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It’s a busy, exciting start of the week for fans of classic Latin salsa music. Last night, Puerto Rican legends La Sonora Poncena were at the Salsa Room, and today and tomorrow offer distinctive events, as well. This afternoon, starting at 4:30 p.m. at George Mason University, there’s a free panel discussion titled “Santeros to Salseros: Latin Music from Cuba to NY,” featuring Ned Sublette (author of the book “Cuba and its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo“), Jim Byers (WPFW mambo DJ, music historian, and salsa dance instructor), and Kip Hanrahan (producer, composer, percussionist, and head of American Clave records) with George Mason professor Matt Karush moderating. That session will be followed by an hour-long concert from veteran D.C. salsa band Ted David and Orquesta La Leyenda. Tomorrow, New York’s New Swing Sextet is at Artisphere.
Expect to hear lots of fascinating history squeezed into the first hour of today’s panel discussion from three guys who know how to educate in an entertaining way. Sublette’s 2004 volume, Cuba and Its Music, covers that island’s sounds in incredible detail, from pre-slavery times to the 1950s. Plus his background as a Texas-born musician with Spanish classical guitar schooling and 1970s NY punk scene experience adds a unique flavor to his views. Byers, on his Sunday radio show, in reviews he wrote in the past for the Washington Post, and over the years through events including his Metro Mambo panels at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, has displayed an impressive intellect and an infectious enthusiasm for Spanish-language sounds with that unique clave beat. Hanrahan, who grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx, has worked over the years with numerous Latin musicians, including Milton Cardona and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. When I interviewed him for a Jazz Times magazine piece, he talked my ear off with gripping anecdotes and opinions.
Ted David played saxophone and flute in D.C. R&B bands from the late 1960s through the 1980s. In the 1990s he embraced Latin tropical sounds and started up the group Ted David and Orquesta La Leyenda. They’re a tight, exciting unit whose performance will surely demonstrate much of what had been discussed in the previous hour.
Tuesday night, Artisphere offers the reunited New York City Latin outfit New Swing Sextet. Featuring vibraphonist George Rodriguez, the group performed its first real gig at the 1965 New York Worlds Fair and they then recorded four albums and played regularly at New York clubs until the late 1970s when they broke up. Thirty years later, encouraged by well-regarded salsa DJ Henry Knowles to play for serious Latin dancers at “salsa congresses,” the group reformed in 2009, began playing live, and recorded a Grammy-nominated album, Back on the Streets… a Taste of Spanish Harlem, Vol 2. Rodriguez, a fan of the refined but still swinging Latin jazz of vibist Cal Tjader, brings a similar sensibility to his own band.
The “Santeros to Salseros: Latin Music from Cuba to NY” panel takes place 4:30-5:30 p.m. today followed by a performance by Ted David and Orquesta La Leyenda at Dewberry Hall in George Mason University’s Johnson Center, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax. Shuttle buses run on the half hour from the Vienna metro and there’s parking at the George Mason Center for the Arts garage. For more information, contact James Lepore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 993-1115. Free. The New Swing Sextet performs 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow at Artisphere preceded by a one-hour dance class (7:30-8:30 p.m.) by instructor Tommy Smith at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. (703) 875-1100. $20.