be released on Sept. 23. The single "Quiero Gritar Que Te Amo" has gotten some airplay on La Ley over the summer (it can also be heard at their MySpace page), and word has it they are currently working on a video for it.

Like Naming a Band Iceland

What drives the meteoric success of Los Lonely Boys?

Those Garza boys sure can play.

Let's just get right to the point. Henry's phenomenal guitar-playing comes along once in a generation. Pair that with the family chemistry, and we might as well just sit back and enjoy the arc of their careers for the next 20 years. (That's before reunion tours.) It would be interesting to write the novel now, and see how close it all works out to reality in the end.


There's not an ironic bone in their bodies.

Their music is "pure," as one fan put it. The lyrics are often simple, even bordering on romantic cliches. And yet, the 2- and 3-part vocal harmonies breathe uncanny life into them. Subliminal, historic echoes here include the close ties between doowop and conjunto (remember Selena's dad?), between doowop and Latin R&B, and the plethora of family-based border duos and bolero trios that surely everybody's Texican, Mexican, Chicano, Puertorican and Nuyorican mama, tia and abuelita played in her living room every night. Guitars and voices: it's a Latin thing. Loyal lovers are Los Lonely Boys, in song, and no wonder. This is modern serenade.

Their sound is a wide frontier.

There's a little bit of everything in there. Not just precursor Chicano rockers like Santana and Los Lobos. Not just Texas bluesmen Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn. But everything contagious about British and American pop from blues to Beatles, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. Contrary to the politics some would have us believe, I don't think Americans really fear frontiers. In fact, we have a romantic fascination with them. LLB's "Texican rock" is a new interpretation on that theme as savvy as it is dazzling. The result: commercial embrace, even though they don't sound like anything else on the radio.

I fell in love with my TV set when Los Lonely Boys had their big breakthrough moment, performing "Heaven" on either Conan or Leno (can't remember which, some latenight show). What is THIS? I thought. Where did THIS come from?

The song hinted at the spirituality that runs through Sacred (album #2) and now, Forgiven. The title track, like "Heaven," sounds like a...well, pardon the Madonna reference and accompanying baggage, but like a prayer. Not prayers for church, but prayers for a bus station or a dressing room.

"We're Christians, we believe in God," says cousin Robert Garza, a member of the tour management crew. (Sorry guys; this is as close as I got to a backstage interview.) Robert had the family hair--smooth, coiffed a la Jojo--and the same, resonant Garza voice. It's easy to believe that their fathers had a band together back in the day.

"Los Falcones. They played Latin music," says Robert about the uncles' band. I've read they played the Texas conjunto circuit in the '60s and '70s.

This show at the Carolina Theatre was an add-on to LLB's Forgiven tour. You can listen to the whole album free (listen only) on their website.

Los Hermanos Garza

I thought Ringo would have sounded just as good with half as big a drum kit. Maybe that's because I was in front of a speaker, so my heart thumped every time he hit his bass drum. Still, I had a clear sightline to Henry, so I wasn't complaining.

A cat named Carmelo had a little timbales and bongo-stand set-up in the back. That's a nice symbolic texture, but you couldn't hear him much. His one cymbal seemed a futile adjunct to Ringo's 10 (possibly, not an exaggeration). I didn't catch Carmelo's last name, but I could tell he had Latin jazz cred because he had his Kangol hat on backwards.

Henry and Jojo

For me, the intensity cranked up unexpectedly in the middle of their show, on a smoldering, slow number (the lyrics had something to do with "my angel"). They did awesome stuff with vocal tempo, like bending and leaning on it en masse. I guess this gave me my Latin swing or something, because I started saying my amens aloud and in Spanish. Henry pulled out a harmonica and threw in some references to WAR's "Low Rider." Nice touch.

It's easy to see why, in 3 years, this band has chugged out 2 live CDs/DVDs (on top of 3 studio albums), and are featured in a live-show documentary. You just have to be there. I won't praise them to high heaven; they're building their own ladder.

Recuerdo de Los Lonely Boys

The Give from Santa Salsera on Vimeo.


TODAY: Rock en español ¡RADIO ALERT!

According to NPR previews, a story on "rock en español in North Carolina" will be featured today on All Things Considered!

When: Wednesday, 9/17
Local airtime: 4:30-6:30 on WUNC, 91.5 FM

NPR will not post the day's All Things Considered stories on their website until after 4 p.m. today, but then, you should be able to get it as a download or podcast.

UPDATE: The story has been posted on the NPR web site and includes audio of a full show by the band Eva Fina and an interview with the band La Rua.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Words on the Street

A little late for posting Mexican Independence Day celebrations, but Franco Gallardo y Los Charros de Mexico are at La Maraka tonight (see bottom half of poster, Monday, 9/15):

La Maraka 9/15

Also found this, when I was out cruising posters at the tiendas along Roxboro Road: very popular bachateros Monchy y Alexandra will be at Ambis 1 in Raleigh on Friday, 9/26:

Ambis, Monchy y Alexandra 9/26

Also, on the left there, merengue band Oro Solido, with Bachata Asurr, will be at Club Menage in Greensboro on 9/19.

If you've ever danced to bachata at all, you will have some passive recall of Monchy y Alexandra's hits. "Perdidos" and "Dos Locos" are two on YouTube that I can remember hearing in the past month. "Hoja en Blanco" (their first big hit as a duo in 1998) is the one you've probably danced to a thousand times.

A lot of Latin popular dance music is highly commercialized, which means it is both highly polished and highly recycled. It seems that, before it was a bachata, "Hoja en Blanco" was a Colombian vallenato hit for Esmeralda Orozco and Omar Geles, with Los Diablitos de Vallenato.

Huasteco Olds

Finally, I saw this DIY ad for a live trio huasteco on an Oldsmobile. There were more of these number stickers in mysterious, symmetrically ordered patterns on other parts of the vehicle, as well as old AAA and Fraternal Order of Police stickers. As if a trio huasteco in Durham were not intriguing enough!

Dos Poetas Mexicanos

Here's another Rockrigo video that is so achingly sweet, I just have to share it (gracias a Jorge of Tercer Divisa Nacional). The song is called, "Distante Instante":

A little eerie how he talks about his own death. A fellow named Sergio García made that negative-image video 10 years posthumously, in 1995.

Besides having a simon-&-garfunkelesque vibe, Rockrigo's simple poetic style reminds me a lot of ranchera singer/songwriter Cuco Sánchez (1921-2000). His less boisterous songs like "La Cama de Piedra" and "Anillo de Compromiso" would make good side-by-side comparisons here, but this was the most interesting live footage I could find:

The song is "Fallaste Corazon," I don't know what movie this is from. It appears Cuco wrote it sometime in the early '50s, and this looks like Mexican movie footage from that time period. However, the song shows up in a lot of different films on IMDb and was also the name of a 1968 telenovela Cuco appeared in.

On second thought...look at that poofy hairstyle on the barmaid! And the soundstage...I'm betting on 1968 tv.

Rainforest Rumba

Here are a few pictures of my Sunday afternoon at the Costa Rican Independence Day celebration. At least I hope that's the reason 12-foot papier-mâché giants where running around Lake Wheeler (click on photo for more at my flickrstream):


Costa Ricans came from all over the state for this day-long cultural festival: I talked to folks from Lincolnton, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh and Morrisville. It's the first gathering in Raleigh of the Association of Costa Ricans in North Carolina, and they seem to promote their association mainly by email and word of mouth. I signed up for their mailings, so hopefully they'll keep us in the loop.

I brought home their homemade tamal tico, aka Costa Rican tamales. My food photography doesn't hold a candle to Lisa's, but if you click on this photo, you can see the tamal "unwrapped":

Tamal Tico

After the folkloric dancing, DJ Nene got the ghetto bassquake going. It was a different mix entirely from the usual club rotation, quite a refreshing Caribbean-equatorial flava mix, salsa, soca, calypso, vallenato-style cumbia, reggaeton, merengue, and some rhythms I did not readily recognize. Nene named a few Costa Rican bands for me: Los Hicsos, Sonica...[more once I check my notes].

Rainforest carving

We discussed how charming it would be to stage a party with a Central American music mix, in the mold of the Colombian Party at Carmen's once a month, with DJ Byron (see calendar). I like the atmosphere (this is a social dancing, not a dance social), and the change of pace from the usual tropical club mix. I especially like the "viejoteca" salsa, meaning, extremely old school, Colombian classics with a lot of crunchy, chewy, street-made goodness that goes beyond--way beyond--the familiar Grupo Niche. The next Rumba Colombiana at Carmen's is next Saturday, 9/20.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yeah, we're with the band ...

The entire Onda Carolina staff (yes, both of us) turned out last night on the CCB plaza in Durham to see Razpa's funky latin rock. I became and instant fan. To prove it, we had to get our picture taken with the band (isn't that what true fans do?)

I'm the dorky one. (Thanks to Juan Manuel Cortez for use of the photo).

I had hoped to grab some video of the band to post but upon arrival I discovered I'd forgotten to put the memory card back into my camera, so I was limited to the paltry internal memory. So all you get is a mediocre shot of the band:

You can catch Razpa on September 19 at Mansion 462 in Chapel Hill and September 28 at the Carrboro Music Festival.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shakori Schedule Announced (Oct. 9-12)

The biannual festival at Shakori Hills, a broad-ranging celebration of roots music, has announced its Oct. 9-12 schedule. From bluegrass to booty funk, clogging to zydeco, jazz to indie rock, they've got it; everything you need to know is up-to-date at their website, www.shakorihills.org.

Latin headliners Plena Libre bring something new to the festival this year. Puerto Rico's top plena band specializes in a hot, plugged-in adaptation of the pandereta-driven rhythm of the island's southern coast. Their salsa will raise the dead, also. There are two chances to catch them, in the Dance Tent on Thursday evening, and at the Meadow Stage Friday night.

For salsa lovers, Chapel Hill band Saludos Compay take the late shift in the Dance Tent on Saturday. A joyful vocal trio playing Afro-Cuban rhythms, they are likely to appear in their expanded version with 5 or 6 members, to feed the dance frenzy; details as they become available.

Triangle rock band Tercer Divisa Nacional follows in the tradition of "cactus" rock, aka rock mexicano or rock urbano, which expresses themes of city life and political solidarity with Mexico's urban poor. Tercer Divisa carries this forward with lyrics about the migrant experience and human rights. Even the band's name refers to the income generated from transnational migrants, which is Mexico's "third" largest source of domestic revenue.

"He who puts bread on the table deserves dignity and respect," cries out the lead singer at the end of "700 millas," in this recent performance at Durham's Broad Street Cafe:

Tercer Divisa pays reverence to Black Sabbath with a Spanish cover of "Paranoid," but also Mexican bands like Heavy Nopal and Rockdrigo Gonzalez, a charismatic folk rocker who was killed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Here is Rockdrigo, a nasal-voiced John Lennon figure known as "El Profeta del Nopal," doing his cult classic about losing a lover in the subway:

See Tercer Divisa Nacional at the Meadow Stage on Saturday afternoon.

El Kilombo: Intergalactic Radio

A new community radio show starts this Wednesday, 7:30-8 pm: Radio Kilombo: Voces Intergalacticas on WXDU-Durham, 88.7 FM, with live web stream at www.wxdu.org.

The half-hour talk show covers local, national and global news and issues relevant to the Latino community in Durham and the Triangle.

Radio Kilombo debuts this week following my music program, Azucar y Candela with Santa Salsera, featuring salsa, timba, Latin jazz & Afro-Cuban roots, at its new Wednesday time of 5:30-7:30 pm.

El Kilombo also hosts a monthly benefit dance at Club 9, on Ninth Street in Durham, on the third Friday of every month. The next party will be Friday, September 19th, with a free salsa lesson when doors open at 10pm. Deejay will spin salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton; cover is $10 at the door, or $5 with RSVP. To receive the door discount, just email clubcimarron@gmail.com and you will be placed on their guest list. All proceeds of the Club Cimarron Dance Party benefit the non-profit El Kilombo Social Center at 324-B Geer Street in Durham. More info: (919) 688-8768 or www.elkilombo.org

What to do: Razpa on the Plaza in Durham this Saturday

It pains me somewhat that I'm unable to make it up to D.C. this evening for the free Julieta Venegas concert at the Kennedy Center. Asi es la vida. Instead, maybe I can make it to downtown Durham this Saturday for a free show by Latin rockers Razpa. The show will be at the CCB Plaza (corner of Corcoran and Parrish streets) at 5:30 pm.. You can see what Sylvia has to say about Razpa in this post, or check out the official p.r.:
Razpa is a five-piece Latin rock band based in Chapel Hill that uses heavy grooves and commanding musicianship to spread an impassioned message about social inequalities, injustices and human emotions. Mixing elements of cumbia, salsa, reggae and samba with rock and roll, Razpa brings a high-energy, danceable sound with a razor-sharp edge. Formed in 2006 as a project to bring a fresh sound to the famed Chapel Hill music scene, Razpa is quickly becoming a fan favorite in both the English and Spanish–speaking live music circles. Combining mostly original songs with a handful of covers, a live Razpa delivers dynamic and infectious music.

Razpa will be appearing with Durham-based band Red Collar.

Monday, September 8, 2008

La Fiesta: Day Two Highlights

A lot of positive changes to the festival this year: among them, the return of visual artists and real craftspeople, including the epic, mythologizing canvases of painter Cornelio Campos, black-and-white photos by Pulitzer prize-winning documentarian José Galvez, and indigenous beading and thread art. I heard one exhibitor saying, he hopes to set up a working atelier next year, which would be a great expansion of the La Fiesta del Pueblo's educational dimension.

Also in the wholesome improvements category, the best merch this year was at the Compare Foods booth, where people stood in long lines to receive free recycled shopping bags and fresh produce. Besides promoting healthy nutrition, it was an education to non-Caribbeans in unfamiliar tree fruits and root vegetables, from dusky, sweet-smelling tamarindo pods to the hairy, coconut-sized malanga.

Attendance had really picked up on Sunday; looking forward to hearing the figures from El Pueblo once they have them tallied, but it appears to have been a good year.

I talked to one married couple on Saturday, a Puerto Rican in the spiffiest red hat and white sneakers, and his wife who proudly displayed her Panamanian colors on a T-shirt, both glowing with dance sweat.

"We love it. We've been coming here for 15 years!"

I didn't get a chance to ask their names, because the music called them back to the dancefloor. That's our fiesta, I thought, the essence of our Carolina Latin thing.

I had a chance to hear more of Santino on Sunday, when he packed the Cafe Teatro. Notwithstanding his successes in L.A.'s entertainment industry (high-profile placements in film and TV soundtracks), he obviously has his sights set on connecting with more diverse live audiences. No one's got better fundamental skills to do it, but the very uniqueness of his voice makes it hard to imagine a market niche that could hold him.

Where the Wild Things Are

Santino's band

Like the Peruvian second coming of Freddie Mercury, Santino's voice is too soaring for the processed pablum that dominates commercial Latin pop. His solo sound, a blend of his classic rock roots (Fragil) and Peru's multicultural, indigenous influences, is full of personal conviction, aided by his onstage presence, which was even more unleashed and intense than I've seen it before.

Santino, flamenco

The headliners at the outdoor stage, Los Silver Stars from Honduras, were obviously a hit. They're a young band, with a vivacious dancer who showed off a lot of her punta and dancehall moves. I didn't spend lots of time outside, to fully review this band, but the music was fun, people were dancing, and it was something different for the Fiesta's tropical lineup.

On the other hand, there wasn't much music for salseros on Sunday, and it seemed like fewer folks from the salsa/mambo scene turned out that day as a result. Trio Saludos Compay played a short set (half an hour) inside. Slower son montunos like "El Manisero" were more of a listening affair, while others like (Las Chicas del Can cover) "Juana la Cubana" resulted in a little dancing. The Cubans also gathered for a procession for La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, handing out lyric sheets for her Veneración and carrying a figurine that came from Cuba as someone's family heirloom in the 60s. I also met a couple of Cubans who had just arrived via raft 5 months ago. A doctor and a nurse in Cuba, they are just getting settled in our area, learning English and getting entry-level service jobs at places like Walmart, before they can work on recertification in the medical field.

Food? I tried an arepa and some platano; delicious of course. It was a good Fiesta, congrats to Margarita McAvoy and El Pueblo for keeping it real, diverse and on message.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

La Fiesta: Day One Highlights

Unlike past years, most of the Fiesta del Pueblo is indoors at the N.C. Fairgrounds this year. At first, it was a bit disappointing not to be outside (could have left my sunscreen and straw hat at home), but in a way it made the Fiesta seem bigger and easier to navigate, because it was all concentrated in a smaller space.

It seemed like the cultural element was a bigger deal in the booths and crafts vendors this year, which was nice to see. For instance, there's a little Rincón Cubano set up, with a domino table and a bunch of Cubans just hanging out, talking with you about their culture and handing out free shots of cafe Cubano.

Tomorrow (Sunday): the Cubans are having a domino tournament at 1:00; come one, come all.

Among the vendors, there was some pretty, hand-made stuff for sale, like Colombian hats and Andean embroidered tops, as well as lots of chavo gear, beaded necklaces and athletic wear displaying national colors and religious emblems. Pride and protection. Speaking of T-shirts, La Firma's musicians all wore the same one that amused with the saying: "Legally Latin."

To eat: I had a plate of picadillo with rice, beans and mariquitos (platano chips) from Carmen's, which was good and priceworthy, at $5; the pupusas next door looked great too. I recommend the lemonade vendor just outside the Jim Graham building, this vendor (who had a long, thin braid down his back) had a great way of shaking up the lemonade to activate the pulp, and not oversweetening it.

I'm told that Sunday the Main Stage moves outside, it was all under cover today due to rain threat. While it is just not as nice to hear music inside the cattle exhibition hall, on the upside, there was a nice temporary dance floor installed which paid dividends for the salseros, merengueros, etc. Yes, people were getting down. Pablo Antonio y La Firma (from D.C. and environs) closed out the night, I think I remember them from last year, a Dominican-led large band that does mostly merengue, so their merengue sounds right (with a real tambora player) and their salsa is respectable. Timbalero (a Haitian dude, I'm told) played a real cool solo in the Oscar D'Leon cover "Lloraras". This band had a good rapport with dancers.

I missed a few sets I might have liked to see, like Charanga Carolina, but, musically the day was satisfying and filled with discoveries.
Costa Colombiana
Besides the cultural gem Costa Colombiana (about which, more to follow), rock was the big news at the Fiesta today. North Carolina bands Tercer Divisa Nacional, Razpa and Braco (Winston-Salem) all came out swinging, not to mention visitors Santino, from Peru via L.A., and (gospel rock) El Trio de Hoy, from Massachusetts and Miami.

I missed Tercer Divisa Nacional's set, but hung out and talked with them afterwards; last I heard them play was at Shakori Hills, where they will return in October. Their Mexican-style blues-rock reminds me of El Tri, with conscious lyrics about human rights and immigration, delivered with a frank, rebellious attitude. Leaders David and Luis I've known for many years, as fellow denizens of the salsa scene, and let me tell you: a dynamic duo, these guys always bring the party. A lot of impish, youthful energy fills the band's ranks; I look forward to seeing more of them.

Razpa takes the blue ribbon in this pie contest, a 6-piece of nothing-but guitars and percussion which suits this Triangle indie rock atmosphere. They have focused their sound considerably since I saw them last, over a year ago (maybe 2 years?), at Carmen's, when they were full of talent and good ideas, but a little all over the place. Zac Adelman (drumset) and Levy Vargas (bass) lead the group, Chris Calix is the guitar wunderkind, but that's not to sleight fellow guitarist Alex Mesplede, a talented Latin rock veteran in the Triangle, though still a young man. Multi-percussionist Brevan Hampden, the hammer for any nail, was filling in on congas, and a back-up singer Jorge Guerrero provided vocal harmony and hand percussion.
Alex, Chris, Levy
They've been gigging around Chapel Hill quite a bit, at places like The Mansion and Jack Sprat, and it's great to finally see some original Latin rockers breaking in to the college circuit. No longer a diamond in the rough, Razpa has polished up their act and begun to flash fire. This isn't salsa, and you don't need an introduction. I think they've really fulfilled a fantasy of mine, which is to have a creative, native Latin rock band that doesn't need translation. If you're looking for a band to see, just go check it out.

Braco and Santino rocked hard, drew crowds and deserve their props. Red ribbons all around.

But the wonder of the evening was, well...surprise, the Christian rock band, Trio de Hoy. Is Trio a play on the holy Trinity? I don't know, because there are five of them. They were so talented, as instrumentalists, and so guided by some obvious spirit, it was hard not to take the Lord's name in vain. Wow. The rumors go around that they started out at Berklee School of Music; not so. That the two classical guitarists, the acrobatic bassist, and power drummer must be classically trained. Nada de eso. They are all pastors' sons, family-trained, formally untutored. Jaw drop. Is this some kind of missionary gimmick?! Believe what you want. But Trio de Hoy is musicianship I haven't seen since Paco de Lucia was in town.
Omar Salas
Trio de Hoy: playing again at La Fiesta Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Cafe Teatro. Do not miss; make you wanna shout.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bio Ritmo, Live at Emilio's

Just found this tasty little slice of home video on the web, showing one of my favorite bands--Bio Ritmo--in one of my favorite places to see them, a tapas bar and restaurant called Emilio's in Richmond, Virginia.

In fact, I might have been at this very show, since founder Jorge Negron was in town (c. April, 2007?), visiting from Puerto Rico for Bio Ritmo's 15th anniversary.

Host Mike Lebron's woman-in-the-crowd interviews are a little fluffy, but he does a nice interview with Jorge, and in the live band footage, you get a sense of how hard this band plays in the immediacy of the small club setting. It's like a time machine back to the era of old school salsa and live dance music.

Which is why I love Bio Ritmo.

[The video is from a web TV series called Noches de Richmond, which also has some sweet front-row footage of Grupo Niche.]

Epilogue: Bio Ritmo live Tuesdays at Emilio's are no more. The band has moved on to bigger and better touring opportunities, though the bar still keeps up a salsa night. The Emilio's in the video had gone through a facelift since I wrote this Indy column, in 2004. I liked its old '50s lunch counter look, but sometimes we all move on to brighter, more festive incarnations.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Carnavalito at Raleigh Wide Open, Sat Noon

Salsa dancers, turn out early at Raleigh Wide Open if you want to hear Carnavalito. Their set is from Noon-1:30 on Saturday. Barring foul weather from Hurricane Hanna...

The Raleigh Convention Center hasn't posted the full schedule on their website yet, but in the meantime, blow-by-blow concert info can be found here.

Publicity photo from Carnavalito's website shows l to r: Hugh Robertson, flute/sax, Alberto Carrasquillo, trumpet, Pako Santiago, timbales.

La Tropa de Tierra Caliente in Durham Saturday

La Tropa de Tierra Caliente will be playing Saturday at the Coalition to Unchain Dogs Benefit in Durham central Park. The even starts at 4:30, and La Tropa are scheduled to start their set at 4:45.

Parizade [International] Party is Baaaaack....Saturday (9/6)

Remember La Mama de Los Pollitos, the original monthly Latin mixer at Cafe Parizade, with its sinuous floorplan, industrial vaulted ceilings, and slightly racy Mediterranean-style murals? Well, it's baaack...run by the same events promoter who started the tradition, but now on a different night.

Colombian promoter Ricardo Morales originated the "First Friday" fiesta at Parizade, sometime around 2003. At the time it was a new concept in the Triangle Latin scene, urbane and multicultural, a warehouse for well-heeled young professionals, students, and generally attractive people of both sexes, with a hint of exclusivity.

Tai Lopez took over First Fridays at some point, then moved the monthly operation to Spice Street in Chapel Hill. Successive owners of his promotions business, Triangle Fiestas, continue to run it, as well as weekly parties minted on a similar model at Raleigh's Red Room.

Ricardo has kept his hand in promotions and management over the years; notably, he oversaw the remodel of Carmen's Cuban Cafe and Touch Ultra Lounge a few years ago. For awhile, he also booked the entertainment there, and used to bring in live local salsa bands every Friday night. While this was great for bands with a following, not enough of a scene materialized to make the laudable experiment pay.

It was at Carmen's that I ran into Ricardo again this Tuesday, at the weekly social of Mambo Dinamico. He was there to spread the word about Secret--his resurrected International Party at Parizade, coming up this Saturday (9/6), and every first Saturday of the month...

As if there weren't enough to do this weekend, with bands competing for attention at Raleigh Wide Open, La Fiesta del Pueblo AND the Benefit to Unchain Dogs...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Groove Shop Returns! LABOR DAY outdoor concert...

For those of us wondering what happened to John Brown's Groove Shop last Thursday night, that outdoor show at American Tobacco was postponed due to rain chances.

Good news: Groove Shop is RESCHEDULED for today, Labor Day, note new time: 5:00-7:00 p.m.

This is no straight-ahead jazz gig (as they're announcing on WUNC), no: This is your chance to see John Brown strap on an electric axe and bounce into the funk repertoire he loves: Stevie Wonder, Sly, Earth Wind & Fire, etc. Still sounds a little jazzy though; hear a sample here.

Free, outdoors, American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham. See our calendar for links and details.