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Salsa Music, Lifeblood of Cali
You walk through the darkened entrance, leaving the tropical night behind. Suddenly, waves of sound crash over you, as if you were sailing on the ocean. Sweating, your heart beats to the beat of bass, bongo, bell and brass. The walls seem to pulsate. The sharp smell of sweat mixed with perfume assaults you. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, broken by the hypnotic flashes of multi-colored strobes, you realize that it’s not the walls that surround you, but the dancers — dozens of dancers twirling, weaving and spinning, limbs flashing, hips thrusting in quarters — the time. You fill your lungs with the spicy aroma, tighten the strap by a notch and dive in. Welcome to Chango’s in Cali, Colombia – one of the hottest Salsa nightclubs in Latin America.
Cali, a modern, festive city, lies in the heart of the “Valley”. when Colombians say “Valley” they mean the Cauca Valley, a not-so-small Garden of Eden a hundred and fifty miles long and about fifteen miles wide between the coastal mountain ranges and the Central Cordillera. Until the turn of the century, this valley was little more than a rural post office.
Then, with a population of about 15,000, the Cauca Valley was primarily a cattle country, divided in large parts between “haciendados”. These were proud, almost arrogant men who raised cattle for hides and beef. Some had sugar cane plantations used to produce the sweetener “panela” and to distill the crystal clear but powerful “aguardiente” still drunk today. Life was slow, measured, patriarchal and unchanging.
It has been said that the Cauca region is to Colombia what the South is to the United States. Indeed, there are similarities. In days gone by “the hidalgos walked the ‘calls’ unlined in coats of velvet or scarlet, embroidered and patterned with gold and silver, their waistcoats of flowered silk, and their shirts of the best batis” , says Kathleen Romoli, author. of Colombia: Gateway to. South America. And like the southern states in the colonial areas, large numbers of slaves were imported to work the fields and serve the masters.
Time has brought many changes. Today, the valley is still covered by large sugar cane plantations. Mechanized production of cotton, rice and cattle has turned the Cauca Valley into Colombia’s most important agricultural area, after King Coffee. And with economic growth came industry. A quiet colonial town in 1900, Cali has grown into a major manufacturing center with more than a thousand industries at last count.
There’s Salsa in the air
Yet with all the changes, Cali retains a comfortable charm, a personality different from other cities, an atmosphere you might expect to find in the Caribbean. Romulus describes it well:
The most striking thing about Cali today is not the square with its imposing government buildings and rows of taxis, along the avenues of giant palm trees, nor the suburbs with their modern villas and churches whose bells ring out melodies instead of sounding like Bogotá. , nor the busy factories. There is a pervasive air of joy almost of joy Not that it is a city of many amusements; Cali is not gay because of commercial establishments for organized diversion, but for the grace of God.
Cali attracts travelers from all over; tourists, businessmen, packers, scientists and students. And, of course, salsa lovers and salsa artists. Recording studios, rumberias, discotheques and viejotecas abound.
What is Cali’s appeal? The lively atmosphere of the city? Spectacular sunsets? The natural beauty of the soaring Andes? The glorified beauty of its women? Maybe it’s the climate where it’s always June. Or could it be its extraordinary purity? Many Colombian cities are clean, but Cali is so clean it stands out. Or maybe it’s the trees and the flowers – the bright red bougainvillea and the purple bougainvillea falling profusely from the walls, the golden cup dripping from the eaves, the wax bells of the trumpets flowing, the poinsettia bushes, the gorgeous gardenias, the purple-leaved trees and carmine or other feathery green flowers—white flowers or pale pink clusters—wild extravaganza of bloom among which hummingbirds with iridescent green bellies fly even in winter.
No date salsa
Cali has it all. But undoubtedly for many, the main attraction that lures them to this charming city is the Salsa music. The sensual, tropical rhythms of Salsa permeate the lives of two million plus Caleños. On every bus you will hear Salsa. Go for a walk, to school or shopping, there’s salsa in the air. And, of course, there’s Salsa on almost all of the more than two dozen local radio stations. All over the city, 24 hours a day, Salsa blasts from street speakers, in parks, in shops, from cars, portable radios and private homes. Cali lives and breathes Salsa. But why Salsa? Many other musical traditions, styles and types of popular music flourish in Cali (including traditional cumbia, where machete-wielding dancers dance around naked women with bare skirts). What is so special about Salsa? After all, Vallenatos, a brand of folk music with roots dating back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors, is still wildly popular — especially as sung by Colombia’s Grammy Award-winner Carlos Vives. Boleros (check out Luis Miguel’s “Inolvidable”) and Merengue continue to have strong followings here.
Why is this style so deeply ingrained in the culture? For fans, the answer is simple: “I love salsa music.” Whatever the reason for its universal popularity in Cali, Salsa is more than just music, more than a dance. It’s a necessary social skill, explains my friend, Carmenza, “No salsa – no dates.” You can’t meet other people if you can’t dance.” And that’s why there are salsa dance schools all over the city. You pay for lessons by the hour. Prices range from $2 to $6 an hour for more private, individual . -A guide. Group classes go quickly. Salsa classes are not just the place to learn, but to practice and perfect your moves or pick up some new ones. They are a good “meeting place” for residents of neighborhood.” It’s important to dance really well or you’re boring,” says Sofia, an avid Salsa fan.
Cali calls itself the “Salsa Capital of the World,” a title derived from post-Fidel Cuba and often shared with New York City. But even those who might take exception to the “World Capital” will agree that Cali is definitely the “Salsa Capital of South America.” Top Latin salsa performers like New York’s Jerry “King of 54th Street” Gonzalez fly in regularly to strut their stuff. At any moment you can see all the famous names in salsa, the artists walk with the “Queen of Salsa” of Cuba, Celia Cruz; guitarist, singer and songwriter Juan Luis Guerra from the Dominican Republic; Frank Raul Grillo, the Cuban American also known as Machito; Reuben Blades, the famous Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor and politician known for his musical innovations as well as traditional Salsa; Willie Colon; Oscar d’Leon and others.
SALSA CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
And you don’t have to go far in this city of dancers to hear all the different styles and variations of Salsa. Juanchito, with 120 of the hottest dancehalls, is the vibrant rhythmic heart of the Salsa nightlife in Cali. Every week throughout the year, two hundred thousand locals flock to this eastern suburb to celebrate. Cali is filled with discos and “viejoteca” for the young and not so young. Younger Latinos typically favor a softer, more sentimental music known as Salsa Romantica, popularized by bandleaders like Eddie Santiago and Tito Nieves. Internationally recognized salsa singers of the 1990s included Linda “India” Caballero and Mark Anthony. Puerto Rico-based orchestra Puerto Rican Power is another hot band with avid fans in both Cali and Puerto Rico.
While it’s exciting to hear famous Salsa performers from abroad, don’t forget Cali’s many outstanding world-class bands and famous Salsa musicians mixing the old with the new. Classic and innovative. It’s worth a trip to Cali just to hear the vibrant non-traditional sounds of Jairo Varela and Grupo Niche. Or other artists like “Son de Cali”, the female “Orchestra Canela” and Lisandro Meza, who also inject new blood into the Salsa scene of Cali. These and the intoxicating classic Salsa sounds of Kike Santander, Joe Arroyo and Eddy Martinez thunder through the air and flow in the veins of “coca-colos” (late teens to early 20s) and “cuchos” alike in disco, salsateca and even in viejotecas that attract the over-35 crowd.
When I arrived in Cali 1995, I thought my salsa was fine. After all, I got some smooth moves from a group of hot Puerto Rican beauties during a summer stint in San Juan. Even in my home state of Pennsylvania, on a Friday or Saturday night, there were opportunities to go out and mingle with Latinos at our local Hispanic watering holes. I had perfected a quick double step in a rectangular pattern, too, and added twists and turns to the heavy beat. I had no problem finding and keeping dance partners. Then in Miami, during a Labor Day weekend vacation, I met a Latin beauty. I invited him to dinner and dancing later that week at La Cima, one of the best Salsa clubs in town, to show off my moves. She was impressed. A year later we got married and after a few years we moved to her hometown, Colombia.
Colombian salsa is a different animal. The style, pace and beat are similar elsewhere, but it’s a different story on the dance floor. My feet recognized the beat but behaved as if 1 was wearing Bozo shoes. For a while, 1 stuck to downtown spots like Cuarto Venina, set on the banks of the brown, knee-deep Cali River. It’s just listening, no dancing here. The music is so quiet that you can carry on a conversation over empanadas and cold “Costeña”. It might be just the right touch for a Sunday afternoon. Nowadays, my Latin cutie and 1 are considered “cuchos” (the over 35 set). Ten years have passed. Yet we are still here, still dancing Salsa. And I’m still showing off my moves.
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