Hidden far below the visible surface of the flying puerto rican flags, the everpresent merengue from within delis and coffee shops, and the constant rumble of reggaeton, there is, and always has been, a secret society of alternative latin bands playing in clubs and bars that are pushing the bounderies of El Barrio and the world-wide status of the Nuyorican new york-made salsa sound of the 60s and 70s. Bands in the city like Chicha Libre, ¡Ya Esta!, and Zemog el Gallo Bueno have been creating new and necessary fusions for years.
Last night Gato Loco had the pleasure of playing on the same bill as the debut of a new band based out of north Brooklyn. The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra, led by Gianni Mano (previously of Radio Mundial) plays salsa arrangements of indie-rock tunes. They covered tunes by local stars like TV On The Radio, Japanther, Animal Collective, and some others. The idea sounds sort of silly on first hearing, and I would probably have expected the band to be cheesy. But they pulled off really high-quality arrangements with an intense fire, energy, and absolute perfection that was breath-taking. From the first timbale pick-up, that tiny little roll played with such conviction, I knew these guys were serious. The percussion section, (led by Mano himself) was dynamite, the horn section was crisp and tight, and they had a powerful lead singer. They plowed through the material like it was their own, and it was only on epic choruses to songs like “Wolf Like Me” or “Alala” that the audience realized these were covers.
The crowd was 98% hipsters, with fashionably off-centered hair cuts and perfectly torn shirts. None the less, they were dancing more enthusiastically and passionately than you normally see on a tuesday night at 1am. No one was too worried about dancing salsa steps, and everyone was making up their own moves while dragging others onto the dance floor. It was a true fusion of classic Fania fire with ironic hipster fashion.
Another step forward in NYC latin infusion. The latino culture that is everywhere we go, in all 5 buroughs, and is inescapable, makes another step forward into the clubs and bars of hipster Williamsburg.