Monterey County joins the congo line in the Latin music and dance craze.
Thursday, September 16, 1999
Welcome to the crossover sensation.
Monterey County is following the nationwide trend of non-Latinos "crossing over" to buy and dance to Latino music, according to music stores, dance halls, and nightclubs in the area. Hot Latin rhythms are in the air.
While current artists are blazing new trails for Latino music, Ricky Martin is not the first crossover sensation to hit the U.S. Cuban music experienced its heyday in the U.S. in New York in the 1950s, when the likes of Tito Puente and Beny More sparked a national craze for the sensual rhythms of the mambo, cha-cha-cha, and son. The nightclubs were full and everyone was dancing.
Locally, pioneers of Latin jazz, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Cal Tjader were featured at the Monterey Jazz Festival as early as 1958. By the mid-1970s, the "Spanish Tinge" had become essential to many of the genre''s most popular figures, and Airto Moriera and Mongo Santamaria joined the Latin ranks at the Jazz Festival.
Today, while most Peninsula residents don''t spend their evenings at the dance halls, they are heading to area music stores in droves to buy Latin hot picks such as Buena Vista Social Club, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Enrique Iglesias. According to Charley Costanza, owner of Do Re Mi Music and Video, "the Latin invasion has been incredible."
Buena Vista Social Club, the 1997 Grammy-winning Cuban album, has been Do Re Mi''s No. 1 seller for more than two months. Store manager John Collier comments that Buena Vista sales have been so phenomenal following the release of the documentary movie about the group in July, that "suddenly you''re not hip if you don''t buy it."
Borders Books and Music in Sand City and the Wherehouse in Monterey reported that their Latin music sections have grown and that sales have increased steadily for two years. Wherehouse Manager Roy Filbin says, however, that only a select few, including Martin, Lopez, Selena and Iglesias, are attracting the non-Spanish speaking crowd.
By contrast, the Wherehouse in Salinas brings in 25 percent of its business in Latin music. Store manager Elizabeth Lopez says that Latin house and rock music has been popular with the Salinas community for many years. "While Lopez and Martin have made a big impact," she comments, "a wider crossover exists."
"Bailamos, Let the Rhythm Take You Over, Bailamos!"Yet while Buena Vista Social Club sells out in local music stores, the crossover phenomenon has been slow to affect the local dance scene. Latin dance, including salsa, merengue, mambo, cha-cha-cha, rumba, and banda, has long been popular with Monterey County''s Latino residents, as evidenced by the skillful dance moves and smiling faces on Planet Gemini''s packed dance floor. Curiously, even with Iglesias'' latest hit (quoted above) seducing fans to the dance floor, new Latin music fans must be sitting home by the fire listening to their new CDs, because they''re not on the dance floor.
Ask any dance-loving Latino in the Monterey area where they go to tear up the floor, and you''ll inevitably hear "Planet Gemini." Gemini''s owner Anthony Lane has been holding Salsa Night on Sundays for eight years now, following the request of a Latino customer who asked "why don''t you give us our own night?" Now the longest surviving Latin dance night on the Peninsula, Salsa Night has always been successful, according to Lane. In the early days, success meant eighty or so people. Gemini''s dance floor now vibrates with the rhythms of Grupo Oasis and between 150-300 skilled salsa and cumbia.
Dancers come from all over the county because Gemini offers a rare service. Latino dancers at Gemini are an international group, heralding from Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia and elsewhere. The nationalities change depending on the type of music, Lane asserts, with Salsa Night having wide appeal while Wednesday night''s "Club la Buena" with banda and ranchera music appealing almost exclusively to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
Much newer to the salsa scene is Eddie''s Bar on North Fremont Street in Monterey. Owner Eddie Edwards saw a need for a Latino venue for his customers. Last month, Edwards began hosting a Wednesday night "Salsa Night" with two CSUMB DJs, in an effort to attract what he calls "the growing Latino student population in the area."
Apparently, it takes time for the word to travel, because there''s still room left on the dance floor at Eddie''s. Though a small group, the dancers enjoy the mix of salsa, merengue, cumbia and other dance music. Marybel Funes of Seaside is bubbling with excitement on her first trip to Eddie''s, complaining that "dancing at the same place every week gets boring."
Clark, a recent Anglo-American convert from Pacific Grove, began taking Latin dance classes in Monterey and Carmel earlier this year and came to Eddie''s looking for a place to try out his new moves. Studios offering Latin dance classes in the area, including the Monterey Peninsula Dance Association and Freddy Chang''s "Hot Salsa" classes, note a rise in interest by Latinos and non-Latinos alike. "We get calls every week for salsa and merengue," says Monterey Dance''s Director Ed Stone, "there''s always been a lot of interest in Latin dance." So folks are learning to dance.