Aurora & Zon del Barrio
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Aurora & Zon del Barrio


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"Keeping the Music in the Barrio Zone"

Keeping the music in the barrio zone

Ed Morales

February 20, 2005

In New York there have long been complaints about the state of Latin music, at least the Afro-Cuban or salsa variety. The music has become too commercial, venues have been dwindling and a new generation's tastes have gone in a different direction. The natural response for musicians and fans has been to seek out more authentic music that somehow has a feel for the contemporary.

In the past few years, a bomba and plena revival has swept the city, attracting older and younger listeners alike. Bands such as Yerbabuena and Viento de Agua have picked up on the tradition of Los Pleneros de la 21. Bryan Vargas' Ya Está and José Conde's Ola Fresca do a jazzier version of Afro-Cuban, and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Jimmy Bosch have mined the big-band tradition on larger stages.

Now, in an attempt to combine all these influences and more, Zon del Barrio is starting to turn heads.

A percussion-driven septet playing variations of bomba, plena, guaracha, salsa and even reggae/calypso and hip-hop, Zon del Barrio at once refers to the cultural renaissance going on in the "zone" of ElBarrio, or Spanish Harlem, and the "son" that is the root musical form of Afro-Caribbean music.

Formed by Aurora Flores, longtime critic and promoter on the local scene, and musical director-pianist David Fernandez, Zon del Barrio plays a mix of covers and original music designed to bring back the feel of the 1960s and '70s.

"People keep telling me our music reminds them of what they used to hear on AM radio," Flores said. "I was very inspired by bugaloo when I was growing up, and we are trying to use Spanglish lyrics to try to appeal to the bilingual, bicultural lifestyle that is so common today."

The band's lead singer, Sammy Rosa, "He's living in the hip-hop world with an old-school attitude," Flores said.

Among the inspired covers the band plays are "El Chivo," and "El Negro Bembón" by bomba legend Rafael Cortijo. "Mi Bandera" is a plena written by Flores and her brother Yeyito as an ode to the nationalism felt by New York Puerto Ricans and the dreams they have about the island to which they may never return.

"Revolú" is a controversial song that addresses violence against women. "I was inspired by the case of Gladys Ricart, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1999," Flores said of a cause embraced by women's groups nationwide and the likes of actress Salma Hayek.

But the main goal of Zon del Barrio is to get people to dance. "It's unbelievable, but there's no place to dance in Spanish Harlem," Flores said. So Friday, at the Julia de Burgos Center (212-831-4333), the band will inaugurate "Spanish Harlem Dance Nights" and hope to bring back that old feeling to the Barrio Zone.

Bring your dancing shoes.

- Newsday

"The Descarga Review"

The Descarga Review • October 26, 2007
Brought to you by

Cortijo's Tribe - La Tribu De Cortijo
Originally released: 2007

EditorsPick: Zon Del Barrio's debut release is a fervent celebration of Puerto Rican salsa and, in particular, the intelligence, swing and spirit of the legendary band Cortijo y Su Combo and their vocalist, the great sonero Ismael Rivera. This dance party supreme features Cortijo compositions like "El Chivo," "El Negro Bembón," and "Quitate de la Via, Perico" as well as original tracks that serve to enhance the tribute. Guest singer Sammy Ayala, who contributed three compositions, adds old school flavor and authenticity to an already top-notch project. And legendary cuatrista Yomo Toro also graces Cortijo's Tribe. Singer Sammy Rosa handles the material with flair and authority: listen to his handling of the fiery "Gulliver." Clearly, bandleader and percussionist Aurora Flores knows the music inside and out - she's able to channel the essential Cortijo here: The fresh new version of "Tuntuneco," which originally appeared on Cortijo's Bueno...y Qué?, sounds as if he's, somehow, at the helm. Flores also peppers in a bit of bomba y plena, Puerto Rican roots music that Cortijo helped to popularize. It makes sense, and helps to establish the musical heritage. With liner notes by musicologist Rene López.

Highly Recommended. (BP)

1. El Chivo 2. El Negro Bembon 3. Quitate De La Via, Perico 4. Ay Que Ver 5. Cumbita 6. Tuntuneco 7. Cortijo Su Apellido 8. Rafael Cortijo 9. Te Conoci 10. Guagua De Toulouse 11. Mi Bandera 12. Gulliver 13. Severa 14. Oi Una Voz 15. Revolu 16. Yubaye-Bye Finale

"In Cortijo's Footsteps"

A long overdue homage to percussionist Rafael Cortijo, the
great master of Puerto Rican
bomba y plena, has taken Aurora Flores on a mission.
“Cortijo never got his just dues,” explains Flores, the bandleader of Zon del Barrio, whose tribute debut CD, “Cortijo’s Tribe: La Tribu de
Cortijo,” goes on sale Oct. 23.
Cortijo and his band, founded in 1954, took the percussion-driven African-infl uenced bomba y plena out of the slums of Puerto Rico and popularized
it in the island and beyond.
“Cortijo was a genius,” says Flores, though he was easily overshadowed by his partner, the legendary singer Ismael Rivera, who was more
dashing, lighter skinned and had a larger stage presence.
“He was the man behind the music, but he was also very dark-skinned and very African,” Flores adds about Cortijo, at a time when blacks still had
a hard time in the industry.
“Cortijo’s Tribe” features his best known songs like “Tuntuneco” and “El Negro Bembón,” plus original songs performed by Sammy Ayala
— Cortijo’s first vocalist — and famed cuatro player Yomo Toro.
“We are talking Yomo and Sammy — two guys at the top of their league,” says Flores, who met Cortijo and Rivera in the 1970s when she wrote for Billboard magazine and Latin New York and briefl y was their backup singer.
Released by Emusica Records and Barrio Zone Productions, the Zon del Barrio album will be showcased Oct. 24 at LQ, 511 Lexington Ave.
Flores, who also runs a public
relations fi rm, sings and does
percussion for the band, which
she founded in 2003. She says
interpreting the music of Cortijo
— who died in 1982 — is like peeling
countless layers.
“There are rhythms, melodies,
beats. It’s as if there are no empty
spaces in his music,” she says. “He put everything in every space. There is nothing left to the
imagination. He’s got it all covered.”
His music was “no simple folkloric plena,” adds
Flores. “There is an element of jazz in his trumpet
and always this drive and sophisticated swing.”
Spicing up “Cortijo’s Tribe” is a slight modern edge with the band’s improvisational lead sonero
Sammy Rosa, whose hip hop-salsa
blend makes him a natural to bring back the classics
to a younger audience.
“It’s a party record,” says Flores. “It is music
you would hear at a New York party with that
street element.”

- Daily News

"Aurora & Zon del Bario"

Aurora Flores and Zon Del Barrio.(Entrevista)
From: Latin Beat Magazine | Date: 12/1/2007 | Author: Mangual, Rudy
Latin Beat Magazine

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Born and bred in the urban jungle of the Big Apple, Aurora Flores is a Renaissance woman of the 21st Century. A culture warrior since the early 1970s, Aurora's is journalist, historian, artist, musician, and cultural activist at the cutting edge of Latino identity.

She has published thousands of music and cultural articles for mainstream and ethnic publications, as well as run her own public relations and cultural marketing firm. Aurora has performed with legendary Latin music icons including Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera, and has graced the stages with many other popular New York City-based salsa bands. She currently leads Zon del Barrio, a septet currently enjoying the release of its debut CD titled Cortijo's Tribe (La Tribu de Cortijo) for Protel/Fania Records.

Following is an interview with the multi-talented bandleader.

Rudy Mangual: Aurora, talk to our readers about your heritage. Aurora Flores: When I'm asked what town in Puerto Rico I'm from. 1 respond, "The largest: New York City." I've even said that I'm a 'manhateriana' and then folks ask me if that's near Santurce. Really! But I was born and raised in Manhattan, in the West Side Harlem projects across Central Park from El Barrio. The rest of my family also lived in the projects of East Harlem so we were always there, and of course, every weekend we went to the marketa (market) to buy groceries anda myriad of other things from the vendors that hawked their wares on the streets of El Barrio. I am the eldest of four children and as the oldest daughter I had the responsibility of being the family interpreter and the assistant to my mother.

For the holiday season, my father would fly his parents in from Lajas, ER. It was cheaper to fly them in than take all of us over there. My gran& father was a down-home plenero and played accordion. My uncles played guitar and one uncle sang operas as well as aguinaldos. I always looked forward to the holidays because all the family carne to our house for dinner and the music followed. My father was a chef at Toots Shor, a celebrity restaurant of the time, and carne home with stories, like when he met Anthony Quinn, who was celebrating his birthday at the restaurant and liked the food so much he asked to see the chef and had his photo taken with my dad.

My mother sang the songs of Libertad Lamarque, Toña la Negra and Olga Guillot. My father wrote songs and poetry and of course. I was m the middle of all this musical activity. I so adored my grandfather that I would not leave his side while he played. One day he asked me if I knew which buttons to press for the bass parts. I said yes. and he played the melody on the accordion keys while I played the bass parts. During these gatherings, my grandfather also gave me two spoons su I could keep time with the adults. He encouraged me to learn the songs of a popular Spanish child actor named Joselito and later, the songs of Lola Flores.

At night, before going to bed. my mother told us stories about Puerto Rico. slavery, the genocide of the tainos and the proud humility, and generosity of the jibaros. She taught us about culture and history and never let us forget that we were the descendants of Puerto Rico's most important patriot and visionary Eugenio María de Hostos.

RM: What paths led you to music and writing?

AF: My mother recalls two major incidents in my life as a toddler. The first occurred when I was about three and she caught me scribbling on the walls. Rather than reprimand me, she sat me down and spelled out words in Spanish that I copied onto paper. I recall her telling me that I had writer's blood in my veins and never realized until adulthood what she meant. The second incident occurred when I was about four of five years old and we were sitting in church during one of those long Pentecostal services. Back then, girls had to wear dresses with crinoline slips that itched and bothered, which made me fidgety on the hard, wooden pews. The Pentecostal services featured live music, and the moment I heard the slap of the bongó, followed by the scratching of a gourd, laced together by the strains of a guitar, I jumped up from my seat, threw my little arms in the air and shouted "mambo!" as I danced toward the musicians. They stopped playing when I got to them and there was a dead silence in the church. My mother came running and scooped me up and carried me outside where I remember her smiling face close to mine telling me that I could not say "mambo" in church because that was our secret at home.


My mother loved big band music and the music of Cortijo. Her favorite records when we cleaned the house were the classics Celine & Rutelio and Cortijo Te Invita a Bailar or Bueno y Que? But since my father's family was Pentecostal, we had to listen when he was not around. My mother then enrolled us in religious instruction and Catholic Sunday school, where I was recruited to sing in the adult choir when I was seven. Back then, the mass was all in Latin and I memorized every single hymn. Soon after, my mother enrolled me in a few piano classes and allowed me to audition for Latino talent shows in a local theater called the Olympia. I won second prize once for my rendition of Lola Flores' Angelitos Negros. However, once my father found out about this, he stopped my lessons, as he did not want his daughters involved in secular music.

In fourth grade, I wrote an epic poem that won a national award. In the fifth grade, our teacher took us on a trip to see Shakespeare in the Park. They performed Hamlet and she took us backstage to meet the actors. This made such ah impact on me that I wrote a review on the play in olde English, which impressed my teacher and the school.

I already knew I wanted to pursue writing and music. In junior high school, I enrolled in the school orchestra to play violin and German baby bass. Since I was the only bass player, the orchestra leader encouraged me to stick with the bass and got me a private instructor, Frederic Zimmerman. He was one of the most wonderful and kindest people I would ever meet and I was his charity case for three years. He charged me $5 for lessons and sometimes I didn't even have that, but he never turned me away and was always happy to see me. Sometimes he'd call and ask me to arrive earlier for the lessons and that was usually to introduce me to someone like Mary O'Brien, who became the first bassist for the Philharmonic, or to hear his bass ensemble class from Juilliard, or just to have me sit with him at the piano to sing show tunes. Whenever I left his home, he gave me a fistful of Hershey's almond kisses. His apartment was full of his paintings and his manner was gentile, encouraging and soft-spoken. He actually gave me my first baby German bass that I played with a German bow. He helped me with the audition for Music & Art H.S., but after only two months at the school, I joined a Latin jazz group and the guitar player called my house, and my father found out about the Latín jazz. He was cool with the music as long as it was classical, but once it became jazz and boys were calling the house, my father wasn't having that and I came home one day to find my bass in pieces.

The civil rights movement was in full swing then, and I remember watching the riots on television with my mom, both of us crying. Martin Luther King had been shot, I was reading the Young Lord's "Palante" newspaper, and I had received a call from Mr. Zimmerman's wife informing me that he had not survived brain surgery. It was just too much for me and I became very depressed and refused to play anymore. I had to switch schools and relocate to my local high school, where I focused on writing and politics. I entered Lehman College, was on the Dean's list, wrote for the school newspaper, joined a political student organization called Frente Unido Latino, advocated for Black and Puerto Rican Studies on campus and created a Latina Woman's Caucus before I started dee jaying at the school's Latino parties we called "areitos." It was 1972 and Latin music was seeping out of every corner of the city. I had been listening to Symphony Sid and Dick "Ricardo" Sugar on transistor radio since I was 15, and although I loved Santana, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Symphony Sid hooked me on to Joe Bataan, who sang in English and talked about life for young Latinos in the projects. At those areitos, we burned out Eddie Palmieri tracks like Puerto Rico, as we were all young, NYC Latinos looking for our history. Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaría, La Lupe, Frankie Dante, Larry Harlow, Willie Colón & Héctor Lavoe, this was the soundtrack of our collegiate lives. With everything that was going on at the time, these artists seemed to be speaking directly to our generation and told us that we could make a change, we could make a difference.

RM: That whole era inspired change. What do you believe is the main difference between the music scene of the 1970s in New York City and the current scene?

AF: During the 1970s, the entire society was shifting very quickly. We were going from "I Love Lucy" conservatism to the "everything goes" mantra of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," or, in my case, "salsa." There were no corporate takeovers yet and the youth of the times really felt that they could not only give their uncensored opinions, but that they could actually change the world. In retrospect, we were right about everything except the drugs. But then, we had Harvard professors telling us to "tune in, turn on and drop out." So what could be bad? We were also combating an unjust war in Vietnam and many of our Latino and black brothers were coming home addicted to heroin. There was no real estate market like now and Donald Trump was probably still working with his dad in New Jersey, so there were still Latin nightclubs all over the city.

Here in El Barrio, there were social clubs representing every town in P.R. that regularly held weekend socials with live music. Even before funeral parlors were affordable to Latinos, we held wakes and weddings in cramped, ghetto or project apartments with live music to soothe our pain of crescendo our jubilation. Summer nights found folks outdoors, hanging out of the tire escapes, sitting on stoops of entire families sleeping in Central Park accompanied by radios that blasted Latin music, or congas that syncopated the pulse of passion and tragedy in our lives. Very different from today, where the poorest of the poor have air conditioning and hot summer nights mean empty streets and closed, cool homes with cable. Back in the 1970s, we didn't even need radio to play the music, the music was played by amateurs and pros alike, from every vest pocket park, project playground of tenement stoop. Anglos always went to the country for the summer and |lived in the suburbs, leaving the rest of us and the hippies to play on the hot pavements of NYC streets.

RM: Having worn many hats throughout the years, which career fulfills you and why?

AF: Music and writing have always fulfilled me most, even though they have been wrought with much pain and suffering. My father basically thought all women in music were denigrated, lost and subject to the debauchery of men. My mother always loved music with a passion and one of her favorite phrases was that "singing is like praying twice." So for me, there was always a duality with music, although I loved it and ir was my passion, it was also ingrained that it was not for women, only for men. My father wanted me to become a lawyer but I found law studies boring so I threw him a curve ball and became a music writer. After writing for Latin N.Y. Magazine, I became the first female music correspondent for Billboard Magazine in 1975. I covered Latin music and R&B. I was at the right place at the right time at the right age.

RM: Who are your musical influences?


AF: I have many from various genres, but I was raised listening to the music of the masters, such as Tito Puente, Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Agustín Lara, Lola Flores, classical opera singers Enrico Caruso, Handel, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Verdi, music from the popular Mexican films like Libertad Lamarque, Miguel Aceves Mejias, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, plus the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Martha Vandrell, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Ronettes, etc. Today, I still enjoy all of the above but have added more jazz to the mix, such as McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, Jacki Bayard, Art Tatum, Diane Reeves, etc.

RM: In your own opinion, what is the main distinction between Cuban and Puerto Rican based folkloric music; popular music?

AF: There are many distinctions, but I like to look at the similarities, for example, the Cuban art of el soneo and the P.R. traditions of pie forzao, as sung by the trovadores of Puerto Rico. Both these genres ate based on the Spanish tradition of instantaneous improvisations. Look at the similarities between the bomba drummers and dancers and Cuba's tumba Francesa, with its influences from Haiti. Bomba's birthplace is in Puerto Rico's Mayagüez, a western coastal city where the bomba has various derivations with French sounding names, said to be of Haitian influence.

But Rudy, after conducting so many interviews with so many artists one of the things I distinctly recall are the words of Mario Bauzá, who told me that learning another culture is fine, but remains hollow if you do not study your own culture and music first. I find that many of the musicians I spoke with during the 1970s and even now, were ashamed of their Puerto Rican roots. They found the music of their parents corny and hokey. Many recalled the parranda music and gatherings as a time when the children were ignored, fights broke out, and the kids had to sleep on a pile of coats in a back room listening to a scratched version of Daniel Santos' Yo No he Visto a Linda playing over and over again.

During the 1960s and 1970s, all things Cuban were outlawed in the U.S. and that immediately created a "forbidden fruit" temptation that is hard to ignore. Puerto Rican music was being recorded in New York as lar back as 1905. Rafael Hernández opened the first Latín music record shop in 1927; he would not have done so if there were no market for it. So we've had access to our music here in N.Y. for the past 100 years and as humans, we tend to take what's accessible for granted. Cuban and Puerto Rican roots are so similar, from the bolero to the danza, from our classical music to the "son" found throughout the Caribbean, we cannot deny that these roots and routes overlap.

Cortijo and Maelo both talked to me about what it was like in the 1950s in Puerto Rico. And Cuban music was always commercially viable. In fact, at a time when Cuban music was at its height in popularity in P.R., Cortijo formed his own band featuring the plenas and bombas of P.R. That was a risky and bold move but it worked, as P.R. was ready to embrace its black heroes with the return of Rafael Hernández in the late 1940s. Not only did Cortijo hit it big, but he relied on the help of his other tribal members. Rogelio Martínez (of Sonora Matancera) recorded some of Cortijo's hits, like El Chivo; Cortijo backed Cuba's crooner Benny Moré during his only tour in 1957; Celia Cruz so loved the Cortijo band when she toured with them in 1958 that she brought Cortijo two tunes from Cuba: Tuntuneco and Gulliver. Cuba's tresero Arsenio Rodríguez wrote A Bailar Mi Bomba for Rafa, and when Cortijo wanted to form his band again to welcome Ismael back after his five years in prison, it was Tito Puente who gave Cortijo use of his band, his charts and his voice (that you can hear doing chorus) on the album Bienvenidos.


There was a fellowship among these bandleaders. There was a legacy of shared African roots that was undeniable. "Era cosa de negros," Rafa explained to me, and when it carne to that, it didn't matter what island they were dropped off on, they recognized the tribe, the tribulations, the pain and the joy. After all, the music was fundamentally a mix of the rhythms from the enslaved Africans and the salon music of the Spaniards and French that conquered these islands. It was the enslaved African that came to these islands with the knowledge to make the drums and play the rhythms. There were no congas in Cuba before the arrival of the enslaved African. Of course, since Cuba was the largest island and the last one to abolish slavery in the Caribbean, they had the distinction of producing the most African-based rhythms.

My belief is that once a music genre becomes popular worldwide, it no longer belongs to anyone. It belongs to the world. What would happen today if classical music exponents got into a controversy over who classical music belongs to, the Viennese, the Italians, or the Germans? Frankly, I feel this argument is more among the non-musicians or the mediocre, as music, like all art forms, is expressed for the enjoyment of the world and not just a particular group of people.

RM: Can you describe the essence of New York City-based salsa?

AF: It is swing, a driving, funky "chequendeke" that makes you want to get up and dance. A tight, rhythmic engine, with catchy, harmonized choruses and a good, creative singer not afraid to take chances, combined with a kick ass arrangement. That's NYC salsa.

RM: What was your involvement with the organization Frente Unido Latino?

AF: I joined the student organization to learn more about my roots and to become an active member of the college. When we decided to take over the President's office demanding Black & Puerto Rican Studies, I was at the front line. The doors to the president's office were made of glass and I kicked a hole through one of them with my boot until I could crawl through and open the doors for the rest of the students. I was almost arrested and (I don't know how) I talked my way out of it. I later organized a woman's caucus under the organization showing films and giving talks of women's liberation and the elimination of machismo.

RM: Can you describe the core of the course (History of Latín Music) you teach at CUNY and other educational facilities throughout NYC?

AF: At the core is the African diaspora and the route and roots of this music. We look at its journey from Africa to the Caribbean and then focus on its spotlight on the streets of New York City. I play music from the salon classics to the field recordings of Lydia Cabrera. I also show films and bring in guests to speak, explain and try to paint an overall picture of the richness of this music.

RM: Describe the experience of working with Cortijo y su Combo as well as with Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos.

AF: Rafael Cortijo was one of the most down to earth bandleaders I've ever met. It I brought a friend to a rehearsal of a concert and told him that this person was a musician, Rafa would invite him to sit in. Once, when my brother, a percussionist, was sick at home, I asked Cortijo to come over and speak with him. Not only did he come, he dressed in a suit for the occasion, my mom cooked dinner, and then he stayed with my brother in his room playing drums with him for hours.

But he was also a hardcore bandleader and very demanding. He asked me to sing chorus and I was fortunate enough to do a few gigs with him. However, one evening we went to Connecticut to do a gig at a hotel. I was so psyched. Doing chorus with us was Lalo Rodríguez, Rodney Santos (Daniel's son that Maelo raised) and Ismael Rivera, Jr. Cortijo liked my re guinto on the chorus and then told me we were going to do one more gig at the Cerromar in the South Bronx that night.

We got there sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when it was still dark. The moment we hit the bandstand I felt like I was in danger. I looked over the crowd and I think every junkie in the Bronx was there, including a cousin of mine that I wasn't talking to because of his hardcore habit. I was terrified.

After the first set, I went over to Cortijo at the bar. I asked him, "¿Rafa, tu no me vas a dejar aqui sola, verdad? (you ate not going to leave me here alone, are you?" He turned to me and said, 'Yo no soy niñera (I am nota babysitter).' I was on my own. Maelito saw the terror on my face and told me not to worry, he would escort me. When we left, the sun was already out. After that, I didn't want to do any more gigs.

After that incident, Maelo asked me if I wanted to go with him and Gladiola to Panama to see the procession of the Black Christ in Portobelo. I jumped at the opportunity and spent one of the most memorable moments of my life at this legendary procession of history, music and faith.

By 1980, I had left the industry and was working fulltime asa journalist writing news for television, doing music specials on WBAI radio in N.Y. and writing for other publications such as the Daily News, Ms. Magazine, Nuestro and others. By 1982, I was married and mother to my son Abie. I remember taking him in a basket to Maelo's apartment on 108th and Amsterdam to show him my first production. He was thrilled and picked up my son for a blessing. I was very touched.

Cortijo died later that year and Maelo was just overcome with grief for his" aptos." Five years later, Maelo died and I went to Puerto Rico to pay my last respects. The Luis Llorens Torres Cultural Center where the wake was held was packed. After I said my prayers by the coffin, they were ready to take him out to the waiting hearst. As all the men picked up the coffin, I saw my friend Sammy Ayala and asked him if I could carry him as well, knowing that this was a male ritual. To my surprise, Sammy replied, "coje este laito al la'o de mi que yo se que tu eres familia (take this side next to me, I know you are family)." So we carried him out, only to have a tidal-wave of people engulf us and carry the coffin all the way to the cemetery.

RM: When did you establish Zon del Barrio?

AF: ZDB was founded and created in the spring of 2003. Although the music industry of the 1970s scared me, I still found ways of expressing my musical heritage. Actually, I had already worked in the music industry for three years when I met Ismael and Cortijo. Frankly, I had had it with the industry, the chauvinism, the drugs, and the total lack of fellowship among the musicians until I met the Afro-Boricua masters. They encouraged me to hang in there and the camaraderie they extended was heartwarming and exemplary.

During my entire career as a journalist and corporate publicist, I always made a point of organizing a parranda/aguinaldo group to play at the colleges and cultural centers. We even performed at some of the professional business parties for the holidays, and because I maintained a relationship with some of the core musicians and promoters of the business, such as Ralph Mercado, they hired us for the holiday parties. It was fun and a way for me to maintain my musical and cultural roots and pass them down to my son.

By the late 1990s, I began helping other musicians and folkloric groups. I noticed that much of Cortijo's music was being forgotten and I wanted to deal with a group that would not only perform plenas and bombas, but would also honor the salsa of Cortijo. I also wanted to form a group of young pleneros that danced, played panderos and sang bilingually. But that never happened, and most of the folkloric groups I found were really street musicians that could keep a basic beat but didn't, or couldn't, go further than that. This was frustrating me and I began speaking with my brother Yeyito about putting together our own group in tribute to Cortijo and Maelo. As we were about to do this, Yeyito's musical mentor, Mario "Papaito" Muñoz, passed away and Yeyito changed direction, forming instead, a tribute band for Muñoz called Akunbe.

I had met and fallen in love with David Fernández the year before. He had just arrived in N.Y. after living in St. Croix and P.R. for five years. He had worked as a percussionist with Pedro Guzmán and his Jíbaro Jazz and redefined the bongó style of playing. He had also played keyboards and synthesizer for a group in St. Croix called Tuff Enuf, so, with this experience, he told me he could put together the band that I wanted. I already had a tape of the music I wanted to interpret, along with some of my own compositions and those of my brother. I knew I could sing the folkloric compositions, but I was no sonera and wanted to find the right singer who could handle the Maelo vocals without being an imitation. Sammy Rosa handles that tremendous assignment with ease and flair.

RM: What sets this ensemble apart from others in the New York City Latín music scene?

AF: We've created a new, funky sound utilizing synthesizer in much the same way that Rubén Blades did it with Seis del Solar, except that David is handling both keyboards and synthe. We started with horns, one sax, one trumpet and one 'bone, but very quickly realized we could never get full rehearsals going because the horn players were all sight readers and didn't want to rehearse. Out of this frustration we decided to go modern, change the instrumentation to all-synthesizers, given the lack of clubs and places to play at and the lack of real budgets for live musicians. We scaled the band back to seven and David left the timbal to go back to keyboards and synthesizer. His arrangements and transcriptions add elements of R&B, jazz, reggaetón and funk to the Afro-Caribbean equation, with Papote learning and expressing diminished and Arabic scales, vocal octave jumps with R&B scatting, and bilingual lyrics.

RM: Who are the core members of Zon Del Barrio?

AF: I'm the bandleader, composer, vocalist and I play minor percussion. I also taught myself to play the cuatro and hope to record some of that in the next production. I pick the tunes, and manage the group. David Fernández is the musical director, and arranger, and background vocalist who will sometimes get off the keyboards and do a dynamic timbal solo. He learned salsa piano playing and production from Ricky González, and studied jazz arranging and playing with Jacki Bayard and many others.

Sammy Rosa is a gifted singer/sonero who has played with many groups including Conjunto Imagin, Brenda K. Starr and many others.

And I'm so proud to have a Fania All Star legend and virtuoso on the cuatro (10 stringed guitar) like Yomo Toro. That's a great privilege and honor.


Pedro "Pocholo" Segundo is one of the most gifted percussionists around. But I have to tell you, I find that many percussionists today can play salsa but not the Boricua folkloric music. You have them playa plena or a bomba, and the percussion comes out "monga." I didn't want that. In the past, musicians played all the rhythms, such as mambo, guaracha, chachachá, plena, bomba, merengue, cumbia, bolero, even paso doble and tango.

Our bass player, Rubén López, is a veteran who played with Cortijo y Su Bonche, Tommy Olivencia, and other groups in Puerto Rico.

Sammy Ayala is more than just a guest artist; he has moved to N.Y. and is an integral part of Zon del Barrio. I am so pleased and honored to have such a great group of guys in this band.

RM: Tell us about your recently released production, La Tribu de Cortijo on the Fania/EMúsica label,

AF: What I can tell you is that it is truly a labor of love, a tribute to the aforementioned masters, but also a lesson in history from the roots, to the salsa, to the bombatón piece (Revolú). It is also a platform for young talent like Mathew Gonzalez and it is a personal testament to women in music, and what we can achieve as performers, bandleaders, and composers. Today, I am doing all the things my daddy didn't want me to do, but I can also tell you that having done them, he has no choice but to be proud.

The fact that after all these years we can get this music back on a label like Emúsica/Fania, is like the closing of a synergic circle of time and space. And I have to hand it to Giora Briel for believing in this project and giving me the creative license to do it my way. Even in P.R. very few bands are mixing plenas with salsa, as Cortijo once did.

However, this is still an independent production. I created my own label, (Barrio Zone Music) and the partnership with Emúsica is for distribution. I feel that musicians today have to be more entrepreneurial. The only thing that always remains constant is change and the music and industry have changed. We keep recalling the classics and that's good, but it's not about the classics anymore. It's about what's fresh and new, and ZDB is all that and a bag of chips.

The problem today in the Latin music industry is that we have dinosaur gatekeepers who don't get it. The industry is so bad they just want to rely on the "name" artists without regard to the new, so it doesn't create a platform for the young talent that is out there. I mean, when I call a club and the gatekeeper tells me that he can't hire us because we don't have brass, I wonder what he would have told Rubén Blades or even Joe Cuba. And it's not like they'll pay you more for brass. They still want you to play two sets, bring your own sound system and 15 musicians for $1,000. They're killing the music, softly. This too will change. But then again, what I always say is that music has its own duality, the talent is a gift from God, but the business is still run by the devil; reconciling these two things is the key.

RM: What is your instrument of choice?

AF: The bass. It's the heartbeat, the funk and the swing in all music.

RM: How do you envision the future of salsa in North America? AF: As I said above, it is changing. Just as hip hop needs R&B to survive and grow old, so does reggaetón need salsa and folk for its longevity. The music is changing, whether we like it or not, and music, like people, is always up for something new, creative, dynamic y con mucho swing.... ZDB gives you cultura con sabrosura. And that can never die.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Latin Beat Magazine
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.
For permission to reuse this article, contact Copyright Clearance Center. - Latin Beat Magazine

"Pick of the Month"

Aurora y Zon Del Barrio Cortijo's Tribe/La Tribu de Cortijo (Protel)

Cortijo's Tribe, the debut recording by the New York City-based band Zon del Barrio, led by music historian/writer/composer/ musician Aurora Flores, (under the musical direction of keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist David Fernández), delivers a refreshing perspective to Latin tropical dance music, based on a platform of Afro-Antillean percussive rhythms and synthesized melodies and moñas.

Throughout a repertoire inspired mostly by the music of Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera, Zon del Barrio features the vocal talents of Sammy
Ayala (Cortijo's first vocalist and one of Puerto Rico's cultural icons), plus the contributions of bandleader/composer Aurora Flores (who also appears on minor percussion and vocals hroughout the recording). Theelections swing non-stop, rom the opening salsa drive of the classic Cortijo hit "El Chivo" to the sizzling foot-stomping plenas, bombas, Afro-Cuban rhythms, classic salsa and boogaloo inspired scores like "Revolu" -a Spanglish track penned by Aurora Flores and based on the rhythm of "bombaton" ( a funky blend of bomba and reggaeton).

Cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro joins the mix on the selections "El Negro Benbon, Gulliver and Mi Bandera adding his unique flavor to this dance party. A number of live a capella interludes inspired by percussive and vocal sounds that can be heard in the streets of any Latino neighborhood complete the Zon del Barrio experience. Highlights include the tracks Ay Que Ver (featuring the laid back vocal style of Sammy Ayala on his own composition), Tuntuneco, Gulliver and the jibaro-oriented, flagwaving Mi Bandera.

Rudy Mangual - Latin Beat Magazine CD Review

"In the "Zon" of Music & Politics"

Natalia Muñoz

Wednesday, June 10th 2009, 11:08 AM

Aurora Flores and her Zon de Barrio orchestra play
driving rhythms with political notes and, as the
official band of Sunday’s National PR Day parade, the mix is sure to strike the right chord on Fifth Ave.

Especially as the biggest gathering of Puerto Ricans
anywhere coincides with the historic nomination of
Boricua judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As a Puerto Rican, it means that we have arrived.
We are finally looked on as part of the system,” said
Flores, 56, whose music affirms themes of social justice.

“This is the most significant nomination that has
ever happened to any Hispanic, and particularly any
Puerto Rican, since we became citizens in 1917.”

Flores said she’s doing her part, having written a
plena riff about the judge that she tags on to the
end of other plenas.

Zon de Barrio, launched in 2003, plays energetic funk-based classic salsa, plena, merengue, bombaand boogaloo, fusing English and Spanish on some

All those genres will reverberate from the parade’s
main stage, aka the Daily News stage, at 68th St. and
Fifth Ave. The performances on the stage are televised on Channels 5 and 9.

Zon del Barrio will play its own selections, including songs from debut CD, “Cortijo’s Tribe,” released in2007 as well as serve as backup for other artists.

Zon’s band members are a lesson in Latin music history.

Singer/songwriter Sammy Ayala was an original
member of Cortijo y Su Combo, the legendary band
of Puerto Rican percussionist Rafael Cortijo, and
Yomo Toro is widely known as the King of El Cuatro.

Percussionist Nelson Mathew González also plays
with Los Pleneros de la 21; timbales player Eduardo
(Tito) González has played with La Sonora Ponceña,
and bass player Rubén López and vocalist Sammy Rosa have performed with a roster of stars in Puerto

Flores, who is the lead vocalist and bandleader, is also a writer and an activist who briefly sang for Cortijo and Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos. She also
has her own company, Aurora Communications.

She recently updated a four-year-old bomba with a
tragically timeless theme, domestic abuse, and
dedicated it to R&B singer Rihanna, who was
allegedly beaten by her boyfriend, singer Chris

The original song was a response to the 1999 killing of Gladys Ricart on her wedding day by her
former boyfriend. Titled “Revolú Chaos, It’s a Crazy World Rihanna,” the song is a plea for zero tolerance of domestic
abuse. Flores said she wonders why some youths are okay with violence.

“Everything I marched for,” she says, “and we’ve gone back 100 years.”

Flores has no patience for the violence inherent in
some of Puerto Rican music’s best-known songs,
such as the plena “Mataron a Elena” (“They Killed
Elena”) and Héctor Lavoe’s “Periódico de Ayer,”
which compares a woman to a discarded newspaper.

“They all put down women,” she said.

The wounds are real for Flores herself, the daughter
of a victim of domestic violence, who endured two decades of abuse before finally divorcing her husband.

So on Sunday, Zon de Barrio will mix the power of
pointed words with “happy, danceable” songs that
honor the richness of Puerto Ricaness.

“We are a rainbow people,” said Flores. “On that
day, everyone wants to be Puerto Rican.”
- New York Daily News


Debut CD: Cortijo's Tribe: La Tribu de Cortijo



Zon del Barrio is an innovative and dynamic New York Latin music band that brings the dance music from the streets of Latin New York to the stage. From the first salsa strains of "El Chivo" to the last bomba beats of "Yubay-bye" our CD: Cortijo's Tribe takes a new turn on dance music creating a party platform built on an Afro-Antillian movement that defined a nation during the 50s and continues to swing into the new century.

Zon del Barrio is a play on words for the musical genre of "son" found in all the "barrio zon"es of Latino communities world wide. Bringing dance style classic Afro-Antillian music from the barrios, Zon del Barrio bring its energizing, foot stomping, funk based classic salsa (Afro-Cuban), plena, bomba (Afro-Boricua) & boogalu & reggaeton (urban) to their live performances. Music from the streets of Latin New York.

Old skool classic salsa gets a new beat with Zon del Barrio's particular dance tunes expressing the musical soul of the barrios in the style of Puerto Rico's most popular exponent, Cortijo y su Combo. Cortijo's band broke through the color barrier in Puerto Rico in the late 1950s and Zon del Barrio is a tribute to those efforts and a celebration of Afro-Antillian music.

From the World music genre of plena to the saucy strains of salsa amid the back beat of reggaeton laced with jazz, Zon del Barrio brings the beat of the streets to the hearts of dancers everywhere.

Our debut recording: Cortijo's Tribe / La Tribu de Cortijo was released in Oct. of 2007 featuring Fania all-star & king of the cuatro Yomo Toro and Cortijo alum, singer/songwriter, Sammy Ayala in a collaborative production between our own independent label, Barrio Zone Music and Emusica (the label that bought the Fania music catalog) distributed by Universal Latino to critical reviews from Europe to New York. Cortijo's Tribe / La Tribu de Cortijo has been rated one of the top ten CDs of 2007-8 by Maya Roy of Radio France and Orlando Lopez of El Magazine de la Salsa in Venezuela as well as Colombia and in Miami, Florida. Visit our website at or or