Martes 06 de Octubre, 2015
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Keeping Salsa ALIVE!
Cheryl Baisden Solí
Keeping Salsa ALIVE!

Imladris Productions on Facebook, Angel Illuminations Studio

That’s the Motto of Grupo Son del Coqui!
So what is this thing called Salsa? That hot sound that pulses from brightly lit houses throughout the barrio on a Saturday night? Is it a ticklish rhythm that makes even grandmas and little kids get up to move with a special bounce in their step? When you hear the rattle of the maracas, the distinctive 3/2 clave clicked out on wooden sticks, or the crispy sound of the whisk brushed against an old guiro, the stars begin to roll the clouds away and you find your feet just dancing! Understand? It gets in the blood, it makes the hips sway and dip from side to side, it brings a smile to tired faces attached to bodies that have been working all day,…yes, the moon is out, the beer is on ice, the limes are sliced for the mojitos, and the cool slide of the trombone announces that it’s time to PARTY!
Gustavo Gonzalez knows all about the seduction of Salsa music?it’s a long tradition in his family, starting with his father’s uncle who formed his own band in the 50s, developing the music as it moved along the lines of the Danzón brought from Haiti by the French, mixing itself with African drumbeats and salted with the Són of the Cuban people, for Salsa made its way to Puerto Rico and curled a provocative finger toward that uncle?it was a short step to give his nephew a taste. That nephew, Gustavo Sr., let that Salsa tempo urge him toward learning the bongo and the conga just to keep up
with it?he just had to be part of the cadence that was Salsa…and so that tingle in the blood was passed to his son Gustavo Jr. He taught those young hands to catch the beat of the music, he explained how to let the heart find its center through the measure of the song, how to hold those bongos just so, between the knees and let the rhythm move through the ear, into the blood and thus find life in the fingers…tap it out, feel it, baby!
When Gustavo said good-bye to Puerto Rico 14 years ago, he left behind him a maze of memories playing in clubs and bars and smoky rooms, the red-lipped smiles of women swaying to the music in their lover’s arms, and he looked for that same feeling here. Sure, down in Miami where the language of the day is Spanish, the food is spicy and the scent of Cuban coffee makes the air a little richer in the mornings, you can find salsa, merengue, bachata, són, but he came to Savannah, and found the few people here who really knew about salsa just weren’t as busy as they ought to be. Since age 16 he’d played and sung and urged those island club crowds into a passion of all night dancing under a golden Puerto Rican moon...but those sweet sounds were seriously lacking amid strains of country music or
classic rock and roll heard in most bars here. What to do? Why, form your own group!
Inspired by the natural melodies of Puerto Rico’s little coqui, a jade-green tree frog that sends its ko-kee ko-kee throughout the island starting at dusk, singing all night until dawn, Gustavo gathered together a group of friends who had a similar passion for Salsa and formed his group 4 years ago. When you get a posse of Latin music lovers all in one place, it’s inevitable that the mix ends up with some merengue and bachata as well, however, Salsa has always remained Queen of this versatile group. There are two main forms of the band: a good salsa band is really an orchestra, containing brass, percussion, and piano (electric, of course) as well as maracas, clave and guiro, but a smaller
version can be hired for merengue or bachata, which requires less instrumentation. Good buddy Juan Cruz lends his enthusiastic vocals to Gustavo’s to make up the lead singers, with David Rodriguez, Luis Rios and Juan Lanzot completing the main line-up.
You can find Grupo Son del Coqui all over the southeast, playing at festivals, carnivals, fairs and competitions, because whatever else they do, promoting salsa is tops on their agenda. You’ll see pretty girls and dark-haired boys moving to their rhythms at quinceañeras around town, and a good friend of mine, Iris Sarria of Peruvian folk dance fame, had them lend their sparkle to her big 50th birthday party celebration in Pooler. Each year the stage on River Street reverberates with the cheerful, energetic surge of their music during the big Fiesta Latina in mid-autumn, and Gustavo has also brought such salsa legends as Paquito Acosta and Mel Martinez over to give their audiences a thrill.

Gustavo’s not only enthusiastic about the music, but knowledgeable about its history, and he’ll be happy to tell you all about how what is now known as Salsa came flowing out New York in the 1960’s, the fact that no one person or place can be credited as the founder of salsa; instead, the dance and music has evolved over time through an elaborate blend of Cuban són, the melodies of cumbia and guaracha, African beats and spiced with the piquancy of merengue. The diversity of styles, the distinctive rhythm, and the cheer joy of the music is what keeps its listeners coming back for more: this unique blend is the beauty of salsa…just ask Gustavo, he’s got the facts, the flavor, the passion of salsa twinkling in his eye and he’ll make sure that gets passed on to anyone who cares to listen.
You can find Gustavo and Grupo Son del Coqui on Facebook or check out the group’s website at or call Gustavo at 912-428-6831.