Florida—from the Spanish, meaning “full of flowers.” The mindset of most in America is that if you’re coming to Florida, you’ll need to know some Spanish to get by (and in some places, they’re correct). Our proximity to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean and Latin American nations has played a major role in the development of the state.
Here in Northeast Florida, seldom is there mention of the Latin impact on the First Coast. The contributions made are rarely discussed in mainstream circles, the mark of Latin culture barely acknowledged. An argument could be made that we lack a fair amount of cultural diversity in how we present our city and the culture found within.
But listen for rhythm in the background: Music is a passport, and for those interested in hopping on board, LPT is taking Northeast Florida’s cultural scene on a Latin musical adventure. The 10-piece salsa orchestra dominated Jacksonville’s nightlife seemingly overnight.
Comprising some of the most impressive talent this region has to offer, the musical super-group consistently packs out bars and clubs, forcing the orchestra to find larger and larger venues for mushrooming audiences demanding performances more often than the ensemble can provide.
“I love it when people who aren’t familiar with salsa or Latin music catch us live; they can’t stop moving,” says Angel Garcia, pianist of the group. “There is no preconceived notion. Just pure acceptance. I love that my friends get to be exposed to the force that is salsa music; music I heard in my house as a child. They can feel the energy and power of live salsa—there’s nothing like it.”
With its strong, aggressive beat layered with dense rhythms and socially conscious lyrics, salsa made a huge imprint on the New York City music scene in the late 1960s. Salsa, as its name suggests, was a melting pot of musical traditions and cultures coming together for a generation of musicians whose families migrated here, seeking the American Dream.
Like the practices and habits of many immigrants, the sound developed by taking a dose of the Old World and mixing it with a dollop of the New World. Jazz, funk, soul and blues played over Cuban son montuno and rumba, Puerto Rican bomba and plena and other Latin rhythms, making a dance music that beckoned whites, blacks, Latinos and anything in between to share the dance floor in the name of diversity, of musical exploration, and of release from the hard sociological and political times of the 1960s and 1970s.
In a relatively short time, this music heard on the streets of New York City was a music business phenomenon, becoming one of the most successful hybrids of music and culture of the 20th century. The flagship record label synonymous with the era, Fania, released hundreds of records, and launched salsa as one of the most successful hybrids of culture and music in history.
“LPT is a high-energy celebration of Latin culture and, in reality, just a celebration of diversity and the power of music,” says Josué Cruz Sonero, lead vocalist for the ensemble, and a Folio Weekly contributor. “Take a look at the instruments on stage when LPT plays—it’s a mixture of African and European instruments played with Caribbean flavor. By the very makeup of the instruments, the music is going to cover a lot of cultural ground and be accessible to anyone and everyone. Not to mention that it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to dance to. Our goal is to be new ambassadors of salsa in the Southeast … and beyond.”
As educators, the members of LPT are exposing Northeast Floridians to a musical genre it hasn’t seen or heard, and whether it’s the new sounds or the ability to let loose and dance, the crew attracts a diverse—and happy—audience clamoring for more shows and more room to dance. This Friday evening, at 1904 Music Hall, fans’ requests are being answered.
Opening for LPT is hip hop/soul powerhouse Stono Echo, which indeed echoes LPT’s aggressive approach in making a name for itself. Stono Echo has infiltrated local musical spheres with intelligent lyrics, conscious messages and heavy beats that command hips to sway. This success stems from Stono Echo’s savvy creating out-of-the-box videos dealing with highly charged material tempered by a beguiling approach.
“I’ve been familiar with LPT and have known some of the members of the group for a while,” says hip hop producer Paten Locke. “I’ve been digging for salsa records now for a while and I’m a fan. Josué approached us as a fan of what we’re doing and asked us if we wanted to do a show together. Since there’s that mutual appreciation of each other’s work, we knew it was going to be on.”