POSTED: Thursday, February 12, 2009
Call it "Salsa Hawaii, the 2009 version."
Rolando Sanchez has fronted a Latin dance band—somehow, someway—for decades now, since Salsa Hawaii's heyday playing in Waikiki showrooms and clubs for his dance-happy patrons.
ROLANDO SANCHEZ AND SALSA HAWAII
Place: Thai Sweet Basil Restaurant, Manoa Valley Marketplace
Time: 9 p.m. Saturdays
Admission: $10 cover ($5 with dinner)
Call: 342-0911 or visit www.myspace.com/rolandosanchezandsalsa hawaiiband
Sanchez is hoping he can help revitalize that scene when he and his 9-piece band make their debut, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day, to help kick things off on the right note—or foot, as the case may be.
While there have been any number of local deejays spinning Latin music in clubs around town in recent years, Sanchez said there's no comparing moving to the rhythms generated from a live band.
"When I heard that Thai Sweet Basil in Manoa wanted to re-present live music, I presented my plan ... to bring back my band, and they agreed to it," said Sanchez. "They said that, after serving dinner, tables would be moved to create a large dance floor. As far as I'm concerned, there's no place better to go to dance to Latin music. It's a more comfortable space, and there's a lot of free parking."
Considering the ethnic polyglot of Hawaii, it's no surprise that the latest incarnation of Salsa Hawaii is made up from musicians both near and far—as far away as Tampa, Fla., Puerto Rico and Nicaragua.
Sanchez, on timbales, is joined by fellow percussionists Lindy Patterson (congas) and Ramon Ramirez (bongos). Trumpeter Ray Williams and saxophonist John Lundgren provide the punching horn sound, and pianist Eileen Uchima and bassist Will Yokoyama help keep the infectious rhythms going.
For the first time, Sanchez will have a featured role as vocalist, joined by Jules Kam and Pedro Haro.
While Sanchez has kept his first love of Latin rock alive with his Brown Sound Orchestra, he's definitely jazzed to bring back his older repertoire of Salsa Hawaii originals and covers, even as he's been writing new material for this latest venture.
"Even though I keep running into people asking about Salsa Hawaii—and there has been the occasional gig here and there over the years—I definitely want to stress a more contemporary sound with this band," Sanchez said. "It'll be more about the swing that can be created by us three percussionists, and I hope it'll create a different driving force than what people expected from Salsa Hawaii in the past."
WITH THE HELP of the Internet and Facebook, plus Sanchez's own connections, he's put together a group of professional musicians that can make live Latin music popular again in Honolulu.
In fact, his two singers have been featured in other Sanchez projects.
Haro first joined up at a Cinco de Mayo event back in 2007. The Mexico-born and Maui-raised singer has done musical theater here, as well as stage and club shows with Jon Hirokawa and Al Waterson. He even won a "Hawaii Stars" competition as part of a duo.
"As long as I've known Rolando, the presence of live Latin music in Hawaii has ebbed and flowed like waves," he said. "Growing up Latino here, I didn't even know there was an interest in the music. ... But I'm hoping that, with the band playing on a regular basis, people will come out and join us.
"It's a lot easier to sing with people dancing in front of you," he added.
"I consider Rolando an icon," said Kam, Sanchez's other singer. "I remember seeing him at Aqua in Waikiki when I was 18 or 19 years old. And he still has a following here. He's the Pied Piper of Latin music."
Kam's background is in performing with Top 40 cover bands, and when she started singing with Sanchez's Brown Sound Orchestra, she remembers it was "my own personal Spanish 101 lesson. I was very nervous, since I don't speak a word of the language. I started learning it phonetically by ear, but with the help of Pablo and Rolando, I'm learning to understand what I'm singing.
"Rolando's bands have been the most challenging for me as a singer, (and) taking it another step further with Salsa Hawaii has been fun for me," she said.
Sanchez is set on spreading that sense of fun to audiences.
"I want to bring back the happiness of hearing and dancing to live salsa in Hawaii," he said.