A Deeper Love

In Part two of her response to the article 'Did Salsa dancers KIll Salsa Music', Kerry Ribchester argues that Britain's love affair with Salsa (Cuban salsa at least) has not died but evolved. Like with any true love, there are diferent stages: after an initial craze a deeper relationship evolves. And our appreciation for the music is part of the new mature phase of this relationship.
by: 
Kerry Ribchester

The real thing

Salsa clients today are far more educated in Salsa, and demanding a higher level of professionalism from their teachers. They invest in their Salsa by visiting Cuba, attend congresses all over the world, copy moves and trends from YouTube, and buy Salsa DVDs in bulk. As in any love story, the first mad passionate throws of lust are over and we are now getting to know the real dance and to understand why we are hooked to it.

We are no longer in the heat of the craze like Zumba and Kizomba, we may not have the same numbers and levels of new admirers, but the quality of our relationship with Salsa is deepening. We are now taking time to discover the roots of Salsa, the music and dance origins and not just the outside packaging. There are still Salseros who think that, after they have mastered thirty ‘moves’ they are great Salsa dancers and are happy to spend the next ten years refining the same moves, believing that’s all the dance requires. However, there is a new breed of Cuban Salsero who has twigged that to be a great Salsa dancer requires knowledge of the music,

Appreciating the finer details

Afro-Cuban dance technique, posture, partner connection, body movement, charisma and lots of fun. Yes, Salsa is a street dance, and you shouldn’t need a certificate to be a teacher but in Cuba there are distinctive levels of Salseros. The street dancers and professional Jineteros and Jineteras are great dancers when it comes to Rueda, inventing slick partner moves, incorporating templeque and seducing women and men on the dance floor. However, when you see the professional dancers invited to get on stage with Los Van Van, displaying all their training in Afro-Cuban dance, Rumba and Son and interpreting every instrument being played behind them as if they were the soul and embodiment of the music, then you can clearly see why trained Cuban dancers are so magical and out of this world!

Right now in Cuban Salsa, thanks to all our new resident Cuban Masters and the inspiration by celebrities like Maykel Fonts and Alberto Valdes, to dance ‘street Salsa‘, without juicing your Salsa and partner connection with the flavours of the Orishas, Rumba, Son and Reggaeton, is a bit like drinking a Cuba Libre with Barcardi, it just isn’t the real thing! We should be celebrating the fact that we are developing greater awareness in the respective dance styles and not dancing the Mish Mash of styles we used to suffer in the good old days.

Now, in the U.K. there are dancers that can dance Cuban style to Cuban music and the next minute, New York style to NY salsa. We have dancers that can improvise with Rumba and blend it to the Timba rhythms, and dancers that are improvisng with Son and Orishas and having so much more fun on the dance floor. What a great achievement!

Salsa fans doing it for themselves, and discern the lazy teachers

One quote in the original ‘killing salsa music’ piece claimed that ‘In Britain, there are a lot of teachers now who are not properly trained and have no real interest in the culture, language or music, and the culture in general’

Maybe some teachers are lazy but, thanks to all the Cuban Salsa holiday companies, thousands of U.K. Salseros, both teachers and students, have visited Cuba to invest in their Salsa, seeing bands like La Charanga HabaneraMaykel Blanco, Adalberto Alvarez, Manolito and Los Van Van play live in Havana, which is so electric and thrilling; being at a live concert in Cuba is a real education and more Salsa dancers do now value live music more as a result.

Over the past 14 years I have had the privilege to take more than sixty-five Salsa holiday groups to Cuba to learn from the Cuban masters like Juan de Dios and his company Raices Profundas and Borja Jimernez from Esceñarte. From personal experience I can say that right now, a whole new generation of Cuban dance teachers from the U.K. have been taught properly in technique, body movement and all the Cuban dance styles that gave birth to Cuban Salsa. My Key2Cuba clients have been inspired by the fantastic live Cuban music scene in Havana and even danced up close and personal with Los Van Van in their video ‘Me Mantengo’.

 

Taking clients and teachers off the tourist track, has meant they have become more aware of what makes Cuban Dance and Music tick. I have had the honour to take them into the rehearsals and recording of the Los Van Van albumsChapeando and Arrassando and to stand behind the musicians and see how the music is created. They have also visited the home of Amado and his world famous Rumba band Clave y Guaguancó and experienced a real Rumba party, as well as having been out into the suburbs to Bembes, where clients often become ecstatic being so close to the live drumming and experiencing the music of the Orishas in an authentic setting.

Regarding the culture, thanks to organisations such as the Cuban Solidarity Campaign we have a British community of Trade Union activists, supporters of the revolution, dancers, artists, and musicians that celebrate and support Cuban culture and the arts. They keep us informed on the politics, throw huge parties with live bands at Conway Hall where everybody dances together , whether they can Salsa or not and a strong community has developed. I believe we have never been so educated in the roots of Cuban culture, Salsa, music, religion, and politics as we are now.

We are not behind the rest of the world

I agree we are behind some European countries in the live music scene. Cuban music and dance has been established as part of the Italian culture for a much longer period. The quality of live music at their festivals, the bands like Charanga, Maykel Blanco, Gente De Zona, and Los Van Van that tour regularly, their world class teachers and the huge funding and support they receive is enviable! I am jealous! They do issue visas without much fear of Cubans defecting to Italy. It would be great if we could continue to encourage our Salsa world, and the relevant funding bodies to support promoters so we can have the same level of investment here. We may be left in awe of what the Italians have achieved, but take a good global look - we are not behind the rest of the world, certainly not in the Cuban dance community!

Let’s celebrate what Andy Wood is doing here with Como No; let’s shout about it, so he will continue to bring Los Van Van, Bamboleo and many other Cuban musicians over here and keep the Cuban Salsa Music alive. I agree, we must support live music more! You didn’t mention that Los Van Van are playing in London and Leeds next year, nor that Chucho Valdes has just performed to a rapturous audience down at Floridita. By the way, this jazz concert was supported by, and full of Salseros.

Your article rang true in so many ways and was very informative with many insights and arguments, but things are not all that negative. Let’s celebrate what we have achieved here in England and look forward to where we are going. I just don’t agree with Jeremy Marre from the BBC who said “Salsa is just not relevant now in the way it used to be.’ In hard times we need our Salsa more than ever to keep our spirits up!

Andy Wood definitely has a point: “We always used to open La Linea with a salsa band,” says Andy. “But La Linea is about New Latin Music and sadly there is not a lot new happening in Salsa.” But its not all bad news

There is some new talent coming out of Cuba, and it's not just Los Van Van who keep reinventing themselves. All the bands change their lead singers regularly and are developing new music and relationships. Look at Bamboleo, Maykel Blanco, Azucar Negra and Los Van Van, whose lead singers have left to create new bands or sing with other orchestras. Look at Tania Pantoja’s new group, fresh on the scene and with a great following and potential. Check out Alexander Abreu and Habana D’ Primera, the new Louis Armstrong of Cuban Timba, they are world class musicians who are continuing to celebrate Salsa and keep the live music fresh!

Back home, let’s be proud of who we do have i.e. the up and coming Jesus Cutiño and his Son de Cuba band, Omar Puente, Osvaldo Chacon, Carlos Miguel, Cuban Connection, and our world class DJs Javier, Fletcher, our top Cuban artists like Yanet Fuentes now dancing with Shakira, our brave new promoters bringing world class dance artists to the U.K., raising our Cuban Salsa game! We are still players here on the world Cuban Salsa circuit!

As well as our beloved established promoters like Cressida Childs, Rohan Brown, Mambo City, Elder, Nelson, Tio Molina, Phil at Salsa Republic and Salsa Fusion, and all the top Salsa venues around the country, what about our new champions and promoters like Enrique Perez at Salsa Explosion, Misael Codero, Sascha in Cambridge, AfroCuban Pati, Havana Nights, Baila Londres, Lorraine and Les at Mancuban, Sue Feel the Heat, Felipe, Juan and Sue, Accademia de la Salsa, Farah, Chris Traynor, Banderas, Salsa Julia, Moe flex, Mark waters, Debbie Standish, Alain Hernadez , Karen Lawson , Rod and the Rueda team, Cuba Cheche Lee swift, Salsa York, Salsa Caribe, Neville Ashman, Mel C, Lee knights, Mauricio, Richard Fallon and Amanda Demerera who are all contributing new events to the scene, and bringing fresh ideas and talent to the U.K . Salsa scene! Jim from Salsa Caribe has just brought out a new three CD compilation Timba album and it’s the bestselling Salsa CD in the whole of Europe. Let’s show off for once! These guys are inspiring a greater interest in the origins of Salsa dancing and the music. We haven't killed Salsa music, we are still growing the Cuban scene, as there is always more to learn in Cuban Salsa.

We have had huge Cuban quality injection thanks to top talent from Italy like Alberto Valdes, Roly Malden, and the phenomenal Maykel Fonts shaking us to our bones! Plus we also have our Cuban masters like Juan Carlos Pacheco, Idalberto Acala, Osbanis, Lazzaro and their dance partners, Alicia Bueno , Leo , Damaris, Homero, Ariel, Rafael, Leandero, Yersin, Karel, Uli and x British Champion Noel Hernandez alongside our established teachers. These guys are rocking the Cuban Salsa scene. They are teaching on a higher level than ever was seen in the good old days and are passionate about the music.

Then there are the shows like Havana Rakatan, Havana Rumba, and Carlos Acosta’s Tocoro, bringing all this rich history of Cuban dance and music even more in to our awareness. We may not have the funding from the Arts Council like Italy and Spain, but thanks to our promoters who take huge financial risks, and our teachers and musicians who in the main work for passion, not money, we are still on the Salsa map!

Moving forward

We have a huge challenge with the economic crisis, and all the other new dance forms that are coming to the forefront. We now must work smarter by pulling together and remaining creative. Let’s look to the Cuban people for inspiration; not only in their music and dance, but the elegant way in which they face adversity and poverty. Look at how all Cuban musicians support each other’s music and the generosity they show at each other’s gigs. Let’s show the same dignity!

After 20 years on the UK Salsa scene I am even more inspired by what is happening here and in Cuba. The live music scene in Havana is still electric and despite all our troubles over here, new bands are still coming on to the scene. At Key2Cuba, I continue to build new courses and holidays in Cuba, workshops in London, and currently I am involved in the new Street Dance 2 film which hopefully will bring a new added interest to the Cuban Salsa world-wide with its Cuban/Hip Hop vibe. Listen out for Los Van Van in the amazing sound track and Maykel Fonts bringing Cuban Salsa to a huge global audience!

With all the respect in the world for the ground breaking promoters and teachers such as Paul Young and Suzanna Montero may have made history here with the excellence they achieved, but they have now left the U.K. Salsa scene. I understand where they are coming from, we do need to reinvent ourselves, and move forward, but are we over complacent in the Cuban Salsa scene? I don’t think so!

Complacent or Creative?

Look what Salsa Explosion are doing for Cuban Music and dance with their new Congresses in London and Bournemouth. When they got the news that Manolito wouldn’t get the visas, they filled the Opera house in Bournemouth with the best atmosphere and show from Havana Rumba and brought the house down. We were in Havana not Bournemouth. The last Congress had a huge following from Europe, and the London Congress had over 3000 attendees, hardly complacent.

 

Along with my Cuban colleagues I don’t feel I am being complacent. I recently produced and directed videos for Bamboleo ‘La Que Manda', Los Van Van 'Me Mantengo' and more recently, (still editing) Alexander Abreu y Habana D’ Primera's new song ‘Ojo por Ojo‘, starring the amazing talent Maykel Fonts. All filmed in Cuba. Not bad for a Brit? Through these videos I am bringing more Cuban Salsa and music to the world stage through You Tube, and I’m from Manchester! My Spanish may have a northern twang, but my heart is in the right place along with the rest of our Cuban Salsa community here in the U.K.

We haven't killed Cuban Salsa, it's very much alive. We are not ready to hang up our Cuban heels for slippers and kill our love affair with Salsa just yet! Let’s keep growing the scene together, with love and respect and give ourselves a well deserved pat on the back! We have so much talent here and have made incredible progress in our country, so let’s be proud and celebrate all we have achieved and keep Salsa music and dance alive for the next generation to come!

Me Mantengo!

Note: I know there must be hundreds of talented Cuban style artists, teachers, musicians and dancers and promoters that are really making a difference out there that I have been unable to include and mention in this response, otherwise this would end up being the Cuban Salsa directory. Please know I respect, appreciate and salute everyone who promotes Cuban Salsa.

Kerry Ribchester is director of key2cuba