Review: Our Latin Thing – 30 Years of Latin Music in London Inspired by Fania All-Stars @ Barbican Centre (London, 16th July 2016)

Roberto Pla has influenced several musicians based in UK and interested in Latin music, especially Salsa, over the last thirty years. ‘The Godfather of Latin Music in UK’ and his outstanding group of international Latin musicians has gained much recognition and praise from audiences. Barbican Hall was the stage for a 20-piece band and over 20 special guests, including dancers, making for a varied event and a broad range of expectations.

Pla proposed an event full of variety and spontaneity, paying tribute to the 1970’s Fania All-Stars. In the middle of the stage and surrounded by his musicians as usual, Pla conducted every section of his orchestra: brass (trumpets and trombones), saxophones, 3-percussion-sets, piano, and bass.

The gig was divided into two parts. Devoted to the special guests, the second part was more exciting through the participation of dancers, a choir, female singers, and diverse instruments such as the violin, accordion, piano, congas, and the Cuban tres. Salsa was the main genre, but different styles made from it and jazz, cumbia, improvisation, ska, rumba, son, conga, among other Afro-Cuban rhythms also came onto the stage.

Some remarkable performances increased the contagiousness of the music, inviting the audience to dance at certain moments. Omar Puente played his violin with such virtuosity that it triggered up the audience’s emotions, such as an improvisation of the salsa pianist Alex Wilson. Dressed in a norteño suit and a Texan hat, José Hernando Arias made people stand up and dance along to every note of his accordion. Ska Cubano, with his “Chango”, and Snowboy providing an interesting contrast to the programme. One of the best voices and interpretations was that of Juanita Euka, who heightened emotions with ‘Quimbara Quimbara Quma Quimbamba’.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a balanced event. The wide variety of instruments, musicians, styles, genres, and features reflected an inequality in artists, especially singers, and unexpected situations. One of the worst problems was the difficult in equalizing individual instruments with complete sections. The characteristic brilliance of brasses was especially difficult to balance for the staff and the sound engineer. It was most evident at the start of the second part with the participation of The London Lucumi Choir, whose participation went almost unnoticed, while other problems and surprises discredited the ambition of the event, perhaps explaining why Roberto Pla didn’t want to offer an encore despite audience shouting and applause.

Photo ©: Cesar Rodriguez Duran

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