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….

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, 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 or at 646-241-5501. You can also check us out on the web at, there you can find links to our MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. You can purchase our CD’s at  or at

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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