Sunday, December 12, 2010

Guadalupan Procession 3 PM TODAY (12/12)

On my way home from Orquesta GarDel last night, I stopped in at Durham's Immaculate Conception Church. It was just the right time to catch the last of the Mañanitas for the Virgin of Guadalupe, which went from midnight to 4 am. While I missed the mariachis (doh!), I was just in time to see a new addition to the celebration this year: banda, a thunderous brass, woodwind and percussion ensemble, derived from the tradition of military marching bands.

Banda Los Guanajuatenses

Banda Los Guanajuatenses

12.12. is a busy day for Mexican musicians, and Los Guanajuatenses told me they had already performed for a baptism earlier that day. After this 4 am set, they quickly departed the church by a side door, and headed home to Raleigh. Just enough time to rest up for the next gig--this afternoon, in Creedmoor.

Banda Los Guanajuatenses

Because the Virgin's day falls on a Sunday this year, the parade and procession today will be earlier than usual--3 pm--and will take a longer route through the Burch/Morehead Street neighborhoods. Anyone is welcome to come observe and/or walk with the procession, which is a mingling of parade floats, songs, dancers, and congregants from various folk traditions all over Mexico. It's a sight worth seeing. There's usually hot chocolate and sweet rolls or tamales at the church afterwards, and more indigenous dance groups. You'll find the church right at the Chapel Hill Road Exit 13, off Durham Freeway.

Pictures from 12.11. Black & White Party

Some pictures from the Black and White Party at Mint, the new location for the Cobo Brothers' monthly Copa Night. It was Orquesta GarDel's last gig of 2010, and the first I've heard them since August.

GarDel, 12.11.10
Nelson, Andy, Tim, Blu, Alberto, Kyle and Jose

GarDel, 12.11.10

BNF - Eider and Luisa
Cute as buttons: floor show dancers Eider and Luisa

GarDel, 12.11.10
Kitchen staff checks out Pete and Eric's irresistible tumbao

GarDel @ Copa, 12.11.11
Brevan's eye view

It was too dark for me to take video last night, but GarDel's first CD, Lo Que Tu Querias, will be out in no time--sources say January.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Technicolor Salsa: Bio Ritmo hits Durham

Bio Ritmo @ Casbah

Life is always in technicolor when Bio Ritmo comes to town. They had a beautiful show at Casbah last night, with a nice turnout from the local salsa population. I met new member Mark Ingraham adding another trumpet to the horn section, making for a 1x sax, 1x bone, 2x trumpet lineup. Mike Montañez, who has gigged with them on and off for a long time, took the conga chair last night.

Here's some video of Marlysse messing with the keyboard settings on "Lisandra." Trombonist Toby wields maracas on this joint, and trumpet player "Mambo" Bob dips in to some programming near the end. This tune is from their 2008 release Biónico:

This kind of sparkling songwriting and innovative performance make Bio Ritmo Salsa Machine a great band: solid state yet always full of whimsy. You never hear a same-old cover of the usual Fania suspects. Formulaic salsa bands seem slogging and unimaginative after a hearty draught of Bio Ritmo.

Orquesta GarDel to Play Copa Night's New Raleigh Venue

Late add to the party calendar: Orquesta GarDel has been booked to play Copa Night this month at its new Raleigh location: The Mint Restaurant on Fayetteville Street.

Orquesta Gardel, Aug 2010

GarDel says this will be the last time to hear them in 2010 before the release party for their imminent CD.

Party hours: 11 pm - 2:30 am, with two live band sets at 11:45 pm and 1:15 am. Professional salsa and tango dancers Eider and Luisa and Cristian Oviedo will perform.

It's a Winter Black and White Party, so guests get a door discount for wearing all black and/or all white. Limited online tickets are available, which include a gift certificate to dine at Mint.


Cobo Brothers' Winter Black and White Party

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bio Ritmo TONIGHT 8pm @ Casbah

Richmond's Bio Ritmo plays tonight in Durham at the new live music venue, Casbah, 1007 W. Main St. $10 advance / $13 door; cash-only bar but there is an ATM on site.

I will be spinning old school salsa in the breaks, so this is a full evening for retro salsa fanatics. ATTENTION SALSEROS: Show to start promptly at 8 pm, or shortly thereafter. I'll be spinning from 7:30 on.

It's a big night for vinyl fans, too, as this is a Record Release Party for Bio Ritmo's newest 45 rpm 7". Hear it here.

Facebook event: Bio Ritmo @ Casbah w/ DJ Santa Salsera, Friday, Dec. 3

Official meetup event: Triangle Salsa Meetup

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Trova's Redhead & The Latin Project: SATURDAY (12/4)

Olguita Morales Serrano, "La Pelirroja de la Trova"

A special musical guest from Puerto Rico livens up the NC Assoc. de PR Unidos' Christmas Party this Saturday (12/4): Olguita Ramos, a direct descendent of one Puerto Rico's most esteemed musical families. Known artistically as "the redheaded troubadour" ("La Pelirroja de la Trova"), Olga is the niece of Ramito, and daughter of Luisito Morales Ramos, two of the island's most legendary singers of traditional highland poetry known as trova or música jibara.

In addition, salsa band The Latin Project, with members from The Triangle, Charlotte, and Columbia, SC, will keep the dancefloor jumping. Led by local trumpet virtuoso Alberto Carrasquillo, Latin Project is a band that we don't get to hear often enough, since their gigs tend to center in the Charlotte area.

In the holiday spirit, the PR Unidos Association is collecting donations of unwrapped toys at this event to benefit local children. Tickets are $20, available in advance online, and at the Havana Grill restaurant in Cary, and El Coqui restaurant in Holly Springs.

Olga Morales has performed extensively at festivals, private events, and on Puerto Rican radio and TV. She grew up singing with her father, Luisito, one of three musical brothers. Of the trio, Flor Morales Ramos, known simply as "Ramito," is without a doubt the island's most famous and beloved troubadour. A third brother, Juan, was known as "Moralito, and the three enjoyed solo careers as well as creating joint projects, well into their later years. Olga's father Luisito was the last survivor, until he passed away in June 2009.

Trovadores specialize in a declamatory singing style of improvised verses with strict formal rules, called décima. Its roots go back to Puerto Rico's agrarian origins, and the Andalucian farmers who settled there.

Here's Olga's father, Luisito, singing a tribute to his brother, Ramito, at a 2002 festival in his honor. The band is Joaquin Mouliert y sus Ecos de la Montaña:

Here is the same band again, playing live in Christmas parade. Trova music is especially associated with the holidays in Puerto Rico, and a distinct carolling tradition known as parranda. In this 1987 video, Luisito sings first (in the hat with heavy red-sequinned border), followed by his brother Ramito (wearing glasses). Check out these great views of Puerto Rico, as the band drives slowly down city streets accompanied by horsemen (caballistas):

It should be fascinating to witness the next generation of this revered lineage of Puerto Rican singers right here in Chapel Hill on Saturday.


Associacion de Puertorriqueños Unidos de NC - Events Calendar

History of Puerto Rican Trova (Spanish)
Olguita Morales artist webpage (Spanish)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Alex Cuba in Raleigh

I counted about 40 heads at Alex Cuba's live show at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh this past Tuesday, just about a week after he won "Best New Artist" category at the Latin Grammys.

Alex Cuban Band
Or course, this tour was booked long before. But what impressed me wasn't just Alex' clarion voice, his hot guitar pickin', or his adorable sneakers (the same shiny, silver hightops that he wore to the Latin Grammys). He played this show like he was earning our love, one listener at a time. With several Junos and a Latin Grammy in his pocket, Alex Cuba is still paying his dues. And he doesn't seem to mind at all.

Something of a perfectionist, Alex (whose first instrument is bass) plays almost all the parts on his solo albums; on tour, he doesn't like to go bigger than a trio. He seemed very disciplined about the whole touring thing, and very happy to be building his audience, one beerhall at a time. From Raleigh, next stop: Vienna, Virginia, on a 14-leg tour.

Re: The Alex Cuba trio band:

Bass player David Marion is a Paris native; his mother is from Guadeloupe. He has played some zouk, but mostly gospel back in Paris (who knew!). It figures; he has that light-from-within thing when he smiles. He's toured with Alex since 2006.

Alex Cuban Band

Drummer Max Senitt is based in Toronto, where he's involved with the Latin jazz scene, and gigs regularly with the exquisite Cuban pianist Hilario Duran. Hilario seems like a laid-back dude, I saw him live backing Jane Bunnett, but as Max says, he's a "madman" at the piano. I have been playing his recent solo disc Motion on WXDU (Azucar y Candela Wednesdays, 6-8 pm, Max has toured with Alex for about two years.

Alex Cuba drummer Max Senitt

There is only one word for the reception Alex Cuba + trio received in Raleigh: an embrace. Please come back soon, fellas.

For the home audience, here's video of Alex's first English lyric tune, which he graciously dedicated to Berkeley Cafe promoter Marianne Taylor:

Alex Cuban Band

Alex is dreamiest alone at the mic, with his guitar and hooky songwriting. Here's a snippet of the first encore we received, his lovely ballad "Solo Tu," from the newest, self-titled album Alex Cuba:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Alex Cuba TUESDAY @ Berkeley Cafe

A really unusual Cuban-born touring artist will chase away the Thanksgiving week doldrums at the Berkeley Cafe: singer/songwriter Alex Cuba, just awarded Best New Artist Latin Grammy.

Here's the link to my writeup in the INDY for Alex Cuba's appearance at the Berkeley Cafe this Tuesday (11/23); see also the N&O feature on Alex Cuba.

I first came to know Alexis Puentes [aka "Alex Cuba"] via the Puentes Brothers' Morumba Cubana, a rootsy little album of Cuban son that turned up one day at the radio station WXDU around 2004. Canadian emigres, the brothers Alex and Adonis Puentes were doing fun, original material that draws not only on traditional Cuban son, but trova, the native Cuban and Latin American tradition of folk. I seem to recall some American swing mixed in there as well. This album fell into the "pleasant surprise" category.

It wasn't until recently that I realized that Alex and Adonis--now on quite different solo paths, are actually (fraternal) twins. There's enough difference in their look, sound, and personal style that this never hit me as obvious. Naturally, there's a great resonance between them, too.

Adonis blew me away with his shrewdly cynical, yet bumpin' dance tune "Commerciante" on his 2005 solo album Vida. With the coro, "yo no soy músico, soy comerciante (I'm not a musician, I'm a businessman)," the song is both a resignation to, and a protest of, the pressure on artists to produce "hits." Adonis' sound is much more traditionally Cuban, informed by newer dance grooves of timba and salsa but hewing close to the acoustic aesthetic of traditional son. His vocal style reminds me of elegant, jazzy sonero Issac Delgado. Adonis was tapped as a vocalist recently, along with Ruben Blades, for the Lincoln Center free revival concert of Larry Harlow's La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite.

I would have pegged Alex for the younger brother, because his style, both audio and visual, is much more contemporary and fused with urban and pop fashion. Whereas the cleanshaven Adonis strikes me as a plainspoken craftsmen, Alex, with his trademark fro and arching sideburns, cuts the figure of a flamboyant hipster. Both of them have the songwriting knack and a strong, clear voice. Trova is generally written in a much more personal first-person voice than son, so in a way this is a good starting point for pop fusions, something Alex in his solo career has exploited well.

I really liked Alex's last album, Agua del Pozo, because it congenially strayed from Cuban tradition without falling into a generic Latin pop sound. The new one, self-titled, I've only heard on the website, and while it sounds a little poppier to me than the last one, I can't give it a full review yet. If it's any indication of which direction he's going musically, Alex also helped craft Nelly Furtado's first Spanish-language album, Mi Plan, which also one a Latin Grammy this year.

Alex plays a mean Gibson, and I'm curious to see what the touring band sounds like, and how much of the show will be acoustic vs. electric.


Alex Cuba @ Berkeley Cafe this Tuesday (venue link)

Alex Cuba (artist website)

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Live music in the offing:

Bio Ritmo sets up shop at the new Durham venue Casbah on Friday, December 3 for a vinyl release party of their new 45rpm single. Yours truly, Santa Salsera, will be spinning dance music between sets.

Cover art by Rei Alvarez

A-side "Dinah's Mambo" displays that funky, experimental side of Bio Ritmo we know and love, while B-side "La Muralla" is the smokin', old school salsa we can count on.

And now, for an Onda Carolina EXCLUSIVE:

Charanga Carolina is poised to announce its next show, a Latin dance party at Talulla's, on Saturday, December 4. Thanks to director David Garcia for the scoop. Charanga will play one set from 11pm-12 midnight; cover is $5.

charanga violins, 10/2010

At their last show in October at UNC, vocalist/percussionist Nelson Delgado made his exciting vibraphone debut with the Charanga. He's joined here in a VIBES DUEL (! ! !) by Matt Thurtell, a UNC exchange student from the Royal Academy of Music in London, on the Tito Puente classic, "Cayuco":

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Buika @ Stewart Theatre TONIGHT (11/6)

Having spent a week trying to describe Buika, I don't have a lot of energy left except to say: see this indescribable songstress on Tuesday (11/16), 8 pm at NC State's Stewart Theatre, you won't regret it.

Oh, and yours truly will give the Pre-Concert Talk from 7:00-7:30 pm in Talley, Room 3118 (3rd floor, same building as the Stewart Theatre). There will be audio and video. Come on down!


--event listing I wrote for Indy

--Lovely interview I did with Buika by phone, on Indy blog scan

--NPR "50 Great Voices" Story on Concha Buika

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Got a Filin: Omara Portundo interview & concert FRIDAY

+011 53 was my first time dialing Havana.

Omara Portuondo didn't answer right away. Finally, after about 40 minutes of dialing, a voice picked up:
"Oigo? Omara Portuondo is my name."

Omara's concert at UNC's Memorial Hall THIS FRIDAY (11/5) will be the first by a Cuban artist in the Triangle since Barbarito Torres played the Cat's Cradle in December, 2003.

Here is my extended, edited version of the interview I conducted on October 22, some of which appears in an article in this week's Independent Weekly.

Sylvia Pfeiffenberger: Omara, tell me about your beginnings in music. What were your first music schools, either formal or informal?

Omara Portuondo: I attended normal schools from elementary through high school. Starting in primary school, I belonged to the chorus and took classes in music.

Sylvia: How and when did you arrive in the Filin scene?

Omara: That was in the decade of the 40s, I encountered a group of young people that called themselves “Filin” [>Eng. “feeling”]. Filin means “sentimiento,” and so everything they did in music, they said it had to have “filin.” We began doing boleros and lots of things. The most well-known song they did was called “Contigo en la Distancia,” by composer Cesar Portillo de la Luz. The pianist of the group was Frank Emilio Flynn. Many of these people have already died, because they were older than I was. I was still an adolescent, I was still in high school at that time. But I went to places where you could hear trova, and came to know their music in the houses of friends, etc.

Sylvia: Who gave you the nickname, “La Novia del Filin,” [the Sweetheart of Feeling] and when was that?

Omara: It was the first show I ever did, a program called “El Microfono,” on the radio station Mil Diez. The announcer Manolo Ortega gave me the name “La Novia del Filin,” because I was the only woman in the group at that time.

Sylvia: Among Cuban composers, do you have favorites?

Omara: Almost all of them are my favorites. One of them who has works that are almost classical in nature, but with Cuban roots, is Sindo Garay. I like the writers of traditional trova, and the composers of filin, like Cesar Portillo de la Luz. On the Gracias album, there’s a filin song called “Adios Felicidad” [by Ela O’Farrill]. There are many more I could name.

Sylvia: Is it true what one reads, that North American jazz singers influenced the Filin movement, such as Maxine Sullivan, Lena Horne or others?

Omara: We heard all that music in Cuba, because the southern US is close to Cuba and the Caribbean. We made our own jazz, too, like Frank Emilio, who was an excellent jazzista, but also had a filin ensemble. We also made Brazilian music because we knew it. We made Italian music because we knew it. From Spain we had zarzuelas, all the Spanish music. We had the possibility to know almost all cultures, to have access to them, to know them and to enjoy them.

Sylvia: Was it an international movement then, in terms of its influences?

Omara: The Filin? Filin was a national movement. We sing the same songs now as when I was starting out, boleros, sentimental songs, that’s why it’s called feeling. We were music aficionados. We weren’t very professional in the beginning, but as time went on, we got more professional. We made music everywhere, on the radio stations, everywhere. The radio was a very important means for transmitting the music.

Sylvia: I want to talk a little about your time in the group Cuarteto D’Aida.

Omara: El Cuarteto D’Aida was founded in 1952. There were five musicians, the director, Aida Diestro, and the [vocal] quartet of girls, Elena Burke, Moraima Secada, my sister Haydee Portuondo and me. Aida Diestro was a magnificent musician, complete in every way, she knew how to make great arrangements and select the songs and everything.

Sylvia: Was this also a sort of school for you?

Omara: Yes, that was my university. I was active in the quartet for 15 years, from 1952 until 1967. Then I left to become a soloist.

Sylvia: Let’s talk about your album Magia Negra, at the end of the 50s, that was your first album as a soloist, correct?

Omara: Oh! You know it. While I was still with the quartet I made that record because the musicians suggested it. They wanted to make a record with me, and that’s what we did.

Sylvia: That record has a very interesting sound, a mix of jazz, musica tipica cubana

Omara: Yes, we did a completely Spanish version of “Magia Negra” [“That Old Black Magic”]. Lena Horne sang a song at the time in a film, Stormy Weather. I sang it with Frank Emilio on the radio, in Spanish and English. “Summertime,” all these type of things, I sang these in English and Spanish. At the time several [U.S.] movies came out with all-black casts, another was Carmen [Jones], with Harry Belafonte.

Sylvia: Have you acted in movies?

Omara: Yes, I’ve acted in two films. One is a Cuban opera, it’s a zarzuela, called Cecilia Valdes. They turned it into a movie. There’s a character called Mercedes Ayala running a club where white men could dance with mulatas.

The other film is called Baragua, it’s a city in Cuba where they made peace in the war for Cuban independence. In that one I played the mother of one of the fighters for Cuban independence, Antonio Maceo.

Sylvia: This past November you visited the US to present at the Latin Grammys, and you also won that award [Best Tropical Album for Gracias (2008)].

Omara: That was a very lovely thing that happened to me, and to everyone who worked on the record. We work as a team. We have Brazilian musicians, some from Buena Vista, my son…it was a beautiful project for that reason, because we all worked together, composers, producers, and musicians.

For many years we couldn’t come here [to the U.S.] because Cuba was on a terrorist list. For that time [c. 2004-2009] they didn’t give us visas. But last year, they gave me one. I was able to meet a Mexican composer [at the Latin Grammys] whom I admire greatly.

Sylvia: When was your first visit here? How many times have you toured the U.S.?

Omara: The first visit, it was in 1951, with a show from the Tropicana. There were dancers, musicians, and an orchestra. I haven't counted them [U.S. tours], but that was the first one.

Sylvia: I want to talk some about the Buena Vista phenomenon.

Omara: That was a big hit, also.

Sylvia: Were you expecting it? What importance did it have, as one chapter in your long musical career?

Omara: Well, really, I’m very glad I was incorporated as a part of that very successful record. We toured all over, Europe, Germany, we visited all these places. I was making a filin record at the time, and they came to me and said they wanted me to sing on this record that still didn’t have a name. I sang a duet with Compay [Segundo], “Veinte Años,” which is a song I have been singing for many, many years. It’s a song my parents taught me, a very special one.

Sylvia: To be quite honest with you, that was my introduction to Omara Portuondo, but since that time I’ve been lucky enough to get to know most of your music.

Omara: You don’t say. I give thanks for that, I had no idea someone like you would be interested in getting to know all my music after so many years. In what part of the U.S. do you live?

Sylvia: In North Carolina.

Omara: Well you know we are going to visit you soon.

Sylvia: Yes, we are looking forward to it. I’ve been waiting a long time for the return of Cuban artists.

Omara: Yes, we’re here now. I'm very happy about it because culture has to have its space.

Sylvia: Do I have your correct birthdate, which is October 29, 1930? How do you plan to celebrate your 80th birthday?

Omara: Yes. That day I’ll be [performing] in Chico, California. That’s the best way I could spend it, singing, because I don’t like parties. I don’t drink alchohol. My parties for me are my work, because I get tremendous enjoyment out of it. It gives me energy, it gives me life. I feel very good on stage.

Sylvia: It’s interesting to me that you are a singer with a very refined style, you sing jazz, you have performed on TV and in nightclub shows, but also, you are really a people’s singer, because you sing songs that everyone knows and that everyone sings.

Omara: Yes, of course, that is very important for me too. Because what interests me, what I need as a human being, is to sing things that everyone feels. Love songs, all these sentimental things I’m interpreting, I’m also feeling them at the same time, when I am singing.

Sylvia: Omara, thanks for your time today.

Omara: Muy agradecida.

© by Sylvia Pfeiffenberger 2010. Written permission required to reprint or reproduce.


Nov. 5 Concert Info/ Box Office for Carolina Performing Arts

INDY story: "With Omara Portuondo, Cuba Comes Back to the Triangle"

Omara Portuondo artist website

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saludos Compay, 4pm Saturday (10/23)

Saludos Compay kicks off the Saxapahaw Octoberfest lineup from 4:00 - 5:20 pm. The band will take quintet format featuring Erich Lieth (piano), Pablo Valencia (guitar/voice), Robert Cantrell (congas), Lisa Lindsey (saxophone), and Arturo Velasquez (percussion/backing vocals).

Happy feet might want to stick around for The Straight 8s (rockabilly) and The Countdown Quartet (New Orleans jazz).

The last outdoor party of the season? Rain or shine, no dogs allowed, and as always at Saxapahaw, admission is FREE; donations for are accepted for the musicians.

Saxapahaw Rivermill Concert Series

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Salsa Saturday: Charanga Carolina & La Excelencia

Two big events make for a power-packed Salsa Saturday (10/16) in Durham:

Community Fiesta Latina, 6:30-9:30 pm at the Brumley Performing Arts Center, Durham Academy Lower School; and La Excelencia at Salsa4U's 10th Anniversary Party, Fred Astaire Dance Studio, at 10:30 pm.

Fiesta Latina features live performances starting at 7:30 pm with Colombian harpist Pavelid Castañeda; my Independent story on Pavelid in June links to performance videos and a closer look at his Camac Electroharp. Headliner UNC Charanga Carolina plays the last hour from 8:30-9:30 pm, and dancers will be encouraged to take to the open dancefloor. Foodtrucks will be onsite selling dinner options from 6:30 on.

Fiesta Latina is FREE and the public is invited. It will be the 5th year for this community celebration in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is not just an enrichment opportunity for DA students, but a serious bid for membership in the wider community.

BRING YOUR PROGRAM from Fiesta Latina to get a $5 door discount at LA EXCELENCIA. La Excelencia doors open at 9:30, and the first set won't start before 10:30 pm, so you will have plenty of time to make your way to official afterparty at Fred Astaire Studio.

Aggressive salsa dura, barrio-style, is what La Excelencia promises:
"Defiance and self-expression have become their hallmarks. In the beginning, salsa was a youth movement, energized by the rebelliousness of '70s pop culture; it's 2010, and La Excelencia wants a piece of that."

Read the whole story in my music feature on La Excelencia in this week's Independent.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shakori Update: Plena Libre, Day 2

Plena Libre
Musical director Gary Núñez @ Friday's performance at the Meadow Stage.

Marcos and Gabo
Not heeding the "No Smoking" sign (back right), Marcos Lopez and Gabo Lugo turned up the heat Saturday.

Plena Libre's second show Saturday (10/9) at Shakori Hills didn't disappoint. I had my eyes peeled for a repeat of this tune, "Flores," because it featured percussion solos by young talents Marcos Lopez on timbales, and Gabo Lugo on congas. Sure enough, this bit was more extended and even hotter on Saturday, with a jumping crowd packed in within arm's length of the Dance Tent stage:

Dance Tent people

Victor Velez & Gabo Lugo
Victor Velez with pandereta, the drum of plena.

Victor and Chris
Victor Velez and Chris Nuñez

Shakori People:

Emma & Rafi
Plena Libre's Rafi Falu gives festivalgoer Emma Blackwell a spin on the dancefloor.

Shakori people
Zoe and Josh: Josh is in a marching band and brought his tuba out to Shakori just for fun.

Plena Libre
Dianne Freund with WNCU 90.7 FM deejay Bouna Ndiaye, host of Bounjour Africa.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shakori Update: Plena Libre's Friday set

Here's a quick update on Plena Libre, who played a great first show at the Meadow Stage last night, dishing a healthy fusion of Puerto Rican bomba and plena with salsa, rock, and Latin jazz.

Shakori people

If you didn't see this band, check them out Saturday at 9:30 pm at the Dance Tent.

Plena Libre - Rafy
Rafi Falu, requinto; Marcos Lopez on timbales

Band member updates: Since their last Shakori gig in 2008, Rafi Falu continues on requinto, the lead drum in plena. Also returning are Kali Villanueva and Victor Velez, both of whom are lead vocalists. Singer Pole Ortiz isn't back though; he left Plena Libre to form his own band. (According to Victor, it's called SalBomPlen, and the two groups performed together recently in Puerto Rico.) Bassist Gary Nuñez still leads the group, and his son Chris Nuñez completes the plenero lineup.

Plena Libre
Kali Villanueva and Victor Sorpresa Velez; Gabo Lugo on congas

There are some new faces from last time, notably, two formidable young percussionists who are current students at Berklee: Marcos Lopez, timbales, and Gabo Lugo, congas. (If I got the story right from Victor, Marcos is a grandson of Sammy Ayala.)

There were two trombonists (and I missed one's name--TBA). One of them, Jerry Rivas was showing me his with a "Thayer trigger" (if I got that right), which gave his tenor trombone a deeper sound. This small variation was cool and reminded me of the conch shells sometimes played in bomba. Jerry studied music at the Conservatory in Puerto Rico, and says this style of trigger is favored by classical players. (He also had a nifty electronic tuner that clips on to the bell, which he was using backstage.) I was also meeting keyboardist Jonathan Montes for the first time.

There's nothing like a Shakori crowd, they are open to anything. It doesn't take lessons or even a partner to dance to the "free plena" of Plena Libre. At the end, the guys jumped into the crowd to get us singing call and response style into the microphones.

Plena Libre @ Shakori

Plena Libre @ Shakori

Plena Libre


Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, Oct. 7-10

Rafi on congas
Rafi on congas (in place of barriles) during a bomba

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Plena Libre @ Shakori Fest This Weekend

If you have never experienced live plena, I recommend you check out the Puerto Rican roots fusion band Plena Libre at Shakori Hills this weekend, with two performances Friday (10/8) and Saturday (10/9).

Latin dancers, this won't be your usual salsa gig, but you WILL get your dance on moving to plena, an energetic rhythm indigenous to Puerto Rico, which you will recognize as a spice note in Nuyorican salsa. Check out my review of their performances two years ago* at the same venue.

Rafy smiles
Getting sweaty with Plena Libre: lead drummer Rafi Falu @ Shakori Hills in 2008

It's rare enough to get a touring band from Puerto Rico in our area, and to hear the music of plena is real opportunity. (For more background on plena, see my feature in the Independent on Miguel Zenon.) Plena Libre is one of the island's top bands popularizing this street "folk" music in modern, innovative form, with the horns and percussion sound of a big salsa band.

Also returning this year: Latin/ska/reggae band Locos Por Juana, from Miami.

The festival, on a giant farm in Pittsboro, is a place to really get away from it all and let your hair down, a four-day feast of music in all genres across multiple stages, with diverse and high quality food and arts vendors. See the Shakori Hills website for a full schedule, directions, and ticket info.


Shakori Hills Grassroots Music and Dance Festival

Plena Libre appearance Sunday (10/10) at Charlotte's Latin American Festival

*correction: originally stated incorrectly as "one year ago." Time flies!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Season Update: Charanga Carolina

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall

Charanga Carolina is a UNC performing ensemble made up of students and guest artists from the community. Like a sports team, the roster varies year to year based on student enrollment and graduations. We're lucky to have a few key players back in Charanga this fall (Caity Bunch on flute, Alex Williams on piano, and Ryan Raven on trumpet, among others), as well as a whole new crop of student Charangueros.

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall

With more trumpets than trombones this semester, however, director David Garcia has rotated timba charts out of Charanga's book, for the time being. "To play Los Van Van, you really need the 3 trombones," David says.

What emerges stronger this season are the strings, with 5 strong players in the violin section. What better way to showcase this than by playing danzón, the original mainstay of the charanga orchestra, and the genre from which later developments such as the mambo and the cha cha chá emerged.

With its slower tempo and more classical sound, danzón may seem like a staid alternative, but it's an important building block in the history of Cuban music, and still forms the basis of many Latin jazz compositions to this day. Playing danzón well is challenging, because there's not much cover for the musicians, and its rhythmic shadings have their own subtle idiosyncrasies. Danzón builds slow, but the groove payoff in the end is large. Hear a modern echo in the cha-rock slowcookers of the 60s and 70s, songs like "Cocinando" ane "Oye Como Va"--based on rhythms that originated, in the way-back time, with danzón.

Charanga Carolina did an impressive job last Sunday, therefore, with their first public performance of this classic danzón "Angoa" at Chapel Hill's Festifall.

"That was the first time I've ever heard live danzón, and it made my day," said dance aficionada Amanda Jackson.

Other new charts in the book this season: an Arsenio Rodriguez son, "Blanca Paloma," and a conjoined version of "Guantanamo" and "Me Voy Pa' Moron." As a dancer, I can tell you these two-for-one charts are heaven to dance to. Thanks, Charanga! Keep up the good work.

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall

Next performance of CHARANGA CAROLINA:

Saturday, October 16 at 8:30 pm at Durham Academy's Fiesta Latina. Free and open to the public! Not only that, but your Fiesta Latina program will get you a discount at the door to see New York salsa band La Excelencia at Fred Astaire studio later that night, which is the official afterparty of DA Fiesta Latina.

Charanga Carolina @ Festifall