Ritmo Bello Interviews New York Salsa Band La Excelencia

Thursday, April 2, 2009

La Excelencia

Salsa music is always changing.  For the trained ear the different styles and evolving types of salsa music immediately stand out.  Indeed, over the years there have been numerous changes to the music we identify as salsa.

La Excelencia, a New York City based salsa orchestra, epitomizes the culmination of many of these changes that we’ve experienced with salsa music.  Co-owned by Julián Silva and José Vazquez Cofresi, the vibrant and fresh salsa band is amassing a global fan base while staying true to their roots.  I had the unique privilege of interviewing Julián and José recently on behalf of the whole band and learned quite a bit about these salsa music evolutions.  


Ritmo Bello: José and Julián, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community. Let’s begin.  What would you say is the main focus of your salsa music company?  

La Excelencia:   Our main focus is to bring salsa to a wider audience and to have salsa music serve as a voice for our community. Part of our goal is to include social messages in our music and at the same time give our audience a whole new experience they thought they couldn’t get with salsa.   

Ritmo Bello: What are the origins of your salsa band? 

La Excelencia:  We started La Excelencia in 2005, in the city of New York. Jose and I met back in 1995 and spent several years playing salsa in other bands. We moved to NYC in 2001 with the hopes of releasing a CD under a record label we had just signed with. Unfortunately (or fortunately) after a couple of years the deal went sour and we decided to leave the label. After that experience, we left very disillusioned with the way the music business is run and with the way salsa was being portrayed. From that, the idea of La Excelencia and Handle With Care Productions was born. We wanted to make great music, write great music and distribute great music all ourselves, and do it our way. 

Ritmo Bello:  Why did you choose La Excelencia for your band name?  

La Excelencia: Well first of all we wanted to give the band a name that paid somewhat of a tribute to those bands in the 70’s we admired so much. (La Perfecta, La Solucion, La Fania, etc.) And secondly the name “La Excelencia” was chosen by me as a way of push us to live up to what the name claims, Excellence.  When I first came to the band with the name they all got a little nervous, saying” well …we better not suck….” But I know that when we are on stage and we hear the MC announce our name, we have to give it all we have in order to live up to the name.   

La Excelencia Photo

Ritmo Bello: I understand that La Excelencia is known as a “salsa dura“ band.  For those unfamiliar with this term can you explain a little bit about what this means?   

La Excelencia: Salsa Dura is a term used to describe our type of salsa; hard, rough and raw. The focus is on the music not the image. We raise social issues in our music and well as talk about thing that happen in everyday life, without the sugar coating. What you hear and see is what you get.  

Ritmo Bello:  What types of influences have impacted how you’ve created your salsa music?   

La Excelencia: Well if we are talking about musical influences, the list is endless. I will say that the music that influences us is not just salsa music, but all types of music.  There are a lot of great bands out there with something meaningful to say, and we hope that people not only dance to our music but also listen to our music. 

Ritmo Bello:   I’ve heard people say that salsa music is primarily music from the 70’s and 80’s with no real new innovation.  Do you believe this is true?  Is salsa a dying form of music in terms of genre? 

La Excelencia: Well for a long time salsa music of the 70’s has been considered the only true salsa. But I believe that it’s for one reason …. And that’s because it gave us Latinos/ Latino Americanos a voice. There have been attempts to rejuvenate salsa or like you stated revive salsa, but in my opinion all the industry has done is kill the essence of true salsa. They have made salsa about image and not about the music. Salsa was our rebel music and in the past 2 to 3 decades is has become meaningless noise. Fortunately, despite all of that, salsa is alive and well.  The longevity of salsa is not due to the commercialization and popularity of cookie cutter salsa but completely due to the underground scene that has never bought into the mainstream. With the support of dancers and fans alike, that don’t care about money and only care about great music, salsa will never die.  

Ritmo Bello: How and where do you find inspiration for creating new salsa songs?    

La Excelencia: Our inspiration comes from our experiences. I for one never sit down and say “today I’m going to write a song”. Songs come to me with stories I hear, with things I see or read about. It pretty much my thoughts put to clave.  We refuse to put covers songs on our CDs for the sole fact that we want to express our thoughts…not someone else’s. There are a lot of bands that have found success on other people’s words and/or music and claim that it’s a tribute to the artist. We believe there is no better tribute to our predecessors than to keep writing NEW salsa, so that we can keep salsa moving forward. 

Ritmo Bello:  Where has La Excelencia performed?  

La Excelencia: We have been lucky enough to have performed in numerous venues in the United States and Europe. This includes New Orleans Jazz Fest (Louisiana), Lincoln Center (New York), Copacabana (NY), Latin Quarter (NY), Sobs (NY), Afro-Latino Festival (Bree, Belgium),

Norwegian Salsa Congress (Oslo, Norway) New York Salsa Congress (NY), Connecticut Salsa Fest (Hartford), Austin Salsa Festival (Texas), Moomba Club (Montreal, Canada), just to name a few. We also have a couple of upcoming tours to promote our new CD that you can check out on our website, www.laexcelencia.net. Some of the dates include: Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Bree, Brussels, Leeds, London, Brighton, Morocco, and Cyrus. 

Ritmo Bello:  Can you tell me a little about your CD’s that you’ve released to date? 

La Excelencia:   We released our first CD entitled “Salsa Con Conciencia” back in 2006. It received great reviews nationally and internationally and sold over 9000 units without major distribution. It was also the winner of the Vox Populi award for Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards. Many of the songs from that album hit the top 20 chart in the US and Europe and we included in over 20 different Latin music compilation CDs including one sponsored by UNICEF. Also, the hit single “La Lucha” was the featured song in the independent film “The Big Shot Caller”.  

Mi Tumbao Social

Our second CD is entitled “Mi Tumbao Social” and it was released in January of this year. So far it is being considered by many to be one of the best CD’s to come out in the past decade. As with the first CD, it is an independent production that we have put together to showcase our raw sound, and once again write about social issues we face in the world today.   

Ritmo Bello:  Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon? 

La Excelencia: Even though “Mi Tumbao Social” was released less than 3 months ago, we are already thinking about and starting to write the next album.  We are constantly being inspired by the world around us and thanks to all the positive feedback we get from our fans, we are eager to share to give them what they want … More salsa!!!   But one thing that we take very serious is the quality of the music we put out. A lot of thought goes into what songs actually make it onto the CD. We want to make sure that our fans get the best of us. 

Ritmo Bello:  I’ve noticed that there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing your salsa music.  How has YouTube and other types of social media helped you gain more exposure worldwide? 

La Excelencia:   It’s been great, as an Independent artist we wouldn’t be able to compete without these media outlets. We have been able to reach people from all over the world.

Ritmo Bello:  Does La Excelencia have any plans to travel to the West Coast soon, including San Diego? 

La Excelencia:   We are actually extremely excited that it’s looking very promising for us to hit the west coast this summer, including San Diego.  We don’t have anything confirmed 100%.

Ritmo Bello:  Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you? 

La Excelencia:   Of course, please feel free to contact Jose Vazquez-Cofresi or Julian Silva at info@laexcelencia.net or at 646-241-5501. You can also check us out on the web at www.laexcelencia.net, there you can find links to our MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. You can purchase our CD’s at www.cdbaby.com  or at www.descarga.com

Ritmo Bello: José and Julián, thank you so much for your time and I hope to attend some of your salsa performances in the near future. 

La Excelencia:   John we want to thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share our salsa with the salsa community on the west coast.


John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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