If you’ve been a part of the salsa and Latin jazz music scene for a while I have no doubt you’d recognize Tito Puente. Known throughout the world as “El Rey” (the King) of the timbales and “The King of Latin Music,” Tito Puente left an incredible legacy of Latin jazz and mambo music.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Tito Puente Jr. continues that great musical tradition and brings new life to Latin jazz and mambo today. Tito Puente Jr. will be performing live in San Diego on September 5th at Anthology in downtown’s Little Italy district. Ritmo Bello was fortunate enough to connect with Tito Puente Jr. before his upcoming San Diego show and talk with him a bit about him being the standard bearer of Latin jazz royalty.
Ritmo Bello: Tito Puente Jr., thanks for taking time to the talk to the Ritmo Bello readers about yourself and your music. Let’s begin with a question I’m sure you get all the time. How has being the son of the famous Tito Puente affected your decision to pursue a musical career for yourself?
Tito Puente Jr.: Music was always a part of me growing up, but by choice - my father never forced it on me. Of course, being my father’s son poses challenges in the sense that it’s next to impossible to follow or match such an incredible talent, so I’m very clear that my mission is not to try and compete, it’s simply to entertain audiences and carry the torch of my father’s music to a new generation of people.
Ritmo Bello: When and how did you begin your own musical career?
Tito Puente Jr.: I started in the mid 1980’s surrounding myself with all types of music growing up in New York City, where there were so many influences. Professionally I started on the trap drum kit when I was 16 years of age, working in different nightclubs in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
Ritmo Bello: It’s clear that you are often compared to your father, Tito Puente and his musical style. For those unfamiliar with Tito Puente can you explain how you might be similar and different to his legacy?
Tito Puente Jr.: I think of course one blatant similarity is that I look a lot like him! I seem to have a connection with older fans that were fans of his and to younger ones as well. I have a certain quirkiness about me when I’m performing that people seem to enjoy. I dance and sing like my father did when he was younger in the 1950s, but I give it a modern edge, like a taste of Latino classic and urban mixed up with cha cha and mambo…
Ritmo Bello: How and where do you find inspiration for creating new music?
Tito Puente Jr.: My father taught me to always surround myself with creative people, as they will serve as inspiration…it works.
Ritmo Bello: I know that you have collaborated and performed with many notable artists in the salsa and Latin jazz world. What are your most memorable performances that you’ve had over the course of your career?
Tito Puente Jr.: Well, I’ve been fortunate to have many: Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz and José Feliciano come to mind. But I think the most influential would have been with my father himself – being on stage together.
Ritmo Bello: Can you tell me a little about the albums that you’ve released to date?
Tito Puente Jr.: I’ve had three major label releases to date but the most exciting is my new album coming out next month entitled “Got Mambo?”. It’s a really exciting project where I step up my game with original material and some great guest artists like Jon Secada and others.
Ritmo Bello: Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon?
Tito Puente Jr.: “Got Mambo?” is scheduled for a late October release, along with a new music video, tour and the whole internet promotion scene.
Ritmo Bello: I know that you, like your father, are a master at percussion and in particular the timbales. What is it about this particular instrument that excites you the most? Are there other instruments that you feel comfortable performing with as well?
Tito Puente Jr.: I have to correct you – I am a student of percussion, not at all a master percussionist. I would hope through practice and time I could be. My father was a “master.”
Timbales have a distinct sound in all aspects of music plus it gives an engine to any song. I also enjoy piano and bass.
Ritmo Bello: On a side note, I know that you’ve expanded into different enterprises including acting as the official spokesperson for Havanera Co., a clothing line I absolutely love to wear myself. How has this and other experiences outside of your music affected your musical career?
Tito Puente Jr.: In today’s world attaching yourself to a brand is important. I like to be a part of certain brands which can help bring our Latin music to the masses. The consumer is looking for more now. Branding and endorsing certain products and items has helped me bring my music to other parts of the globe.
Ritmo Bello: My first contact with you was via Twitter and I was impressed to find you using the medium to reach out to your fans. How has social media like Twitter and Facebook impacted how you interact with your fan base?
Tito Puente Jr.: Amazing how Twitter and Facebook has gotten me directly in touch with the fans. It’s the new millennium of marketing and promotion for any artist out there. And yes it’s really me responding to you!!!
Ritmo Bello: Although I know that you perform great music, do you ever get an opportunity to dance to salsa or Latin music as well?
Tito Puente Jr.: I do, at home in front of my kids because that way I will look silly for them and not the rest of the world. I have great rhythm in my blood but it doesn’t seem to travel to my feet that well.
Ritmo Bello: I’ve heard that you’ve also given back to the community in a number of ways. Can you share with me some of the fundraising events you’ve supported?
Tito Puente Jr.: The cancer, leukemia, diabetes and AIDS foundations are the ones closest to my heart since I have people and personal friends who have these horrible diseases. I love animals as well so give back wherever I can for them.
Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the San Diego salsa and Latin dance community that we haven’t covered yet?
Below is the article that Angelica submitted to win the pass. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
My Salsa Story – Angelica Romero
As a child in Colombia I can remember music had always been a part of my household. I have memories of my parents holding dinner parties at their house and Latin music was always on the background. One of the predominant types of music was salsa; I remember the beat of the drums and the horns and just wanting to sway to the music. Most of this changed when my family decided to make the US our new home. The music somehow or other did not follow us. The focus was now on trying to survive in a new environment and unfortunately music was not a priority.
Growing up in suburbs of LA I was immersed in so many different Latin cultures and music; once in a while I would hear that salsa rhythms and beats and I just remember noticing that I was swaying to the music. But yet I was not making a conscious effort to learn it and immerse myself in it. I knew that the art form of dance was something that I was good at and that I wanted to explore. So I danced and performed in high school and college, yet the type of dance that I was attracted to was ballet, jazz, modern dance and traditional ballroom. When I had opportunities to visit my family in Colombia I realized that all my younger cousins grew up around salsa, they knew the famous songs, the most popular singers and watching them move was just amazing. I knew that somehow or other that passion had to also be running through my veins, I just had to find it & let it out.
The few times that we would have a social gathering where salsa was being played my Mother would try to get me out there and teach me, for some reason I just was not into it. I felt that I just could not move like that, how can my hips move that way? I knew what it was like to move to a waltz or to do pirouettes from ballet class- but having to move your body to that type of music; I just did not get it.
Well eventually time flew and I reached adulthood and then salsa came into my life once again through friends. I loved listening to it, I loved the stories that the song was telling, love the passion that you felt while listening to it- it seemed that you just got lost in the song and you became part of it. Once I realized that the music had such a profound feeling over me I was determined to learn it and be able to move with it. So I started taking salsa group classes about 8 years ago and stuck with it for about a couple of months. Although I had fun I felt uncomfortable doing it, I did not understand the hip movement and the timing of the feet. I kept thinking that after so many years of dance why was I having such a hard time getting this and also shouldn’t I be a natural at this, after all I am Colombian. Well I let all of these insecurities take a hold of me and I quit.
Time passed and salsa was in and out of my life in short spurts, but yet I really did still love listening to the music and would find myself tapping my feet and swaying my hips whenever I would hear a song. A couple of friends introduced salsa to me once again in the spring of this year and I figured that this must be the opportunity that I had been looking for. I finally for some reason felt ready to take this on once more and hopefully commit to it; so I decided to join the San Diego Salsa and Latin Dancing Meetup group. Well it has been 4 months and I am completely hooked on salsa, I love it. I consider myself a beginner that is thirsty to continually learn more about this beautiful art form. I have been regularly taking group classes at one of our local dance studios and have been progressing very nicely. For some reason I feel that my hips finally woke up after all of those years. I try to go out dancing three to four times a week and have had the opportunity to visit many of the great salsa venues here in San Diego. I love salsa because honestly I have FUN dancing it; I love the music, the movement, the passion and the way that you can express yourself through movement with your partner. Because of all of this I would like to continue dancing for as long as my body will allow it. It would be great to perform again and I like having the opportunity to meet more people that share in this passion.
I am looking forward to my first ever Salsa Festival and the fact that it is being held here in San Diego, I am thrilled to be part of it. I would like to take part of the different workshops and to learn from different instructors that may have their own style. I now know that salsa will continue to be part of my life and am glad to finally be a true American Colombian salsa dancer.
As a Festival Promotional Partner, Ritmo Bello has 1 Full Event pass (a $220 value) to give out to one lucky reader. The Full Evening/Day pass gives you access to shows, competitions, & social Dancing – including the Pre-Party. We are going to give away the Full Event pass to someone who can share their best “Salsa Dance Story” i.e. how salsa dancing has changed their life.
To enter into this competition we are simply asking for our readers to:
1. Share your salsa dance story in 600 -1000 words (What attracted you to salsa, your initial experiences learning salsa, funny stories about you learning salsa, etc.). If you want you can also include a YouTube video clip about yourself explaining your experiences as well (your article will get better consideration if you have it in writing and supplement it with a video).
2. Explain how salsa dancing has been an important part of your life.
3. and share with us why you should receive the Full Event pass.
Along with winning the Full Event pass, the winning article will appear in a special post on Ritmo Bello recognizing the winner.
Please submit entries to Ritmo Bello (firstname.lastname@example.org) before 3pm on August 28th, 2009 and use the header “My Salsa Dance Story – YOUR NAME HERE.” Also, please include your contact information at the end of your submission so we can contact you if you are the winner and the YouTube Video link you’ve created. The winner will be announced the first week of September on Ritmo Bello and the San Diego Salsa and Latin Dancing Meetup Group.
Good luck and we look forward to reading about your salsa dance experiences!
Last month our group met for Tapas and drinks upstairs at Café Sevilla before going to the salsa club for lessons and the live band. For those of you unfamiliar with Café Sevilla, the venue is known for its great Spanish Cuisine and as a great salsa dance venue. The photos, taken by Roman Castro Photography (a Sponsor for our Meetup group), give a glimpse of the great people that attended and the fun time we had. This month we are having a DRESS IN RED theme where we encourage our members to wear any red shirts, skirts, dresses, shoes, etc to identify members of our group at the club.
We plan to meet DOWNSTAIRS at 8pm to take advantage of the free lesson offered by Valerie at the club. If you don’t take the salsa lesson you are invited to join us in our special VIP area of the club set up for Meetup.com members.
The event is open to everyone! Bring your friends or come alone to meet some great people. We’ll be there by 8pm.
First, Café Sevilla has secured a larger yacht called the “Inspiration” that holds 1,000 people and is 30,000 square feet. Secondly, the party will have an “All White Party” theme where everyone is encouraged to wear any white pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, etc in celebration of the end of summer 2009.
There will be 3 floors of music ranging from a live Salsa band, hip hop, and live Spanish guitarists. Along with the music there will be free salsa dance lessons, photographers, and a special cigar lounge sponsored by Excalibur Cigars.
Along with all these attractions Café Sevilla is also hosting complimentary tapas and providing 5 fully stocked bars for your enjoyment.
Salsa dancing is truly an international phenomenon. Although the majority of salsa dance songs are in Spanish, the actual dance is enjoyed all over the world by all types of people. A friend of mine named Tarrence is lucky enough to travel all over the world and he’s shared stories of the great salsa dancing he’s found in places like China and Japan. He introduced me to Eiko Tanaka, an accomplished salsa dancer that lives in Japan and we talked about salsa dancing’s effect on the country. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Ritmo Bello: Eiko, thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview. Let’s begin. Many people in the United States don’t realize that salsa dancing is really popular in Japan. What is the salsa dance scene like where you live in Japan?
Eiko Tanaka: Hello, it is my pleasure and thank you so much for having me.
With regards to the salsa scene in Japan, I don’t know the exact figure, but I have noticed that the salsa population has grown quite a bit within the past 10 years. Many people have visited the US to take salsa classes to study and partly due to the increase of salsa Congresses around the world, I think people have become aware of the spread of salsa in an international scale.
Ritmo Bello: I understand that you learned salsa dancing outside of Japan. What was your first contact with salsa dancing? How has salsa dancing affected your life?
Eiko Tanaka: My first contact with salsa was in Cuba. I particularly liked the traditional Cuban son dance and music but I also liked the Cuban “casino” which I believe what people refer to it as ”Cuban salsa”. I enjoy all styles of salsa and it really gives me a lot of joy.
Ritmo Bello: I know that you manage a dance company now in Japan. What are the origins of your dance company? Is there a story to how it was formed? Do you perform at any of the Salsa Congresses or festivals?
Eiko Tanaka: My dance group is an all female show dance group. My choreography is based on ballet, contemporary, afro-cuban as well as Cuban popular dance, all of which I learned at the dance school of “Tropicana” night club in Havana, Cuba. I also incorporate salsa movements and steps. I have performed in many festivals and Congresses including the Japan Salsa Congress and the LA (West Coast) Salsa Congress. I will be performing at the Japan Salsa Congress this year.
Ritmo Bello:For someone like myself that has never been to Japan what can you share with readers about the best way of finding out about salsa dance events happening in Japan?
Eiko Tanaka:Yes there are many salsa events every month, and as far as Tokyo is concerned there is the Salsa Hotline Night which is a salsa event that takes place every month and in June 2009 marked the 139th event. Almost all the groups that perform in the Japan Salsa Congress and other Congresses participate in this event to showcase their performance. And of course in addition to that, there are many events at various salsa clubs.
Ritmo Bello: What has been your best memory from your salsa dance experiences?
Eiko Tanaka: My best memory would have to be when I danced at the stage of Tropicana show . Established in 1939, Tropicana used to be the playground for the rich and famous before the revolution, and it became known as the most attractive, luxurious nightclub in the world. Al Capone hung out there, Carmen Miranda, Josephine Baker and Nat King Cole performed there. Today the place is one of Cuba`s main tourist attraction. To me it is such a magical place and feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience.
Ritmo Bello: I know you actually conducted professional photography while in Cuba as well. Can you tell our Ritmo Bello readers a little bit about that time?
Eiko Tanaka: Yes. I lived in Cuba from 1998-2000. I met this photographer called Raul Corrales who was one of the most respected photographers in Cuba. He had been the official photographer of Fidel Castro for few years and also had documented Cuba during the revolutionary era as well as taken photos of people like Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway. He has given me many valuable advices on photography and I developed and printed all my photos in the dark room I made in the bathroom. My interest was in capturing the life of the Cuban people but I mainly took photographs of Tropicana dancers backstage. I am actually planning to publish a black and white photography this year.
Ritmo Bello: Do you have any plans of visiting San Diego, California in the near future?
Eiko Tanaka: I would love to visit San Diego one day. If I have the opportunity to participate in LA Congress I will stop by San Diego.
Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to people that are new to salsa dancing?
Eiko Tanaka: It’s a beautiful and fun dance form so just enjoy it! It’s important to feel the music and not get too caught up in the technique.
Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?
Eiko Tanaka: Yes people can email me at email@example.com. I also have a web site www.eikotropicana.com
Ritmo Bello: Eiko, Thank you so much for your time and I hope to travel to Japan sometime to salsa dance with you!
Eiko Tanaka: Thank you so much and I hope you will visit us one day !!