Son del Caribe’s “traditional, hardcore” salsa
By Rusty Pate
Son del Caribe plays salsa music and that sounds simple enough. The imagery that springs from such a declarative statement materializes almost immediately. A tight, rhythm-heavy group pulsates from the stage as the dance floor bounces beneath beautiful Latinas in flowing skirts, dapper Latinos and an elegantly subdued sexual tension. Horns ring, congas thump and singers punctuate the beat. The seemingly chaotic syncopated percussion melts into a singular force and even the most stiff, two-left-footed wallflower cannot help but bop along.
On this night, the band plays to a somewhat curious crowd. The Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington, Ky. sits at the center of a lavish golf course. All day, rain has come and gone, and Son del Caribe’s set has been moved inside to the museum’s third floor. The quarters are cramped, to say the least, with rows of chairs surrounding a makeshift stage in the middle of an exhibit hall. Limited seating options include four chairs in a riverboat-like play area, a balcony that wraps around the room and a section of chairs that offers a view of approximately one-and-a-half band members.
Still, before the end of the first set, several brave Anglo-Saxon-country-club types find enough room to dance. Even those remaining seated are encouraged to cut loose by vocalist Gina Stough.
“Just have fun,” Stough said from the stage. “Let your body do what it’s going to do – even in a chair.”
This music causes dancing and the energy from the dancers ignites the band. On good nights, the barrier between musician and audience becomes blurred, according to Stough.
“We don’t like to compare ourselves to other bands, but our chemistry as a band… you feel it,” Stough said. “We communicate with our audience through the music we play.”
Still, even if the crowd resists the call of the dance floor, the music does not suffer, according to Jamie Morales-Matos, Son del Caribe’s founder and conductor.
“It doesn’t matter if they are dancing or not, on stage, we are always having fun,” Morales said. “If people want to sit down and look and listen, that’s a way to enjoy it too. It doesn’t matter if we are playing to a full house or two people; we always keep the same energy and intensity musically.”
Morales arrived in Ohio in 1993. He founded the group a few years later.
Initially, the project’s main function was to blow off steam, but grew into a regional force on the salsa circuit. The 11-piece group really got serious when Morales’s sister, pianist Sonia Yvette Morales-Matos, and her husband, vocalist Sammy Paris arrived in the area, according to Stough.
“He started this band just for fun and as the years progressed, it became more popular,” Stough said. “Then, his sister and his brother-in-law relocated to Ohio and things got really serious, in terms of the level and quality of what we were doing.”
While some blood ties exist in the group, the whole affair has taken on a family-like vibe.
“We feel like a family,” Morales said. “We have Christmas parties together, we get together for holidays in the summer, we do picnics – not only to play music, but to get along. We try to convey that when we play too – that Latin way of thinking.”
“There’s a saying in Spanish: ‘where there’s no family, you make one,’” Stough said. “I’ve played in other bands and you never have this tight-knit closeness of helping raise each other’s children and loving each other’s children.”
It is that tightness that allows the group to explore a wide variety of Latin styles. In addition to salsa, the group plays meringue, cumbia and bachata, to name a few. Central to all these styles is the clave, a deceptively simple set of rhythmic patterns off of which the other instruments follow and play.
“La Clave is the skeleton of the music,” Morales said. “Most of the accents will follow that pattern.”
Describing that rhythm via the written word can be arduous. Suffice it to say, it all comes back to the dance floor.
“Every instrument is measured by danceablilty, really,” Stough said. “Even vocals are a rhythm instrument in the salsa music we play. The goal of good salsa is to make it so that people want to dance and don’t want to stop dancing. It really is the energy between the music and the dancers. The positive energy, from both the audience and the band, is just so thick.”
For Morales, it reaches even deeper.
“For us, music is a way to share our culture with the community – with not only the Latin community, but the American community,” Morales said. “We can get a better understanding of each other with music. You don’t need to know Spanish, you don’t need to know French or whatever language, because music speaks by itself.”
Son del Caribe will play at RiverScape on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and all ages are welcome. For more info, visit www.metroparks.org/Parks/Riverscape/Programs.aspx.
Reach DCP intern and freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@daytoncitypaper.com