The 4 -time Grammy nominated, and 2-time Grammy winner Spanish Harlem Orchestra was born from a need to expose good Salsa music, not to continue with the commercial pop-Salsa prevailing at the time.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is about keeping the tradition of the true classic Salsa music, driven by Afro-Caribbean rhythms supported by jazz-influenced horns and music. As danceable as this music is, the SHO’s musical director Oscar Hernandez prefers to perform at concert halls and jazz clubs like Seattle’s Jazz Alley, where they will visit for 4 nights from May 30th to June 2nd.
Showcasing Classic Salsa Musicality
It’s common wisdom that the term “the golden years of Salsa music” refers to the Salsa music of the 70’s and 80’s. Oscar Hernandez was in the middle of this evolution. Oscar performed with some of the best of that time, including Machito, Ismael Miranda, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, and Ruben Blades among others. From this “musical school”, Oscar Hernandez developed the concept for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra more than 13 years ago.
At that time, pop-Salsa was the most popular type of Salsa. As Oscar told me in an exclusive interview for Latino Music Café, “…people had forgotten what this (Salsa) music sounded like. Pop-Salsa was about one thing; the singer….and although some of it was good, some of it is not good because it’s lacking of the essence of what this music really is, of the tradition and legacy of where this music really comes from”.
Oscar Hernandez takes great pride in the quality of the music. As Oscar explained, “for me it’s an opportunity to keep the tradition of this music alive and keep it in the pedestal it deserves to be in terms of it’s integrity and quality”.
You don’t need to take Oscar’s word for it. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra has released 4 albums, and every one of them has been nominated for a Grammy. Two of them went on to win the Grammy Award; “Across 110th Street” (Best Salsa / Merengue Album – 2005), and the latest one “Viva la Tradicion” (Best Tropical Latin Album – 2010).
Spanish Harlem Orchestra: Salsa Music to Listen and Appreciate
In order to accomplish this quality of Salsa music, Oscar formatted the Spanish Harlem Orchestra into a 13-piece collective of some of the best musicians in Latino music. The music is styled to some of the Latino big bands of the past, but with a modern swing. On the recordings, Oscar prefers to record with the band “Live”, and not using the modern style of recording 2 or 3 instruments at a time. “There is a difference, and the real connoisseurs of music can tell the difference” says Oscar with pride of his band’s accomplishments.
With the popularity of Salsa music dancers highlighted with the amount of Salsa Congresses around the world, Oscar feels the music has been relegated to a 2nd term. He sees that some of these dancers have no appreciation for the music they are dancing to. That is why Oscar prefers to perform at Performing Art Centers, Jazz Festivals, and Jazz clubs like Seattle’s Jazz Alley. As Oscar shared with me, “people can sit down and see and hear the excellence of the music, of the vocalists, of the percussion section, and of the horn section. We played last week in the Cleveland Jazz Festival, and people gave us a standing ovation.”
Good Salsa Music Merits Support
There have been many great Latino music recordings, many of them in the Salsa music genre. Oscar Hernandez feels that fans of good quality music in general, and Latinos in particular should support good Salsa music events. “This is the music I grew up listening. If people, if ‘nuestra gente Latina’ don’t support it, it will go away. When I think about that I say, ‘how can that be?'”.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra will perform at Seattle’s Jazz Alley from May 30th to June 2nd, in a rare 4-night visit. A few years ago, they performed in the Puget Sound area at one of the first editions of the Bellevue Jazz Fest, to great acclaim. I certainly hope that fans of Latino music go and support quality music at the Spanish Harlem Orchestra performances! The SHO will continue to perform in the west coast in Yoshi’s as well as in other events in other parts of the United States, Europe, and Canada. You can check the Spanish Harlem Orchestra schedule at their website: .
I hope you can attend the shows and share you experience with us!
h3>Spanish Harlem Orchestra Video: “La Salsa Dura”