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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Charanga Carolina to Headline Festifall TODAY

Charanga Carolina performs Sunday (10/3) at 4:45 pm on Franklin Street, near Graham Street intersection, on Festifall's Main Stage. The free outdoor arts festival runs through 6 pm today.

Charanga strings

Says director David Garcia:
"Our set list [Sunday] will include Cuban danzón and son as well as salsa from New York and Puerto Rico and merengue from La [Republica] Dominicana!"

Charanga @ CentralUNC's Charanga Carolina dir. David Garcia

Charanga Carolina already played their first concert of the fall season in September, at NC Central's Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Here is the first public performance of one of their new charts this semester, Eddie Palmieri's "Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso":


Facebook event page:

Friday, October 1, 2010

OZOMATLI Tonight @ UNC Memorial Hall

Quintessential L.A. Latin rockers Ozomatli bounce in to Memorial Hall tonight, with a fresh, exuberant new album and street cred intact. Fire Away is everything you love about Ozomatli, but boppier and more politically engaged than ever.

Smart music never felt better. Their anthem to equal marriage rights, "Gay Vatos In Love," hits up nostalgic 60s R&B, while other tunes put fresh twists on Ozomatli's global grab bag of samba, ska, salsa, cumbia, punk, ranchera and world rhythms.

"Are you living out your dreams, or simply coasting?" asks the heart-racing "Malagasy Shock," based on a real-life, near-death experience the band experienced recently. [READ MORE at Nat Geo's album preview]

Los Angeles celebrates "Ozomatli Day" on April 23, but Chapel Hill gets its shock treatment TONIGHT, Friday (10/1) at 8 pm at UNC Memorial Hall.

Tickets start at $18, with discounts for UNC students. Box office: or (919) 843-3333.


Carolina Performing Arts event page
Ozomatli artist website