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