Un Gran D-a en El Barrio

Spanish Harlem Orchestra. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Tuesday,
February 13.

Reviewed by Nicole de Ayora

The line outside Campbell Hall for this concert was full of
colorful people. Some were dressed to impress — and dance — in
high-heeled shoes, while others were clearly there for a night of
simply listening to the tremendous compositions of these East Coast
musical masters known collectively as the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.
I will freely admit I envied those dancers who filled Campbell
Hall’s aisles for most of the night. They were having a ball.

The humble hombres of the group, although playing music
typically made to dance to, showed their Grammy Award-winning
talent and general enthusiasm for the music with brilliant smiles
and even more exciting solos. Each soloist was introduced by one of
the three vocalists, who would announce them by telling the crowd,
“Escucha bien, como el ritmo va” (i.e., “Listen well to
how this rhythm goes”).

As a group, the orchestra proved to be a powerhouse; as
individuals, they demonstrated that their leader, pianist Oscar
Hernández, has picked some of the nation’s most talented musicians.
After almost an hour of non-stop music, while both the vocalists
and the dancers in the aisles took a breather, the remaining
musicians flowed into a set of Latin jazz.

When the three vocal virtuosos returned, it was to slow down the
music into a classic bolero. The bolero is
somewhat comparable to the modern R&B genre known as the “love
jam.” Although the vocalists reigned supreme in this sequence, even
the smallest sounds made by the güiro or the conga could
still be heard, making for an incredible fusion that successfully
conveyed the passion of more traditional love songs.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra closed the evening with a bang by
demanding everyone get up out of their seats. Those who were
already dancing in the aisles took the opportunity to move down to
front and center. Campbell Hall was suddenly transformed from an
overgrown classroom into a pulsating Latin night club. Young and
old alike put their hands in the air, and from left to right one
could hear shouts of “¡Olé! ” and “¡Más! ” After
this, an encore was obviously necessary, and absolutely everyone
stayed put for it. These East Coast sultans of salsa then brought
it all home with another classic composition from the fantastic
music del barrio.


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