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Los Van Van at Yoshi’s San Francisco

Posted on : 11-12-2010 | By : Wayne Wallace | In : Life, Music

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From Thursday through Sunday this week lovers of contemporary Cuban music will be gathering at the Yoshis jazz club in San Francisco to bask in the beauty of the music of Juan Formell and Los Van Van.
The group is 41 years young. Creative, energetic, fun and still playing beautifully.

Los Van Van at Yoshi's San Francisco

I first went to Cuba to study music in 1993 via a group named Caribbean Music and Dance. There were many of us from San Francisco who went in those first years, (Rebeca Mauleon, Mara Fox, John Calloway, Ron Stallings to name a few) who all fell in love with the music and made life long friends.
I had first experienced Cuban music live when I saw a performance of Irakere (Chuco Valdes, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Riviera) at Ronnie Scott’s club in London, but seeing all these groups and artists (NG La Banda, Bobby Carcasses, Pablo Milanes, Silvio Rodriguez, Gonzalo Rubacalba) on their home turf with the ambiance and vibe of the people of Havana was the next level and beyond!

I owe a tremendous debt to the trombonists in Los Van Van. Alvaro Collado, Edmudo “Mundo” Pina and Hugo Morejon were and still are my teachers. They talked to me about the history and tradition of the trombone in Cuban music, introduced me to Generoso “El Tojo” Jimenez (Beny More), Amor Herrera (Anacaona), Julio Montalvo (Paulito y su Elite),took me to concerts to see and meet wonderful musicians and just plain folk around Havana. In the last two nights it was wonderful to catch up with the “old guard” of the band and meet all the newer members. I brought down a couple of trombones for Alvaro Collado to try out and we are going “trombone shopping” today with Mara Fox. (Mucho shop talk!!!)

My 7 years of visiting and studying was life changing musically but more importantly it opened another door. All of us who went to Cuba experienced the energy and spirituality of the people first hand. In many ways the communities vividly reminded me of my families in Texas and Oklahoma but with an Afro-Caribbean sensibility. It felt so familiar and comfortable it was like coming home. I still carry that energy with me to this day and as a teacher I do my best to impart that feeling and energy to all of my students.

Last night I had the great honor of sitting in with the group for a set (¡Mil gracias a todos!). I wish all of you could feel the power of that group on stage. It is truly a musical force of nature. If you are within shouting distance of the Bay Area, I encourage you to go experience the power of the music yourself and just let it wash over you. (The band is heading to Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa Bay.)

Hasta later, Wayne

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