Palladium Era Salsa Today: A Ritmo Bello Interview with Angel Lebron y Su Sabor Latino

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The New York Palladium.  The name alone conjures up memories of Latin music greats such as Tito Puente, Machito, and Tito Rodriguez.  From the 1950’s on, Latin music was created and nurtured by these and many other great musicians that performed at the Palladium.

Today, the spirit of New York Palladium Latin music is alive and well in Southern California.  Angel Lebron y Su Sabor Latino do a great job of bringing back contemporary audiences to an era of big band mambo, salsa, and other great Latin music.  I had the privilege of sitting down with Angel Lebron, the group’s leader, to talk a little bit about his experiences and what it means to bring Palladium era salsa to the world today.

John ;-)



Ritmo Bello: Angel, it’s great to finally sit down with you to talk about you and your music.  I want to start by asking you about the main focus of your salsa music.  How would you describe your music?

Angel Lebron:  First, thank you John for this interview its a good thing that the salseros get to know their band leaders or even their favorite musicians through interviews as this.  In answering your question my main focus is that of the Palladium era Big Band sound the Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito and moving along to the beginning movement of the late 60s early 70s of that street/urban NY sound, the music I’m playing is described as Street Salsa or Salsa Callejera (Dura).

Ritmo Bello: What are the origins of your salsa music career?

Angel Lebron:  I was born in music, I come from a family of professional musicians.   My grandfather Antonio “El Mosquito” Camacho not only was on vocals with Machito but he was 2nd voice to Davilita back in the early 40s.   My father Luis Lebron was known with the romantic trios he played Primera Guitara (also known as “Prima”) and segunda voz with El Trio de Johnny Rodriguez brother to Tito Rodriguez (see the connection).   This trio in NYC was the first to be heard on Commercial Radio WCBS. On WNBC my birth was announced publicly.  My mom told me after the announcement that while my father was attending to my mother he had to run out to work that night, LOL, the life of a musician.

My father then went on to work with El Trio San Juan, Daniel Santos, Jose Feliciano and many more.  I had the honor while living in Puerto Rico to perform with my father and his group.  Unfortunately he died two months later.  So I have both worlds of Latin Music, the romantic trio and the Big Band because I was raised by my grandparents.   I was more into the Big Band sound, Cuban style music with the jazz influence as well.  However, being raised in the South Bronx all one can hear each day is Latin Music, everyday at my grandparents home was either a rehearsal, practice music of some kind or my grandmother beating education in me, LOL, on the weekends after the gig the musicians and family friends came to party at my grandmothers, who in the world can sleep with all that happening !!! My brothers and I would just laugh and imitate them all, we were 9 years of age.

It wasn’t until 11 years ago that I met after knowing for many years that the Lebron Brothers are my distant cousins (4th or 5th), understand John that this is the first time I mention this publicly, we met once with Angel the director and bass player and my manager Norma Santos has in the past spoken with Angel on a few occasions but never did or have I used this relationship to move in the music world past, present or future, I am me and have something of my own to give to you.  Growing up in those mean streets of the South Bronx exposed me more to the music and instruments of the street – PERCUSSION.  I picked up the congas being street taught no classroom just pure “calle’, either you feel it or you don’t. We played everywhere on the side walks, roof tops, local parks, school yards, basketball courts (outdoors) everywhere and kept the neighborhood happy with music.   BTW at the age of 12 I witnessed Charlie Palmieri recording at a record store/label on Westchester Ave and Prospect Ave., called La Ciguena, in those days there were booths with a turntable where you were able to listen to those 78s give it back and leave, I was a regular…LOL….

Ritmo Bello:  Why did you choose Su Sabor Latino for your band name?

Angel Lebron:  I chose that name because with my concept its Su Sabor Latino – Your Latin Flavor – we are a dancers band.  We don’t play for us (the band) we play for you with “Sabor”.  Whether you’re dancing or just listening I want our energy and that flavor to reach out to you so that you can feel what I feel and we both join in a music communion and communication.  Speaking of concept, any band that begins to form should have a concept, this is the road map and people are able to identify ones band, for example I don’t play Merengue, Bachata, etc., it doesn’t mean that I don’t like that form of music in fact I do but I don’t play it because its not within my concept, I play STREET SALSA !!!!!!!!  While on this subject of bands John, you probably already know that I’m a bit outspoken, LOL, but always respectful toward others, but I can’t understand why bands feel that they are competing or in some kind of competition to get back or with the want to throw another down at the same token with constant negative criticism.  I want to say that music is an art form where one expresses the art of music however or whatever it may be, to bring the competitive attitude to music I strongly suggest go into sports, what goes around comes around.

Ritmo Bello:  What types of influences from your Puerto Rican and New York background have impacted how you’ve created your salsa music?

Angel Lebron:  My influences come first from my father’s and the experience I underwent with that authentic back home feeling.   To play it one has to feel it, grow up in it, smell it and love it.   Hanging out in local neighborhood parks, participating in jam sessions, learning from each other, my childhood friends – I MISS YOU ALL.  And the great Nigerian Master Drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Chief Bey whom I worked with for 2 years learned to understand the drum and be a part of Drums of Passion when later after I left John Coltrane came on.  That West African influence can be heard at times as I perform intertwined with Latin sound.

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

Angel Lebron:  I find inspiration for creating through the music of culture that is  the Yoruba Culture and my meditation through the sound of the bata drums my spiritual being is then uplifted to another level of thought and feel then I receive and I place that on paper.  Nature also inspires me, that’s why I live in Moreno Valley, LOL.

Ritmo Bello:  What has been your experience been like working and performing in Southern California?

Angel Lebron: You’ll love this one, at first I wasn’t sure how the reaction was going to be like until that first gig at Mama Juanas in 2007, it was GREAT!!!  California is now my home. I belong to California as well as represent California in the salsa genre, I love it here and my experiences have been the best, I never look at things negatively, only taking everything as a learning experience in life. At all times I maintain myself and the band focused.  Working in California is the bomb, I’ve met and made so many friends working and performing its unbelievable.

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

Angel Lebron:  I’ve been on various CD’s with other artists but ‘PRIMO’ is my first solo release with my own band.  This CD is intended to continue my concept by keeping the classic Latin music alive and well with the purpose of allowing those not able to see me live to hear and enjoy that true street sound. They can know what it really is so that when my original music is released people will know that sound is Angel Lebron “…..It ain’t no rinky dink and it ain’t no dinky dink….”  Once again I got caught by surprise, “PRIMO” is now worldwide distributed by Reyes Records in Miami and endorsed by Tycoon Percussion located in Chino, CA.  The PRIMO is on music charts ranked and highly recommended on notable sites as DESCARGA.COM.   PRIMO is the editor’s pick and for the last 4 months this CD has continued to be rated in Europe as well.

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

Angel Lebron:  Yes, there are plans presently on the works, I have 3 originals which should be completed soon and continuing with additional classic salsa, all dance music.

Ritmo Bello:   What are some of your best memories from your performances?  Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind?

Angel Lebron:  All of them, LOL…But you want one….Ok, it’s the Oxnard Salsa Festival of 2008 where I jumped out from behind my congas and started to dance, people were shouting all I can see is a river of heads as far as I can see all yelling in cheers as I continued to dance to the end of the finale, then as I was walking off the stage I hear “OTRA, OTRA, OTRA !!!”  I was overwhelmed with tears of joy and the satisfaction that came into play.   My manager looked at me and said ‘Angel they love you go back’ and I did go back and played another for everyone….This will make my 3rd year at the Oxnard Salsa Festival.

Ritmo Bello:   How often do you make it down to San Diego and when can we expect to see you again in America’s Finest City?

Angel Lebron:  I don’t go as much to San Diego as before. I love your city, the people, it’s my cup of tea sort of saying.  There’s venues which I want to perform at but I’ll leave that information at the end of this interview, however, I’ll be back to San Diego on the Sevilla Yacht Party on Saturday June 26, 2010 and John I can’t wait!   I’ll be performing new songs to San Diego which will be remembered for a long, long time.

Ritmo Bello:  What advice can you give to up and coming salsa musicians?

Angel Lebron:  My advice is first finish your education and study for a degree. This business & industry is hard, rugged and doggy dog bluntly speaking. This will enable you to fall back on something but at the same time if you really I mean really have that feeling inside of you that burns then pursue your dream and don’t stop and don’t allow anyone to discourage you.  And my second advice is : IT’S NICE TO BE NICE….Which means we don’t make our own success, people do that is, your following, the dancers, the DJs, the listeners, the Promoters and Club Owners they are the cause of our success.  Be nice, be professional, Be Humble and Be Real.

Ritmo Bello:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ritmo Bello readers that I haven’t covered so far?

Angel Lebron:  Yes, I want your readers to know that my successes are due to my grateful God and my ancestors, to my manager Norma Santos, her assistant Carmen Ortiz of Dream Enterprises/Dream Records whom have both been pushing and breaking through the barriers, their promotion and Public Relations as well as believing in this project has made my life that much easier, many now have met them both and are well loved.  And people should also know that I’m very personable with the public so when you see me at the venues don’t be shy come over and say hi, I truly would love to meet you.

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

Angel Lebron:  Oh absolutely, here’s our office information :  Contact person is Norma Santos or Carmen Ortiz, Office Phone :  951-208-0177 , FAX:  951-208-0115 , EMAIL :,  WEBSITE:

Monday through Saturday, 9am to 7pm

Also, to purchase the PRIMO CD you can purchase online at DESCARGA.COM or REYES RECORDS, any local distributors or local record stores can purchase through our company Dream Enterprises / Dream Records.

Ritmo Bello: Angel, thank you so much for your time and I’ll see you at the upcoming Sevilla Yacht Party!

Angel Lebron:   Thank you John, Love you bro a big shout out to Michael Onsurez, another friend also to all of San Diego. Thank you all…..And CALIFORNIA MIL ABRAZOS Y BESOS LO QUIERO A TODOS !!!!!!!  SEE YOU EN LA RUMBA, EN LA SALSA….

Dimelo! Records Exclusive Recording Artist Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad: A Ritmo Bello Interview

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As any salsa dancer will tell you, it’s ten times better dancing to live music as compared to recorded music.  The obvious reason for this is that the salsa dancer can really connect with the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement of the live entertainer as the performance goes on.

Johnny Polanco and his group La Conjunto Amistad are a prime example of how great live salsa music is to the dancer and listener alike.  With years of experience in the salsa music world, Johnny Polanco is a rare gem that plays frequently in the Southern California area.  I had a chance to talk with Johnny Polanco before his upcoming performance at Anthology night club this Saturday October 17 and learned that if something is to be done, you ‘DO IT WITH SALSA!’  I hope you enjoy the interview which follows below.


Ritmo Bello: Johnny, 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?

Johnny Polanco: Hi John. The main focus of my music are two reasons.  One is to make everyone dance.  Secondly is to give the listener a great visual through our performances.  Everyone listens to CD’s.  But it’s a lot different when you actually see it “live”.  The listener can actually feel and absorb the music.  It becomes more versatile.  And the most important issue about a “live” performance is that the number can be stretched out a little longer, thus letting the band be more creative.  Especially during the solos.

Tito Puente once told me, “Live tells no lie”.  AND THAT’S SO TRUE.  In this age of recording and digital “Pro Tools” you can do wonders in the recording studio.  But you can “clean it up live”!

Ritmo Bello: What are the origins of your salsa music career?

Johnny Polanco: My career begin in the Bronx, New York City.  I performed with various bands, in the earlier days, but the first known band I played with was with JOHNNY PACHECO and PETE “EL CONDE” RODRIGUEZ.  I was 17 years old.

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

Johnny Polanco: I choose Conjunto Amistad because the band was composed of all of my friends.

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

Johnny Polanco: The conjunto music of ARSENIO RODRIGUEZ, who is one of the most well known Cuban tres guitar players.  Also the BIG 3 bands of the fifties that consisted of TITO PUENTE, TITO RODRIGUEZ and MACHITO.  The sounds of trio music like LOS PONCHOS and TRIO MATAMOROS also played a role.

And believe it or not,  the music of the big band era featuring FRANK SINATRA, TONY BENNETT, JOE WILLIAMS, SARAH VAUGHN and many others from that era were so musically rich for me to listen.

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

Johnny Polanco: The inspirations come to me in spurts.  That’s why I always  try to have something to write notes or my cell phone to record the moments.  My song feature all different types of topics.  If you listen to my latest CD, “AMISTAD PARA EL MUNDO ENTERO” you will see the many topics.

Ritmo Bello: What has your experience been like working with Dimelo Records?

Johnny Polanco: My experiences with Dimelo Records has been an enjoyable one and something that I wish I would have done years ago.  Nissim Baly is a great guy and is very  business savvy in the direction that the recording industry has been heading.  He possesses very strong marketing skills and that has contributed immensely in the success of the bands under his label.  Not to mention his assistant Valerie Guzman.  She is definitely on the ball at the office.

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

Johnny Polanco: Absolutely.  Amistad Para El Mundo Entero is my best production yet.  It has 14 original, never recorded numbers.  It features some of the best  musicians in Salsa music today such as RAY DE LA PAZ,  FRANKIE VASQUEZ,  AZUQUITA, FRANKIE MORALES, JIMMY BOSCH, ARTIE WEBB, NINO JESUS and others.  The production was great.  It took a while but I’m very happy with it.  I also put on it, my version of “Happy Birthday”.  It has been very popular in all the clubs.

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

Johnny Polanco: The last CD has only been out for 9 months and DIMELO RECORDS is going to release it on their label soon.  My next CD is going to be recorded live on a venue to be announced later.  I feel that this will really capture the true sound of the band.

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 like Facebook and Twitter helped you gain more exposure worldwide?

Johnny Polanco: It truly has.  My music has reached places throughout the world that I haven’t traveled to yet.  We have had the pleasure of working with Albert Torres, who has been my personal manager for 15 years.  And he is helping create and participate at all these Salsa Congresses world wide.  These types of social medias have been a blessing.  Also non commercial radio has played an important part also.  They play everyones music and we are very blessed to have Canto Tropical and Alma Del Barrio here in Los Angeles.

Ritmo Bello: What are some of your best memories from your performances? Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind?

Johnny Polanco: Oh GOD, there are so many because each of those have left me with something unique.  Such as performing for our new L.A. Philharmonic conductor from Venezuela, Gustavo Dumadel a couple of weeks ago at the Hollywood Bowl. He is the first Hispanic to lead this great orchestra.  Working with Prince in Las Vegas was great too.  He is an extraordinary musician.  Doing the 2007 Playboy Jazz Festival., the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Prix in Macau.  Doing our Mayor’s Inaugural Ball.  And the many Salsa Congresses throughout the world such as in Spain,  Toronto,  Japan, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver etc.

Ritmo Bello: I’ve seen you perform in San Diego in the past. How often do you make it down to San Diego and when can we expect to see you again in America’s Finest City?

Johnny Polanco: I don’t perform as much as I like but I will be performing Sat Oct 17th at Anthology.  This is the premier venue to perform in San Diego.  It is such a  beautiful supper club with great sound, food and hospitality.  I am so looking forward to it!

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to up and coming salsa singers?

Johnny Polanco: The best advice is to listen to the old stuff from the early years. Especially from the 70’s.  All those guys are now salsa legends now.  PERIOD.  I had the pleasure of working with many of them.  Their sonero’s and deliveries are unmatched.  Any vocalist after that era will tell you that they were influenced by them.  If they don’t admit it, they are just plain lying.

Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t covered so far?

Johnny Polanco: You covered many of the issues that are important to me.  But the final thing I would like to say is to please support live entertainment.  It take an enormous commitment for someone to get musicians together and form a band.  And a lot of work to get music and the administrative side of it in getting booked.  It’s not easy.  But we do it to spread the music, make you feel good, help you meet new friends, dance to great songs, see musicians do what we do best and let’s face it guys.  The most beautiful women in the world are dancing to salsa and waiting for you.  So if you guys aren’t Salsa dancing,  you better get some lessons because you are DEFINITELY missing out.  Most clubs offer lessons. So you have no excuse.  Ever wonder where your best friends at?  He is at a salsa club dancing away with the girl of your dreams Ha, Ha.

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

Johnny Polanco: Yes.  My website is Also we have a hotline where you can find out where we are at on a weekly basis at 562-220-4929.

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

Johnny Polanco: It has been a pleasure and hope to see everyone at Anthology this week.  As I always say, “DO IT WITH SALSA”.  Gracias.

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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