Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009 on Sale at

I'm not much on list-making, so here's a useful link instead:'s 100 most popular albums of 2009 are on sale until midnight tonight (12/31).

12/31: West End Mambo & Greensboro Sympony

Local Triangle musicians expected to appear as guests at this New Year's Eve pops concert include Jaime Roman, Andy Kleindienst and Ramon Ortiz. I'm not sure how West End Mambo will be integrated with the Symphony, whether the two groups will perform together or individually. Flyers say dancing will be permitted and a bar available.

Concert runs from 8-10 pm; salsa dancers are planning to meet afterwards at Artistika at 523 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro to party on towards midnight.

War Memorial Auditorium is in the Greensboro Colisseum complex at 1921 E. Lee St. Get tickets there or at the Greensboro Symphony webpage.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Papaya Party Highlights

Some new video of Orquesta GarDel from the tremendously successful Papaya party Saturday night, where musicians and dancers were happy all around. Everybody who should have been there was there, I think, a historic gathering of all the salsa and mambo crowds, old and new school.

The brass section sounded crisper with the use of new in-ear monitors, and this tune showcases los metales, going down the line in a series of short solo blasts, which start at the 2:40 min mark:

Passing solos down the line, from right to left: Alberto Carrasquillo (trumpet), Andy Kleindienst (trombone), Tim Smith (alto sax), Blu Thompson (bari sax), back around to Al Strong (trumpet), and down the line again to Blu, merry musical prankster, who ends the tear with an allusion to a familiar holiday tune.

NCCU music faculty Al Strong brought his flugelhorn along, for a change of pace, and deftly substituted it for one of the softer solos in another tune. A few friends dropped in to help celebrate Nelson Delgado's birthday, including Ramon "Chino" Casiano, leader of Sajaso, who took the lead on one tune.

Al Strong, flugelhorn

Click on small photos to see larger

GarDel in action

Ramon "Chino" Casiano, guest vocal

Charanga Carolina opened and sounded great; I'm cheered to hear the sangre nueva, aka several of the group's newest student members, telling me how much they love playing in the group, and plan to do so for the rest of their UNC careers. This is exactly what I (we) want to hear! This is the idea behind this cutting-edge Latin music education; recruiting talent into the fold and training up the next generation. I danced a lot, consequently didn't stand around much taking new photos or videos, but this group sounded great and is growing stronger. Their songbook has increased a lot more than I had expected, from the timba they were doing, to salsa dura, and late 70s Fania with creamy string arrangements. Talking with director David Garcia, I'm confident we're going to hear great things to come in the spring semester.

As GarDel played their first notes, Eric Hirsh's distinctive keyboard sound really hit me, in the best way. Here we are near the end of the night, as I was able to catch this solo, and the general good vibe of Papaya:

It was a historic pairing of bands, and as noted, GarDel has its roots in Charanga, and shared most of the same rhythm section and vocalists night. The neat thing about this joint concert was the chance to hear both bands, sounding great, and to appreciate their uniqueness and their differences. It also shows that, great live music in the right atmosphere at an accessible price really brings our salsa community together. This rarely seems possible anymore; thanks to David Garcia and to both bands for showing that it is.

xmas candids
click on photo to see more at my flickr page

Day of Devotions

Some pictures (link to my flickr set) from the procession through Durham's Burch Avenue neighborhood on 12/12, at 12 noon, for la Virgen de Guadalupe. Believe it or not, a rose bush outside the Church was in bloom. These store-bought roses were carried as a dais in the procession, then placed inside the sanctuary:

Bed of Roses

It was cold (40s), but we were lucky the rain held off until that evening. There was a mass after the procession, with dancing outside before and after. Some very sweet hot chocolate, coffee, a cocoa drink made with corn meal, some VERY DELICIOUS red tamales, and some sweet bread and rolls were served.

As every year, I ran into friends, old and new. I spoke with Irma Aguirre, whose photo in the black tilma with Guadalupe on it I run every year. She's an elder of the church whom I met the very first time I "met" Guadalupe, when I stumbled into a procession one summer to honor the new statue of the Virgin that had just been purchased (2004? 2005?). Curious, and not sure whether I was there to observe or to participate, I went along with Irma when she took me firmly by the arm, as we sang Guadalupan songs from her lyric sheet. She was there Saturday, as always, following the float with a microphone, leading the singing. Irma told me she's a mother of 13, but I suspect she's like a mother to many more than that.

family reunion

Javier Solis, who runs security at the Guadalupan events every year, was keeping kids under parental supervision at all times, and keeping an eye out for gang members. To my surprise, he said he'd seen a few that day. There was an off-duty officer they'd hired on site. All was calm and bright as far as I could see, so I guess Javier and his crew had things under control. Among the invited demons to watch out for was this guy: I didn't notice it at the time, but he has a Teletubby doll hanging around his neck.

La muerte with teletubby

New friends made: Bolivar and Maximino, experts in pre-Hispanic dances from Tolucca, who have a dance group out in Wendell. They said they're going to call me when they perform; hopefully I'll get some video of that eventually. Maximino gave me a live demo of the deer dance, Venado, which whet my appetite to learn more about the different dances. These guys were spending the whole day visiting various churches for Marian devotions; from here, they were on their way to Clayton for a reenactment of the apparition of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, and a mass.

Viejitos carry the Virgin

It's a hodgepodge of Guadalupan traditions from all over Mexico that meet on the streets of Durham; N&O reporter John Murawski gleaned this interesting fact for his story from my friend Javier. The Viejitos are from a region of Michoacan; they wear masks that resemble distinctly pink old men with pointed chins and white beards. They wear wooden sandals which act like tap shoes or clogs, and dance hunched over with canes. Also from Michoacan, I think, are the Inditas (a Mexican name for them, called something else here, but I don't remember), ladies with shiny satin aprons, braided hair and shawls.

People came out of their homes to watch the procession, some in wonderment. A woman asked me what this was, and I told her. She had a tear in her eye. Her name was Gwen.

The sun came out briefly as I photographed this mother and her daughter in a matachine costume at the end of the procession. Despite the chill in the air, there was a blessed warmth on the streets of Durham.

end of the line

Friday, December 11, 2009

12/12 Celebrations in Durham

La Virgen de Guadalupe celebrations at the Immaculate Conception Church in Durham start tonight, FRIDAY 12/11 with a short procession at 6:30 pm.

Matachine dancers will be dancing in La Maldita Vecindad (informal name for an apartment complex on Hwy 98/Alston Ave) from 9 pm on; last year there was a shrine, snacks and drinks, and this went on all night until morning mass at the church.

Virgin of Guadalupe shrine

A welcome change from when I first started going to these things is that the church will be open much earlier, from 11 pm tonight on, for Las Mananitas--singing "happy birthday" to the Virgin at her shrine inside the sanctuary, starting at midnight, with mariachis, roses, roses, and more roses, until 12/12 early morning mass at 5 am.

Saturday, 12/12 celebrations continue at 12 Noon with a longer procession through the Burch Avenue neighborhood. This is something worthwhile if you've never seen or walked in one before. I've never done it by daylight, as this used to take place Saturday night.

It's my personal feeling and opinion that you don't have to believe in anything, or be a Catholic, to come participate in this as a neighborhood community event. It promotes cultural diversity and some values I think most of us share: peace, community, dignity, and for a lot of people, faith. Check it out.


Full 2009 Schedule of Events PDF at Immaculate Conception Church website

2005 Indy Story and photo essay on the Virgin's Feast Day at Immaculate Conception Church, Durham


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homegrown: Boricua Traditions

The Latin Project played an intergenerational Christmas party at Carmen's last Saturday, for the Association of United Puerto Ricans of NC. It started early with a heavy salsa set I can only describe as enviable (because I envy the people who got to hear it--social obligations kept me from arriving before 10): "El Negro Bembón," "Anacaona," "El Cuarto de Tula," and "Juana Peña" were among the hot dance numbers I missed.

But, if I thought all the magic moments had seeped away, little did I know what lay in store: a homestyle parranda of plena and música jíbara, traditional folk music played around the holidays. This is a Puerto Rican Christmas party, after all.

First, a state of the band: Charlotte's Carlos Delarosa, former co-leader, is not active in Latin Project at the moment as he pursues other personal and business opportunities; so trumpeter Alberto Carrasquillo, local to the Triangle, is currently the band's sole leader/arranger. Jose Sanchez and Lucas Torres play hand drums, whereas Cuto plays timbales and adds smokey vocals befitting the classic '70s tunes of El Sonero Mayor, Cheo Feliciano, and Hector Lavoe favored by this group. Phil Merritt plays piano, and Columbia, SC's Rene Muñiz, normally on bass, couldn't make the long haul this time, so Raleigh bassist Pete Baez stepped in. Also missing was saxophonist Serena Wiley, replaced by Tim Smith.

Trombonist Andy Kleindienst blew some of THE wildest shit I have ever heard him play, shout-out-loud moñas and solos that extended with driving urgency. It's every salsa trombonist's destiny to be compared to Barry Rogers, whenever he or she skirts close to greatness; that's just the way it is, and always will be. No offense, Barry. Andy woke your memory that night, and totally buzzed your spirit, at least for this listener. THAT is what salsa is about. There's an ancestral connection in every good performance.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a one-man show. Alberto's golden horn sounded like Cuban coffee, strong and sweet, and overall the band gets a solid rating for old school grit and dancefloor polish.

The Latin Project with guest Jaime Roman performing a plena medley

Now, I guess you're primed for the surprising gem of the evening. Jaime Roman, who has lately been showing more and more sides of himself as a vocalist (singing lead on Charanga Carolina's Los Van Van tunes), sat in during the second set to reveal his core as a farmer poet. Not literally; but in the figurative sense of Puerto Rican jíbaros and their mountain traditions.

This style of music you are going to hear in this video, seis fajardeño (I think--or one of the MANY related seis genres) forms the basis for verbal improvisation, according to a strict rhyme and meter in a ten-line pattern known as décima. Often, the poet-singers show their prowess through true improv, taking lines suggested by the audience as their final line of the décima (called a pie forzado), and composing the song on the spot that leads up to it. Language is important here, so it's hard to feel the full, rousing pull of this art form without understanding Spanish.

While Jaime doesn't pull lines from the crowd, he just as impressively composes verses to suit this particular occasion, which gets a big reaction from the audience as you will see. It's amazing to stand there and see this art form performed right in front of you; these praisesingers of trova are like Puerto Rican griots.

The only thing missing from the parranda around here, Triangle, is a cuatro player--any volunteers out there? There are some holes in my personal orchestra, and that is one. I also want to hear vibes with a salsa band. That's got to be doable. Anyone? Brother, can you spare a dream?

EXTRA: the puerto rican art of improvisation

If you liked that, here's something similar by one of the greatest improvisors of trova verse singing in Puerto Rico, I reckon: Victor Manuel Reyes.

Talk about your farmer poets; he always dresses like this. I saw him throw down a seis controversia with Victoria Sanabria at El Dia Nacional de la Salsa in 2007, in a stadium in front of 40,000 people, surrounded by the best salsa musicians in the world in full concert mode--and he was dressed exactly the same way, like he just got off a tractor.

What I love about this art form: the way the you can see the guy thinking of what his next line will be, actually see the act of creation that is going on in his mind at the moment, in the concentration of his expression. It's pure concentrate all right. I like the way certain verbal scraps and flourishes are repeated, not hamhandedly, but artfully, repieced together, as needed, to make the quilting fit. And yet it's always, at its best, something completely new, spontaneous, and fitted, tailored, to the moment and the circumstance. It should be obvious what this art form has to do with salsa, as part of the deep cultural background, not just in Puerto Rico, but surely all over the Caribbean where these same traditions landed.

In this video (above), Victor Manuel Reyes makes up rhymes about the camera filming him, then goes into the audience to make up rhymes about the people there. He's accompanied by the splendid cuatro player Cristian Nieves, who embroiders some nice jazzy stuff on folkloric fabric.

That was the slow version; here's part two, where Victor Manuel Reyes does the same thing, but in doubletime, and in improv format, turning lines suggested by the audience into the last line of a décima (the much more challenging pie forzado).

Here especially, one can also hear some similarities with North American bluegrass. I can't really explain that, but it isn't surprising. All that picking had to come from somewhere. It's a big New World experience, and we are more related than we think.

Link: Handy guide to Puerto Rico's trovadores

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Juicy Fruit: Saturday 12/12

Saturday's impending dance frenzy with GarDel and Charanga got picked up by the wires; I penned this short item in today's Independent Weekly:
12.12 PAPAYA @ UNC

"Papaya is the proverbial juicy fruit of Latin folklore, a rustic metaphor that eliminates the need for an FCC. It's also the name of the juiciest salsa double bill to come along this season: Orquesta GarDel meets Charanga Carolina, as the Triangle's top salsa band goes head to head with the UNC performing ensemble that spawned it. The Charanga adds greasy trombones to its classical violins, flute and Latin rhythm section, making it possible to mimic modern Cuban timba bands as well as early New York salsa. GarDel is the big bowwow, packed with UNC alums gone pro. Expect a jam session at this birthday party for Nelson Delgado, who sings with both bands. So juicy, it's inevitable. In the Kenan Music Building Rehearsal Room. $5-$10/ 9:45 p.m." —Sylvia Pfeiffenberger

Source:, 12.9.09, "Hearing Aid: The guide to the week's concerts"

See my earlier blog post here, or check the Onda Carolina calendar, for more info.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vive! World AIDS Day 12/1

I wanted to post this video in recognition of World AIDS Day, which was December 1.

Rumor has it that Juan Formell (seen handing a condom to the couple in the final scene) is giving press conferences about a US tour for Los Van Van in 2010.

With the recent visits of Omara Portuondo, who picked up her Latin Grammy in person, and Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, which has been wowing East and West Coast audiences, this scenario now seems likely.

Jon Pareles' review of Septeto Nacional in the NY Times

Vaya, Papaya!

Live music highlights through mid-December--see sidebar for details:

THIS SATURDAY (12/5), Latin Project plays a holiday party for the Associación de Puertorriqueños Unidos de NC at Carmen's Cuban Cafe. Advanced tickets are cheaper and can be purchased for $15 at Havana Grill in Cary; singles pay $20 at the door. The Assoc. is collecting unwrapped holiday gifts for children in need. Latin Project equals tasty Puerto Rican salsa de la vieja escuela with members from Charlotte, Columbia, SC and the Triangle.

NEXT SATURDAY (12/12), Charanga Carolina and Orquesta GarDel share an exciting double bill. The price is right at $10, in the UNC Kenan Music Building Rehearsal Room. The party is rather daringly called "Payaya" and is a celebration of the 58th birthday on that date of Nelson Delgado, a sonero with both bands.

Charanga Carolina is UNC's Cuban music ensemble, and when I say charanga I MEAN CHARANGA--violins and cello, woodwinds heavy on the 'bones this year, with decent pianists and drumset, and a professional Latin percussion wing. The perfect formula to perform Los Van Van, whose charts they've added to the book this year.

Orquesta GarDel is the big, bad, bow wow of North Carolina salsa bands. Their bloodline is de pura cepa: Charanga Carolina alums crossed with the Triangle's nastiest rhythm badasses this side of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the DR. They speak timba, and have a terrible weakness for Eddie Palmieri. GarDel is a filament whose pulsing energy source is the clave.

Vaya, Papaya! Salsa dancers, are you ready for the juicy fruit of folclor? Seriously, if you don't go to this one you are soft in the head.

With love for my brother Nelson, and all the brothers and sisters of Charanga who will create the GarDels of our future.

Link: Papaya party invite on Facebook

Friday, November 27, 2009

Antorcha Guadalupana in Durham SATURDAY

The Antorcha Guadalupana, an annual torch run for human dignity from Mexico City's Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe to New York City, is passing through Durham this SATURDAY (11/28) around 6:30 - 7:00 pm.

Apparently Mayor Bill Bell will be among those speaking at the event at the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St.


Festivities for the Virgin of Guadalupe begin in earnest the evening before 12/12, her feast day. Guadalupe is Mexico's "mother" and the patron saint of the Americas, and the celebrations include indigenous masked dancers, mariachis, food, flowers, processions and religious services (Catholic mass).

Here's some of my footage from past celebrations of the Virgin around Durham.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Jelly Is In The Jam

After the NCCU Jazz Ensemble Big Band concert Friday night, I minded a research tip that Yale art historian and music critic Robert Farris Thompson hangs his hat on: "Jazz Rule #1 = Hang Out."

Turns out there's a jam session after every big band concert. In that rehearsal room, you couldn't turn around without jostling up against a saxophone. The talent was ridiculous.

Latin bands will often dip into the jazz cistern for horn players, that's a well-known fact. Jazz has given our music a lot, and I think it's fair to say it's been a two-way street, starting with Jelly Roll Morton and his famous quote about the "Spanish tinge."


In the audience were Alberto Carrasquillo (a Central Jazz Studies alum) and Kyle Santos, the trumpets of GarDel at the recent Copa Night event. Serena Wiley and Blu Thompson, both current students, play regularly with one Latin band or another, be it Carnavalito, Sajaso or GarDel. Faculty member Al Strong has also "been there, done that" playing various Latin gigs, as have students Reggie Greenlee and Ricardo James. Who else am I missing? Probably somebody.

There's a moment in the jam session--I don't know if there's a name for it--when something intangible happens and all the ordinary greatness of a non-stop blowing session turns into a magical conversation. I was in the right place at the right time, and had my camera out.

Al Strong (trumpet) leads with some nasty goodness, then the spirit lands on Serena Wiley (tenor sax), who descends from the risers to have her say. Blu Thompson (alto sax) picks up the thread with a children's rhyme, followed by Kadir Muhammed (trumpet). In the band are Baron Tymas (guitar), Jay Wright (piano), Freeman Ledbetter (doublebass) and Larry Draughn (drums). Sitting to my immediate left and right are Andy Paolantonio and James "Saxsmo" Gates.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gregg Gelb Goes Latin

Gregg Gelb goes Latin
Heart of Carolina Jazz Band with "Grandes Estrellas de Latinoamérica" @ Temple Theatre

Some footage of Gregg Gelb's jazz band performing with Pako Santiago, Nelson Delgado, Ramon Ortiz, Andy Kleindienst and Guillo Carias in Sanford on Nov. 6.

Full review coming soon.


Temple Theatre


"Para Los Rumberos": Tito Puente medley featuring percussion breaks by Pako Santiago (bongo), Nelson Delgado (congas) and Ramon Ortiz (timbales).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Line Item News

Changes in the Party Calendar:

El Kilombo, organizers of the Cimarron Latin Night @ Club 9, report that due to cost constraints, the benefit/dance party will be SUSPENDED for the time being. They plan to notify us if they are able to relocate this event in the future.

Mosaic Wine Lounge has reoriented their once-monthly Latin Night to feature Guillo Carias leading a Latin jazz combo in suave salsa and merengue.

Noche Latina @ Mosaic

Could the advent of no-cover, live music Latin venues finally give a run for their money to high-cover, dj'ed dance parties? Here's hoping. Thanks anyway to Mosaic for creating warm, cosmopolitan spaces in the Glenwood South party zone.

Artist Residencies:

This week features two distinguished artist residencies in Durham: Saxophonist Steve Wilson arrives at NC Central today to rehearse with the NCCU Jazz Big Band. They perform Friday, 8 pm in Central's B.N. Duke Auditorium; admission is $15.

Folkloric percussion expert Michael Spiro is also in town conducting private workshops and rehearsing with Duke's Afro-Cuban Percussion Ensemble. This will be a tough choice, as Spiro's performance with them is also Friday at 8 pm, in Duke University's Baldwin Auditorium. The Duke Djembe and Afro-Cuban Ensembles concert is free and open to the public.

Online video lesson in clave by Michael Spiro

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Surinamese Kaseko in the Kakalak

Suriname, the smallest state in South America, nonetheless boasts a rich musical culture based on its unusual geography, history and ethnic diversity.

Ever heard of "kaseko" music, Suriname's fusion of calypso and son? You can get a live earful this Thursday (11/19), when a LOCAL KASEKO BAND will play following a film about one of Suriname's biggest musical stars, Lieve Hugo, at the NC Latin American Film Festival.

Vincent Soekra's 90-min. film "Iko: King of Kaseko," will be shown at 7 pm in the City of Durham's Holton Career and Resource Center, 401 N. Driver St. Live music will follow.

Frake Hunsel, a Surinamese native and percussionist with Raleigh's ELM Collective, will lead an all-star kaseko band "Carolina style," featuring Curtis Mayfield-style electric guitar, saxophones, 'bones, flutes, drums, bass, piano and vocalists.

This once-in-a-lifetime event is FREE and OPEN to the public!

Get Kaseko Experienced!

Frake Hunsel, drums (far left)

Related Event:

WHAT: Lecture/Demonstration on Surinamese Music, Culture & Religion
SPEAKERS: Herman Snijders, Director, Suriname National Music School
Cyriel Eersteling, Suriname Maroon Cultural Ambassador
WHEN: TUESDAY (11/17) at 7 pm
WHERE: Studio Theater, Thompson Hall, NCSU Dept. of Music, Raleigh, NC

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mambo Lives at Copa Night

gardel @ parizade
Orquesta GarDel's three vocalists: Jaime Ramon, Ramon Ortiz (front) and Nelson Delgado

Despite some drawbacks to the venue, the Copa Night 5th Anniversary at Parizade turned out to be one hell of a party. Orquesta GarDel performed two slamming salsa sets following dance performances by Junior & Emily, Yamulee, CoboBrothers, Mambo Dinamico and others.

I'm not an "on 2" dancer and I don't particularly relish stage shows, but the performers flaunted a lot of admirable nerve and skill. I find the women particularly fearless--just like they used to say about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. These mambo ladies were lifted and tossed into aerial moves, slid across the floor, and vaulted over their partners' bodies to land in splits, all with smiles on their faces and outfitted in sequined pumps and intricate, spandex fantasies as revealing as bikinis.

The dance show ran late, and due to the recent change in venue (George's Garage closed earlier this year, forcing Copa Night to relocate to Parizade), not everyone could see the dance stage; host Milton Cobo apologized to guests for the inconveniences, and promised to make it up to them.

Raleigh company Mambo Dinamico dedicated their dance to the local community that supports them year round, while The CoboBrothers scored heavy applause for their athletic airborne moves and high drama styling. Yamulee from The Bronx always scores points in my book for strong, classic taste, and I liked the unusual music selection by Atlanta's Proyecto Barrio of "My Favorite Things" in a Latin jazz version with vibes.

But the top honors of the evening have to go to West Coast dancers Junior and Emily, a pro team from San Francisco with 10 world titles under their belts. Technically superb, relaxed, and totally adorable, they are absolutely popping with individuality and all the qualities that make dancing look fun. Junior's open-chested, bell-bottomed costumes evoked WWF and sailors' uniforms; Emily's neon pink and yellow fringed skirts and glitter eyelashes evoked swing-era kewpie dolls and futuristic anime heroines. Their hairstyles were also too cute for words, completing the character. And that's just the frosting. When this duo hits the stage, it's as kinetic and explosive as water hitting a greasefire. Flawless fun with turning technique was a focus, less so aerial acrobatics. Turns out they are down-to-earth people in real life, too, as I discovered when I congratulated them backstage.

With all the mambo faithful gathered, there was a lot of energy in the room when the time came for social dancing. Into this charged atmosphere, GarDel delivered.

Sometimes you are at the party; other times you are of the party. I didn't do a whole lot of photographing last night; you can guess why.

GarDel tearing it up last night with an Eddie Palmieri tune.

Chart Gawking! GarDel original "Welcome to Shakori Hills"

Looking over first trumpet Alberto Carrasquillo's shoulder, I got this peek at his warm-up chart: an original in timba style by the band's trombonist and co-leader, Andy Kleindienst. Click on either photo to see larger!

welcome to shakori hills chart

gardel @ parizade

Friday, November 13, 2009

DVR ALERT: Latin Music USA

Don't forget, Latin Music USA is re-airing this month on PBS station WUNC-TV in our cable viewing area.

Tonight (Friday 11/13), episode 2, "The Salsa Revolution," airs at 10 pm. The 3rd and 4th episodes air over the next two Fridays.

Harpsichord Heaven

Photos from Thursday's harpsichord unveiling and concert:

golden garden
don't touch! that's real 24 carat gold leaf.

Beverly Biggs
Beverly Biggs with her harpsichord.

post-show peek
Opus 333 by harpsichord maker Richard Kingston.

Rebecca Pechefsky, Richard Kingston, Lisa Creed & Elaine Funaro

333 hinge design

signature of painter Lisa Creed
Painted by Lisa Creed.

333 keyboard

Below: Kingston, Creed and Funaro.
Richard Kingston, Lisa Creed & Elaine Funaro


And finally! Chart Gawking...

"Freely": 4th movement of Sonata for Three Harpsichords (1998) by Chapel Hill composer Edwin McLean.

"My work has a lot of Latin influence because I lived in Miami for 25 years," says McLean.

His "Sonata for Two Harpsichords," which starts with a tango movement, was also performed at Thursday's concert. The entire program, which includes Bach works for harpsichord and baroque string quintet, is being repeated Friday in Chapel Hill and Saturday in Raleigh (see calendar).

Richard Kingston, who made Funaro's Opus 333, is a leading harpsichord maker with his workshop in Mooresboro, NC.

Copa Night Festival Weekend UPDATE!

The Cobo Brothers' Copa Night 5th Anniversary will be celebrated this weekend, Nov. 13-15, with live music by Orquesta GarDel and workshops and dance performances by a luminary array of mambo professionals from L.A. to New York.

NEWS UPDATE: Online ticket sales END TODAY at 3 PM - here's your link to see event details, prices and availability.

Also, JUST ADDED: Afro-Cuban dance workshop by Betto Herrera (Mambo Dinamico Dance Company). Workshops are being held Saturday and Sunday at Durham's Triangle Dance Studio, 2603 S. Miami Blvd. See website for details.

Parties begin tonight, Friday (11/13) from 11 pm - 2 am at Cuban Revolution, 318 Blackwell St in downtown Durham's American Tobacco District. $10 general admission at the door; weekend and Saturday night passholders receive discounts.

Orquesta GarDel

Saturday night's extravaganza at Parizade, in Durham's Erwin Square, will feature a dance party Orquesta GarDel from 11:30 pm - 3 am. Prior to that, a dance showcase from 10 - 11:30 features out-of-town guests Junior & Emily (L.A.), Yamulee Dance Company (NYC), A&E Studios and Proyecto Barrio Dance Company (both from GA). North Carolina's own Mambo Dinamico, Bernardo De La Vega, and Cobo Brothers Dance Company will also perform. Separate or combined admissions are available for both parts of the evening, the dance showcase and/or live band. CUT OFF FOR ONLINE DISCOUNTS is TODAY, FRIDAY (11/13) at 3 PM.

Few promoters combine entrepreneurial knowhow and aesthetic savvy like the Cobos. The weekend's performing artists are a talent powerhouse, judging by their appearances at past NC Salsa Festivals. Expect a seamlessly well run event with plenty of dazzle.

The word from Orquesta Gardel is, their favorite soundman is standing by to work the boards on Saturday, and they'll be adding a few new charts to Ray Barretto and Issac Delgado. Salseros, all systems go!

LINK: Copa Night 5th Anniversary Weekend

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Harpsichord for Hipsters

Coolest thing ever! Durham's Elaine Funaro Love champions new music for the harpsichord via her foundation, Aliénor. I've had the privilege of meeting Elaine and hearing her explain the instrument's unique qualities and history.

Voila: She's being interviewed on today's The State of Things with Frank Stasio.

The Millennium Opus 300 Harpsichord, commissioned for the Mize Collection. Harpsichord maker: Richard Kingston. Lid painting: June Zinn Hobby.

Not only is Aliénor commissioning new works for the baroque keyboard, but Funaro and friends are also creating custom harpsichords, handpainted (as the old ones were) by modern artists.

Funaro is going to perform on a spectacular new harpsichord built for her by Richard Kingston over the next three days, in all three Triangle cities:

Durham: School of Science & Math
Thursday, November 12, 2009 - 7:30pm

Chapel Hill: University United Methodist Church
Friday, November 13, 2009 - 8:00pm

Raleigh: Meredith College
Saturday, November 14, 2009 - 8:00pm

Donations accepted at the door. Why miss this? I can't think of a reason.

UPDATE: See my PHOTOS of the Durham event here.


See photos of Funaro's new harpsichord, Opus #333, at the website of Lisa Creed, the artist who painted it.

Hear samples from Funaro's recordings here.

A big old inventory of harpsichord sound clips at the Aliénor site, here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dancing Session

UNC's annual Salsa and Swing Dance, a joint concert of Charanga Carolina and the UNC Jazz Band, is TONIGHT, Tuesday (11/10) 8:30-10:30 pm in the new Kenan Music Building on the UNC campus (next to Ackland Museum on S. Columbia).

renacimiento de charanga

Detailed set times:
8:30 - Salsa Lesson by UNC's Salsa Sentido
8:45 - 9:15 - Charanga Carolina

9:15 - Swing Dance Lesson
9:30 - 10:30 - UNC Jazz Band

Dancing is invited and encouraged; the Rehearsal Hall in Kenan is a large recording studio, in essence, with a dreamy wood floor.

The $5 admission directly benefits the Charanga and the UNC Jazz Studies program.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Afro Cuban Big Band in Sanford FRIDAY (11/6)

My land: Latin big band in Sanford?! Gregg Gelb and the Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra will perform tonight at the Temple Theatre in Sanford at 8 pm. Local luminaries Guillo Carias, Ramon Ortiz, Pako Santiago, Andy Kleindienst and Nelson Delgado will join them for an evening of swing era Latin big band tunes by Tito Puente, Stan Kenton, and more.

Tickets $15; call Temple Theatre box office: (919) 774-4155 until 6 p.m.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Latin American Film Festival opens TODAY

NOTE: Bad links have been repaired. Apologies.

The 23rd annual NC Latin American Film Festival opens Sunday (11/1), and runs through 11/22. This year's theme is "The Cuban Revolution at 50: Art & Cinema." Steven Soderbergh's Che films will be among the offerings.

In addition, the festival will screen documentaries as part of a project called Latino Portrait.

Music docs in the series this year include one about the life of Surinamese musician Lieve Hugo, screening 11/19 in Durham, and another about Colombia's largest festival of accordion-based vallenato music, screening 11/13 in Durham. UNC ethnomusicologist David F. Garcia will introduce a film on Cuban hip hop in Chapel Hill with a talk on 11/8.

This festival is unique in that it is spread across cities and campuses throughout the Triangle and Triad, and all offerings are free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, a joint initiative of Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

See full schedule and details at the festival website.

Dia de Los Muertos Celebration Monday (11/2)

El Pueblo, Inc. will set up some traditional Day of the Dead altars this Monday (11/2), from 5-8 pm at International Foods Market, 421 Chapanoke Rd. in Raleigh. The public is invited to participate in an educational program on Dia de Los Muertos history and traditions, and to make contributions to the community altar if desired. There will also be folkloric dancing, activities for families with children, and information on El Pueblo's programs. Refreshments, including the traditional pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and hot beverages will be offered to participants.

This info from Sharon Mujica:
"The Day of the Dead is a tradition that goes back to the time of the Aztecs. Through the years, this celebration has become a fusion of the Aztec and Catholic traditions. Currently, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st, which is dedicated to the souls of children, and November 2nd which is dedicated to the souls of adults. During these two days, family members visit the graves of those who have died and build offerings which are created using specific elements. It is
believed that the spirits of those that have passed come back to this world to share with their loved ones and to enjoy their favorite dishes which are placed in the offerings.

In honoring the dead, El Pueblo also hopes to focus attention on "preventing premature or unjust deaths."


There are a lot of guides and images online for Day of the Dead altars; I suggest you do your own search. Here's one with directions on how to make your own.

Here's another page on Day of the Dead traditions by the UNC Institute for the Study of the Americas.

More info on the holiday from the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke and UNC.

NO GARDEL @ Jordan Lake Festival

Is Jordan Lake Festival cancelled Sunday? That appears to be the case, although there are no announcements currently posted on their website.

We have learned for a fact that Orquesta GarDel will not perform as originally scheduled at 4 pm today, due to rain. This info came from GarDel co-director Eric Hirsh.

Any further info will be posted as available.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tiempo Libre TV

Tiempo Libre was on Dancing with the Stars last night. The musical performance starts at minute 4:30 in:

Tiempo Libre is from Havana by way of Miami, and manager Elizabeth Sobol-Gomez (married to keyboard/leader Jorge Gomez) is a good old girl from Greensboro. Elizabeth has tremendous business savvy, and has charted a bold, unconventional marketing path for this young timba band, whose singer, Joachin "El Kid" Diaz, once sang back up for NG La Banda. They've achieved two Grammy nominations, and have steered toward classical music and mainstream audiences by collaborating with classical orchestras and musicians. I mean seriously, who would have thought it intuitive to pair a timba band with James Galway, and most recently, Joshua Bell?

I don't mean to suggest that the classical/Cuban close embrace is in any way illegitimate; on the contrary. Gomez' father was a classical pianist, so he literally heard Bach while still in the cradle (the German composer's themes are the subject of TL's latest album, Bach in Havana). All these guys had intense classical training at conservatories in Cuba, which is commonplace for the island's expat timba--and jazz--musicians.

One could go further and point out that the fusion of European and non-European modes is the very essence of la música cubana, and fusion is habit-forming. I can't think of a more prolific, syncretic popular music tradition than Cuba's, which according to Juan de Marcos has over 150 different genres. Add to that the Cuban habit of survival through innovation, and consider the fact that many commercial avenues in the US music industry are currently blocked to Cuban styles (in favor of other regional styles of salsa or other genres such as pop and reggaeton), and the move is downright brilliant. Rather than trying to coax American consumers of Latin music into accepting timba, they're storming the barricades of mainstream taste via the jazz and classical music establishments.

But, how does it sound? For hardcore timba fans, there is definitely something there, even if Bach in Havana isn't as full of wall-to-wall, sexy bombast as, say, their Shanachie debut Arroz con Mango. Yosvany Terry and Paquito D'Rivera, representing two generations of great Cuban jazzmen, build the bridge from Miami to New York, with its incumbent artistic seriousness. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in Bach in Havana, although it is at least as much an intellectual listening experience as a dance spree.

In one my favorite marketing moves in history (perhaps aimed at winning over Cubanophiles who might be soft on the classical hybrid?), TL got their image on Cafe Bustelo espresso cans earlier this year. A few weeks ago, they were on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien playing their track with Joshua Bell from his new duets album, At Home With Friends. Now, Dancing with the Stars...I'm not a fan or follower of the show but I recognize its vast impact on the culture at large, and on the public perception of ballroom dancing.

I think it's fair to describe that kind of rise in mainstream exposure for a US-formed timba band as meteoric, and unprecedented. Whether the strategy will result in CD sales and "brand recogition" in the long term, I can't say, but my hat is off to an industrious and creative team behind a very energetic and authentic band. I've seen Tiempo Libre in NC numerous times and have never been disappointed.

In fact, the first live timba I ever heard in NC was Tiempo Libre, an unexpected find at the outdoor after party to a Poncho Sanchez show at Davidson College several years back. I walked across the campus quad, and walked faster as strains of "El Cuarto de Tula" in an energized timba arrangement reached my ears. What miracle is this? How did Los Van Van meet Buena Vista Social Club on the outskirts of Charlotte?

I don't know if anyone watching Dancing with the Stars had a similar epiphany last night, but anything that puts Cuban rhythms back into the daily diet of American television viewers (tip of the hat, Lucy and Desi) can't be a bad thing. Can't wait to see where Tiempo Libre turns up next.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sajaso Llego

Some pictures from Salsa4U's annual anniversary party, with live music by Sajaso:

Nelson with Sajaso

Nelson Delgado (above) is so well known now as a sonero with Orquesta GarDel and Charanga Carolina, that I almost forgot what a great percussionist he is. He first made his name in Triangle bands as a conguero with Carnavalito, and some other bygone bands.

Jade-Lin with Sajaso

Frank Vila

The sound was great at this show, and the party was by all accounts a big success. Not charging extra for a live band, and featuring a lot of door prizes and cash awards for best costumes, Salsa4U really gave back to its customers. Their monthly social runs throughout the year on third Saturdays at Fred Astaire Studio on Garrett Road in Durham.

Sajaso takes various incarnations and can be pretty loose at times, but they sounded extra good. Something exciting happened during "Oye Como Va": the rhythm section locked in to Pako Santiago's bell pattern, like an excelerant, and took the salsa bridge extra hot and fast. I guess this is what you get when a band can actually hear themselves play.

Now you see him: Frank Vila rocking at the keyboard.

Sajaso's first studio album, Autumn Leaves, is out; review to follow soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Cubans are coming?

Omara Portuondo, legendary Cuban singer who came to U.S. audiences' attention in 1996 as an original member of the Buena Vista Social Club, just performed two concerts in California on her first U.S. tour since 2004:

Link: Omara visa story on

I'm not breaking news on this one, but I'm still in shock I think. Does this mean that the doors have finally, definitively, been reopened to Cuban artists? For the past 5-6 years they have been systematically denied visas and FBI clearances.

I had also heard that Pablo Milanés and chamber orchestra of Zenaida Romeu (who performed at Duke before the halt on visas) both received visas around the same time. Is Omara the first to touch down? I'm not sure, but it would be a nice way to reopen the gates.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Plenero Soul

On my radio show this week, one of the tunes I played to advertise Los Pleneros de la 21 was "Chiviriquiton," a plena/rap fusion from the 2005 album Para Todos Ustedes. Little did I know, I would be singing coro to that very song at last night's workshop, as Jose Rivera spit rhymes:

alma de un plenero

I learned a lot of things from the workshop, like that oldtimers used to recycle banjos and drums into panderetas, the hand-held frame-drums of plena. When a drum dies, it goes to plena heaven.

The origin of the term "plena" is undetermined, but various stories circulate; one says it derives from newspaper terminology (plena is known as "the newspaper of the streets"); another that it is related to a woman's name; a third, that it comes from the phrase "plena luna" (full moon).

A lot of the coros are "standards" and the bodies of songs are changed and added on to, depending on the occasion and the performer. This makes it difficult, however, for modern pleneros to establish songwriting credit on their improvisations, a fact Jose mentioned. Jose carries on the plena tradition from his father, Ramon Rivera.

LP21 Workshop


I also learned that bomba, of Kongo origin and found around the coasts of Puerto Rico, has many different styles, some of them regional, and including: bomba yubá, bomba sicá, bomba holandés. Mayagüez has some of the oldest bomba, and is known as a birthplace of sorts, whereas Loíza Aldea is a hotspot for bomba, with some of the fastest varieties.

LP21 Workshop

I was absolutely struck by the confluence of Julia's bomba dancing and Afro-Cuban rumba as it is danced by men. Clearly the importance of Kongo culture and the connections between all these diaspora art forms in the Caribbean has yet to be fully grasped (by me, at least--I'm sure we need more books about it). We were told there is no easy-to-find song book or written resource for plena songs, and none at all for bomba songs.

Julia Gutierrez dances bomba in this video from the workshop.

There seems to be a certain deep, ancestral, spiritual remembrance embedded in these traditions, even if they are not tied to a clear religious practice such as one finds with Santería. Bomba musicians have different schools of thought on the spirituality of bomba, apparently, which was outlawed on parts of the island until very recently (how recently? I have to find out).

There's a lot more in my notes and videos, I will post more when I have time to go over them. In the meantime, Julia Gutierrez gave the dopest dance lessons in plena and bomba! No lectures, no stopping of music, just non-stop action.

On hand for the workshop: LP21 founder and leader Juan Gutierrez, Jose Rivera, Camilo Molina, Alex Lasalle and Julia Gutierrez. A fuller complement arrive for the concert TONIGHT at 7pm in UNC Memorial, slated to include: Nellie Tanco (lead vocals/dance), Sammy Tanco (lead vocals), Desmar Guevara (piano), Pete Nater (trumpet), Waldo Chavez (bass) and Nelson Gonzalez (dance/percussion).

This FREE event remains sold out, but I recommend going early to see if seats are available at the door. There will be SOME seats but how many, is anyone's guess. Also, bear in mind it's football night so parking and traffic may be affected.