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Agence France-Presse

Latino Music And Dance Go Mainstream In Paris

BY Brett Kline

May 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Agence France-Presse, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

PARIS, May 12 (AFP) - The trumpets and trombones blasted out a 3- 2 beat, sending the crowd shuffling its feet as the sound of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra filled Paris's Bataclan hall, packed out with a stand-up public.

Latino music, and salsa dancing in couples, has become a mainstream fixture on the Paris cultural scene. "There are not necessarily more shows now than several years ago," said concert promoter Orlando De Cali, "but the public is largely French now, and that is a big change.

"The mix of Latino and French spectators is really proof of how dynamic the Paris salsa scene is."

Salsa classes became very popular in Paris dance centers several years ago, but are now also offered by a huge range of nightclubs, from the tiny and informal Clair Obscur, to the Montecristo on the Champs Elysees and the wildly popular Barrio Latino at the Bastille.

Classes are typically offered at around 8 pm, after the working day and before the clubs fill up with people confident enough of their skill not to be embarrassed to go out on the dance floor.

"Salsa is so alive," said Paris-born 24-year-old Erell Niane. Of Senegalese origin, Niane said salsa brought different people together more than any dance style. "As an African, I feel that the mix, the metissage, is the way to go. All you need is to learn the steps."

Concert promoter De Cali, 38, came to Paris 16 years ago from Colombia, and has produced stars such Tito Rojas, Andy Montanez, Victor Manuel, all from Puerto Rico and New York, and Yuri Buenaventura from Colombia. He explained there are two or three sides to the musica latina scene in Paris.

"The real salsa dance orchestras are mostly from Puerto Rico and Colombia, with headquarters in the Latino world of New York, though I wonder how many of the French know that," he said.

"The second style is the more classic Afro-Cuban sound from Cuba, such as the Afro-Cuban All-Stars and the whole Buena Vista Social Club thing, and the third is the samba sound from Brazil, but we don't see too many Brazilians here."

"Are you kidding," cut in his head bar manager, Luis Quevas, 40, from the Dominican Republic. "There are more Brazilians in Paris than any other Latinos. You don't like the Afro drum sound, so you don't hang out with them, that's all."

Tens of thousands of people have come to France over the years from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico, but the Cubans are the latest arrival, according to Roberto Burgos, the main disk jockey on Radio Latina, 99 FM, a station listened to by 150,000 people daily.

"There was a great deal of French travel to Cuba over the past few years, which sparked major interest in Cuban music, in addition to the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon," he said. "Then the Cubans, in turn began coming to Paris.

Burgos, 36, was born in Chile, grew up in Panama and moved to Paris 21 years ago. He does two of the station's most popular programs: the top 10 musica latina countdown from the New York charts, and a morning review of news from Central and South America, broadcast in French.

"The hard core of listeners used to be Latino residents of Paris and the suburbs, many of whom were political and economic refugees, but now many listeners are French," he said, "and most do not speak Spanish. They take dance classes and go to concerts and drink mojitos. Sometimes they are more Latino than we are."

Burgos and the radio go live every Tuesday night from the huge, multi-level Latina Cafe on the Champs-Elysees, interviewing musicians at a broadcast table in a corner of the dining space.

But the interest in Latino culture extends to the literary field, with the "Maison d'Amerique Latine", a Latin American cultural centre, holding regular poetry readings in Spanish with French translations.

"I have been able to meet Latino cultural figures here whom I could not have met in New York," said Yarissa Colon, 26, a published poet born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York. She came to Paris a year ago to study French and to write, and has been been reporting on concerts for a New York Latino weekly.

"I don't know why the Latino poets and writers and artists get so much respect in Paris," she stated, "but I guess it's because the French promote culture so much more than in New York, including foreign culture. They have opened the doors here to Puerto Rican and Latino artists."

She enjoys the mix of people.

"The mescla, the mix, eso es," she said. "Go to a Spanish Harlem Orchestra concert in New York, and the crowd is 99-percent Latino. Here, the majority is French. It's a compliment."

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