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"It all comes together now"

It All Comes Together Now
Lee Haas

In celebration of Black History Month, The SalsAfrica Project debuted in Toronto on Friday Feb. 8, 2008. The group is sure to have many repeat shows after this, their first explosive presence on the stage at Lula Lounge. After all the teasers, there was a massive level of anticipation present for this project, this new vibe, this bringing together of some of the most talented and known musicians in Toronto. The diversity of SalsAfrica is a great reflection of our own city, some players bringing their Latin roots from such places as Peru and Cuba; the African roots were well represented with some from such countries as Nigeria, Madagascar and Kenya. Of course Toronto also births its own talent and our roots are well connected with all the others. While few of them are from here, the intimation is just how small our world really is – and not just musically.

SalsAfrica - The Project
The musical director of the SalsAfrica project is Luisito Orbegoso, a multi talented and very busy percussionist, musician, composer, and vocalist. Jose Ortega, co-owner of Lula Lounge encouraged and nourished this project from the very start. Often, the audience for each, or any, style of music is - in Toronto - pretty straightforward, with little genre-bending. However, considering the multi cultural diversity in the city, by picking some of the regular players from Lula, they brought together musicians - and audiences - that may not regularly have opportunity to 'play' together. There would be good reason why Orbegoso chose these players, all of whom rotate between quite a few other groups and bands around town, in quite a few different styles of music. Not as per their usual, this performance gave chance to explore the traditions of Latin and African genres of music that share deep and interconnected roots.

The First Set
With Adam Solomon on guitar and singing to the first long groove, heads were nodding and the appreciation was evident. The mix of the strong Afro-Guitar was outstanding with the backing of the Latin horns. That traditional soulful feel with the blasting salsa edge took it beyond the groove. The expression from the crowd starting with these first notes was non-stop dancing and smiles. Donné Roberts went into a title referencing "babaway" with his soft spoken yet intense vocals; his guitar playing elegant and vibrant. As was the next turn into the Latin side with West Indian Man (telling of Panama) and "amor matata", where we started to hear more of the salsa and saw more the dancing and spinning on the floor. The addition of bongos by Daniel Stone, who was also on assorted percussion and was well referred to as 'general atmosphere maker,' was just the particular touch, adding just the right life to the sound.

Lady Son Soars
Of course, the amazingly versatile Luisito Orbegoso on vocals and congas, as well as being the arranger of the project, did favourably emphasize the legendary Ricardo Lemvo's careful melody. Then sharing a second tune with Yeti Ajasin (aka Lady Son) on vocals was form and function combined to impart a sharp sound. Ajasin followed on lead vocals with Africa, showing why she was referred to as Mama Africa later in the show. In her career, she has acquired this elocution of a Spanish accent, despite the fact that she came from Nigeria and her background is not Latina. She reinvents the essence of having a female presence on lead, really expressing the sentiment Que Rico indeed. Even later in the evening, she's very enthralling in her spirited presentation of voice with feeling. Seeing all these musical artists together was almost wholly too much; they each on their own have a profusion of seasoned talent to offer, and together they are even stronger. And all of them crowded up there on the small stage still managed to be animated in how enthusiastic they were that first set.

The Band
As well as those already mentioned there was the phenomenal Mark Kelso on drum set, who can play any thing, any type, any style, any time. Alex Brown on trumpet is always such a … 'blast' and really enjoys being up there! Alexis Baro was first trumpet; Richard Underhill on baritone sax; trombone by Jaime Stager and Yannick Malboeuf; the roundup of horns were vibrant in the blending of fresh sounds, with varied participation, taking the jazz sounds and the salsa spice to a fitting collaboration with the rest of the group's members. This included Roberto Linares Brown, who is a group leader and composer in his own right, on piano; Sandy Mamane up on bass; and Alex Godinez responsive on timbales.

Genre Blender
With the intro of blazing brass and rolling congas subsequently followed by the Afro styled guitar, we in the crowd weren't sure if we wanted to bounce or sway to the afro-groove or swing and spin to the salsa side. It got brilliantly shiny, becoming hard to choose of which type was the best for focus. As I - Lee Haas

"Witnessing The Birth Of “SalsAfrica” In Its Cradle Of Global Collaboration"

Witnessing The Birth Of “SalsAfrica” In Its Cradle Of Global Collaboration
by Sebastian Cook with photos by Roger Humbert
Salsa Africa had been one of the most anticipated musical events in the city for quite some time, all the more so due to a postponement. One look at the lineup of musicians was all you needed to get a sense of just how special this evening had the potential to be. And indeed, from Lula owner José Ortega’s vision of celebrating the links between salsa and African music, we witnessed nothing less than a new genre of music —
While Lula has certainly offered an embarrassment of riches in terms of Cuban-style timba where jazz, funk, hiphop, Afrobeat and other styles were layered into a salsa foundation, this was different. What we heard was a brand new sound that could only happen here in Toronto, with 15 of the city’s finest musicians from no less than 10 countries and an even richer diversity of musical sensibilities.

Roberts’ song “Wenge Yongo” (from African Guitar Summit II) was next. For some time now, I have viewed Roberts to be the most naturally and fluidly gifted musician I have ever seen in this city, and here was more to bolster that perception. This Malagasy soul song translated brilliantly into a new context with big, joyous horns, typically visionary keys from Roberto Linares Brown that sounded like a vibraphone, and deliciously snappy percussion.
The first song from the Latin side of this diaspora was Ruben Blades’ “West Indian Man”, a number that as bandleader Luis Orbegoso explained spoke to the horrific racism faced by the workers who built the Panama Canal. Then came a song called “Amor Matata” by a Lemvo with the first name Ricardo whom Orbegoso spoke of as a proponent of Africanized salsa. It started with a sublime montuno from Linares Brown, moved into Yeti Ajasin’s first show-stopping vocal volley, then a fiery trumpet blast from Alexis Baro and Alexander Brown, returning to the montuno and finally a welcome solo with Orbegoso’s distinctively nuanced and rhythmically authoritative conga.
I found it appropriate that a tune from Adam Solomon of African Guitar Summit opened the show, because the AGS project conceived by Todd Fraracci struck me as having been the most similar in terms of its scope of creative ambition. It was a slow, gentle African rumba, with both African and Latin rhythmic and harmonic influences shining distinctly on their own and together — the perfect selection to introduce the audience to this new idea. One guitar in a salsa band is unusual enough, never mind two, making the effortlessly rolling licks of the Kenyan Solomon and his AGS bandmate Donné Roberts of Madagascar all the more enjoyable to hear in this setting. I had heard the blues with Afro-Latin influences many times before, but never a salsa arrangement so touched by blues harmonies. There was a slight misstep at the end of the song, perhaps fitting for this birthing.
Next was the highlight of the opening set to these ears, an original called “Africa” by Linares Brown, whose playing and arrangement genius (he has arranged for a who’s who of Cuban salsa masters including Adalberto Alvares) is making him one of the most talked-about players in “Havana Norte”. It started with a dark and foreboding orisha-style rezos rhythm, layering in some slick bluesy guitar from Solomon and Roberts and then more incredibly soulful verse from Ajasin, whose passion and presence on stage makes it easy to forget that Spanish is a new language to her. The first set then closed with a number that showcased the heartbeat of salsa — blistering percussion and the montuno.

One can only speculate on what Orbegoso said to his band after the first set. Whatever it was, they returned after some typically brilliant selecting from DJ Billy Bryans to deliver one of the most memorable single performances I have ever heard. It started with a tribute to José Ortega, who unfortunately was not in his club to witness his vision coming to life so spectacularly; fortunately for him, he was in Brazil. Things then got a little tense, as a CD plug by Solomon was authoritatively yet gently quashed by Orbegoso. Following a quite noticeably tense moment of silence, Orbegoso reintroduced Solomon to applause from the crowd, and then the Kenyan showman launched “Mama Africa” with his deep, rhythmic Afrobeat chanting and djembe. The guitars slowly lilted into a crescendo, with Linares Brown layering over a drone on the keys. Ajasin’s voice brought the crowd to a frenzy while Solomon played to the front of the dancefloor. Now, SalsAfrica was in full swing.
A chant from Ajasin harkened the twin African guitars again, with an Afro-Cuban Dixieland sound taking shape. A haunting piano roll from Linares segued into that joyously familiar sound of Roberts’ “Sadebake” — a personal favourite song that was about to be transformed into a psychedelic Afrosalsa groove from beyond. This frenetic improvised playground was the perfect place - Live Music Report




Using the sounds of contemporary salsa and african music grounding SalsAfrica is a truly Canadian band with representatives from Madagascar, Peru, Kenya, Nigeria, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Italy and Venezuela included in the players and producers of the project. SalsAfrica delivers Funky African Salsa that is guaranteed to get you moving.
The cross-cultural collaboration that is SalsAfrica was created by Lula Lounge co-owner Jose Ortega in 2007. Ortega observed that although contemporary Latin and African music share many roots, there was not a lot of overlap within Toronto between the players or audiences for these musical forms. By bringing together this band, Lula Lounge hoped to encourage musicians to take advantage of the cultural and musical diversity that Canada (and specifically Toronto) offers by bringing together players creating and performing in different genres."
Jose Ortega.

Under the direction of musical director Luisito Orbegoso, the principle members of SalsAfrica developed their repetoire through a collaborative effort with each member suggesting a few songs. Some tunes were chosen for their lyrical content exploring the debt of latin forms to African rhythms, musical structure and dance. Some African tunes were chosen because their latin flavour could be emphasized and celebrated through a different arrangement. Several of the Latin pieces were selected because their African roots are very close to the surface - just waiting to be revealed. Original songs were contributed by Donné Roberts, Adam Solomon, Yeti Ajasin and Roberto Linares Brown. Since it's birth, the band has expanded it's original repertoire and is now creating a truly unique canadian african salsa sound.