Spanish Harlem brings a Salsa Orchestra to the Cowtown?!

On October 27th, just after leaving New York, NY, and before arriving in Oakland, CA, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra took a little detour, . . . to Calgary, of course, the heart of Latin music in Canada.

Oscar Hernandez, the founder of the Grammy-winning Salsa band was kind enough to tell me why in the world they were heating up the Jack Singer Hall, of all places.

“This is the type of audience that you find all over the world. This band has travelled to places like Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Israel, not to mention almost every major city in Europe. . . . There’s fans of this music everywhere you go, and if they’re not fans they get turned on by what they hear and they go ‘Wow!’ There’s no doubt about the infectiousness of this music and how beautiful it can be.”

Middle-aged man in baseball cap with microphone
Oscar Hernandez is the cheerful and instructive founder of the SHO. Image courtesy of Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

“Why Calgary? Calgary’s a big city, and if it needs to be educated about arts and culture, we’re addressing that.”

Well. It takes a New Yorker to tell me that Calgary deserves to hear live Salsa music. I’m a little embarrassed. And it’s not just any old Salsa, either.

“I have to explain because people say, ‘What, we can’t dance?’ This is music that deserves to be on a pedestal, on a stage such as (the Jack Singer) in order to appreciate it. The sound of the music, the sophistication of the arrangements, the harmonies that you hear and the chemistry in the different sections of the band: it’s fine that people want to party to it, but we feel we need to give ourselves the credit that it deserves. It’s on a world stage.”

And by that he means:

“In our band there’s a lot of creativity in terms of improvisation that goes on, which speaks to what the tradition of this was. That’s been lost in the last 15 years, because there’s lot of commercial style.. . . That’s the way it is. I understand it, but it kind of lost its way.. . . . We speak directly to what this music was before that occurred, 20 – 40 years ago, which you would see if you went into any Latin club on any given day in New York City. That’s the way it used to be, but not anymore.”

A Brief History of the SHOW:

“We went into the studio (in 2000) and recorded the first album (Un Gran Dia En El Barrio (2002): lo and behold it had an impact. It had success, it got nominated for a Grammy, and since then we have travelled all over the world, we’ve just released our 4th CD (Viva La Tradicion) and had a lot of success. As difficult as times are, and as difficult as it is to travel with 13 musicians all over the world, we’ve done it.

4 albums. 1 Grammy award. 3 nominations. 10 years.

Not bad.

Posted by Allen Thai

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.