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Friday, October 27, 2006

Salsa megastar Rivera has fans dancing in the aisles
By Alfredo Flores
Published November 27, 2006

They came in droves and waited patiently for hours for the show to start. Then, just before 1 a.m. in the Washington Hilton's International Ballroom yesterday, finally, the trademark chant began, "Jeeer-ry, Jeeer-ry, Jeeer-ry." While it may have sounded like the beginning of a Jerry Springer show, if you listened closely there was a distinct Spanish accent to this particular Jerry chant -- in this case for Puerto Rican salsa megastar Jerry Rivera. In a scene reminiscent of New York City's famed Copacabana salsa club, the Hilton provided Mr. Rivera with the perfect setting to perform not only in front of a packed house, but also for a wide variety of fans. Those with deep pockets sat up front at VIP tables, wining and dining before and during the show. Meanwhile, younger devotees danced the night away either between the narrow gaps of the tables or on the huge dance floor. The ruggedly good-looking singer, sporting jet black spiked hair, a tight muscle shirt and matching black pants, has developed a baby-faced golden-boy mystique as a young "prince of salsa" -- enough to get him named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" and land roles in the American movie "I Like It Like That" as well as several Spanish telenovelas, television soap operas. Mr. Rivera has achieved much success in his nearly 20-year career, most notably for his 1992 album "Cuenta Conmigo (Count on Me)," which won three Platinum Record awards in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Colombia and became the No. 1 selling salsa album of all-time. It contains the powerful "Como El Nuestro (Like our Love)," whose distinctive horn rhythm was sampled in the chorus of Shakira's megahit "Hips Don't Lie." Mr. Rivera, 33, did not fail to project the warm, friendly manner that sets him apart from his blander, monotonal elders in the romantic salsa genre. Several ladies in the audience swooned at his Rivera's love ballads, including "Esa Nina (That Girl)," "Me Estoy Enloqueciendo Por Ti (Going Crazy for You)," "Dime (Tell Me)" and "Como un Milagro (Like a Miracle)." Although his vocals were sharp, his microphone tended to give static feedback on longer notes. Perhaps because he was forced to play solo instead of being one of a twin-bill of Puerto Rican performers (merengue star Elvis Crespo was unable to catch a flight to Washington after a concert in Venezuela), Mr. Rivera did a bit too much talking with the audience and took his time in between songs, most likely a tactic used to extend the length of the show. The mood of the performance, outside the ballroom, also heated up. At around 12:45 a.m., when the announcement was made that Mr. Crespo would not be able to perform, several of the concert-goers pushed and shoved while demanding a full refund. Several officials from the local event management company, Oscar's Production, had to be taken away by security for their safety. The evening was also marked by the sort of chaos one might expect at Mr. Springer's show when several enthusiastic female fans mobbed and then mercilessly kissed and hugged the singer onstage before being whisked off by beefy security guards. Mr. Rivera, however, did his best to bow to the wishes of the audience, posing for countless pictures, and even dancing with a couple of his fans.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reggaeton hits its stride
Don Omar

By Alfredo Flores
Published October 23, 2006

"Reggaeton" is one of those buzzwords thrown around in the music industry as an up-and-coming genre, with some of the heavy hitters in mainstream hip-hop jumping at the chance to collaborate with their Spanish-language counterparts. Ask the average American pop-music listener about it, and it's tough to get names of reggaeton hits -- a mix of hip-hop with Caribbean and reggae beats -- much less the stars.That may be changing, thanks to the ambitious plans of one Don Omar. The Puerto Rican megastar christened the Verizon Center on Friday night with its first-ever reggaeton concert, featuring an elaborately designed, Broadway-esque stage full of pyrotechnics; dozens of scantily clad, mohawked, krumping dancers; violin and piano players; and smoke machines -- in short, all the bells and whistles one would expect from any big-time arena concert. By packing the lower bowl of the massive arena, by far the largest indoor concert venue in the area, Don Omar made a huge splash that should affect not only his nationwide popularity, but that of the burgeoning genre as well."People don't realize just how big the Hispanic culture is in D.C. until they have special events that can get everyone who loves this music together in one location," said audience member Victor Colindres, a fellow Puerto Rican who lives in Suitland. That was the sentiment of many in the diverse audience, who hailed from Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Bolivia, Panama, the Dominican Republic and various other nations as indicated by the flags being waved in the rafters at the Verizon Center.What they saw was unlike any previous local reggaeton concert. It started with "the Don" sporting his trademark dreadlocks and a post-apocalyptic black armor (think of those scary Oakland Raiders fans with the spiky shoulder pads, but times 10) before he changed into a white tuxedo with matching cape and gold staff, followed by a white T-shirt with a large custom platinum medallion and baggy jeans.He may not be the best-known reggaeton artist -- that title belongs to Daddy Yankee, whose songs ("Gasolina," "Rompe") get regular airplay on MTV and urban hip-hop radio stations. However, Don Omar -- born William Omar Landron in San Juan -- is arguably a close second, and his collaborations with P. Diddy, Ja Rule, N.O.R.E., J-Lo, Fabulous, Fat Joe and others have built up his stateside reputation in recent years.With a new platinum-selling album, "King of Kings," topping the charts, he began his 17-city U.S. tour last week with stops at reggaeton meccas -- Madison Square Garden in New York and American Airlines Arena in Miami -- as well as medium-size Hispanic markets such as Washington to prove he can hang with the big boys.Don Omar, who grew up singing gospel as a child, has perfected his soulful piano ballads, such as "Angelito," and mixed it up with dance-hall reggae in "Belly Danza" and "Salio el Sol." There also are various songs that take cues from such Puerto Rican musical traditions as bomba and guaguanco (a form of rhumba), Dominican bachata ("Pobre Diabla") and gangsta rap ("Conteo"). The biggest ovations here -- including piercing shrieks from younger female fans -- were for Don Omar's megahits that combine it all: "Reggaeton Latino," "Dile" and "Dale Con Dale," plus the guest duets with reggaeton superstar Tego Calderon ("Bandoleros") and Romeo of the bachata crooner group Aventura ("Ella Y Yo")."I don't know what it is, but it's something about Don's raunchy voice; I just love the way it sounds," said Jackie Garcia, an Alexandria resident of Salvadoran descent who had persuaded seven of her friends to fork over $68 to $98 for the three-act extravaganza."The Wizards play here; the Caps play here," exclaimed fellow Salvadoran Carlos Henriquez, who had made the trek from Warrenton, Va. "This is truly an event. This movement of reggaeton is going out loud. Even gringos like this joint."He was right. It's isn't just Latinos who have joined the craze. Mr. Henriquez's Hawaiian friend Mookie Cabrerra, a non-Hispanic living in Manassas, said she thought reggaeton was "the best beat to hear all the time."With the Don Omar concert living up to its lofty goals, the future of reggaeton is looking bright. Melissa Fuentes, a Puerto Rican living in Fairfax, has a 13-year-old niece "who absolutely loves" the music. All her friends do, too, and "they'll be 23 like me in 10 years. This reggaeton thing is going to go strong for a long time."

Friday, October 06, 2006

'Don Juan' revenge sweet
By Alfredo Flores
Published October 6, 2006

Don Juan is up to his old tricks again. After suavely seducing the women in his native Spain, he's now gone off to Belgium in search of new conquests in the U.S. premiere of "Stripping Don Juan" at the Gala Hispanic Theatre. Little does he know that an old Spanish flame he once promised to marry -- only to leave her heartbroken -- has followed him to exact her revenge. Originally written in the 17th century by Ana Caro, one of the rare women playwrights of Spain's Golden Age, this is an unusual and funny look at how a female lead character goes to extreme measures -- traveling from Seville to Brussels and dressing as a man to gain access to Don Juan's exclusive inner circle -- to strip the cavalier macho man of his dignity, honor and pride. Playing the dual lead character of Leanor/Don Leonardo (wearing a black jockey-style coat while mimicking men with her deep, fake-manly voice), Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey does a good job of keeping Leonor's emotions in check, while trying her best to stay in character as "male" Leonardo, a womanizer. Leonor's goal is simple: Kill the man who scorned her, or win him back. Along with her servant, Ribete (Luis Simon), she arrives in Brussels as a guest of Don Fernando de Ribera (Carlos Del Valle), who is really her brother, but believes his male guest is his cousin. There, she meets with her target, Don Juan, played to perfection by Mel Rocher, whose thick Sevillian accent, regal purple suede coat and extremely large ego bring one of the world's great seducers convincingly to life. In Belgium, Don Juan is already in hot pursuit of the voluptuous Estela (Cynthia Benjamin). He immediately becomes a hero after saving Estela and her cousin Lisarda (Julieta Maroni) from an attack by bandits in the outskirts of Brussels. The city is represented by a beautifully decorated set of lush forest, gloomy clouds and large trees that double as balconies in later scenes of the play. Don Juan soon gets a taste of his own medicine when Estela loses interest in him and begins flirting with Don Leonardo, who has had to compete for Estela's attentions with two additional, actual men -- Fernando and Prince Ludovico of Pinoy (Timothy Andres Pabon). (Estela picks Leonardo after he woos her with lines like, "Your two eyes like two suns that imperiously display their light amongst lightning bolts and arrows.") Later, in the garden, Don Juan and Leonardo prepare for the critical final fight -- with switchblades. Fernando learns that Don Juan has dishonored his sister, and loses all respect for his once-trusted friend. Don Juan, scared for his own safety, proclaims he still loves Leonor. Don Leonardo steps away from the fight, goes into the woods, quickly changes clothes, and comes back immediately as -- guess who? -- Leonor. Ultimately, the complications are tidily resolved in a happy ending for alI -- a fun, if slightly cheesy, way to wrap up a thoroughly enjoyable play. *** WHAT: "Stripping Don Juan" ("Valor, agravio y mujer"), a 17th-century comedy by Spanish playwright Ana Caro Mallen de Soto, directed by Hugo Medrano WHERE: Gala Hispanic Theatre-Tivoli, 3333 14th Street NW (play in Spanish, with English surtitles above and below the stage) WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 22 TICKETS: $20 to $34. PHONE: 800/494-TIXS WEB SITE: MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Monday, September 04, 2006

Los Amigos take club by electrofunk storm
By Alfredo Flores
Published September 4, 2006

It was a new album and a new venue, but the same old crazy fun when the Venezuelan electrofunk group Los Amigos Invisibles celebrated the release of its new album "SuperPop Venezuela" with a three-hour Latin dancing, booty-shaking performance at the 9:30 Club Friday night -- the band's first appearance there after years of sold-out shows at the smaller Black Cat. It was apparent from the start that much of the audience had been to an LAI show before. Many sported Amigos T-shirts, others wore disco-era clothing, and those who didn't dress the part made sure to leave their inhibitions at the door and were prepared to dance their hearts out. The concert started with the smash single "Amor" -- an appropriate theme to the night. "Amor for the Spanish, amour for the French. Love in any language always means the same," sang lead singer and self-proclaimed Latin playboy Julio Briceno (aka "Chulius") shaking maracas in a military-style bucket hat and green shirt. Love was indeed in the air as couples paired off on the spacious dance floor, dancing salsa to Latin-tinged electronica, cumbia, rock, soul and funk beats. Many of the ladies crowded to the front of the stage to get a better look at the handsome lead singer, joined up front by lead guitarist Jose Luis Pardo (appropriately dubbed "DJ Afro" on account of his hair style and duties as the opening act's disc jockey); and the suavely goateed bass guitarist Jose Rafael Torres (aka "Catire"). Now in their 15th year together, the group has come a long way from its much darker grunge rock roots in native Caracas -- a city that, like the band, embraced various types of world music when international investment in the nation's oil started to boom in the 1970s. It's had its fair share of accolades -- including a Latin Grammy nomination for the 2004 release "Venezuela Zinga Son Vol. 1," which loosely translates to "The Largest Love-making Session in Venezuela." Despite fame, LAI has always chosen to play in smaller venues to be closer to the audience. Mr. Briceno's energy, passion for his craft and love of his adoring fans was apparent from the start. During most of the concert he pointed, winked and flirted with female fans, holding his microphone sensually close to his lips while belting out sexy songs such as "Cuchi Cuchi" ("Booty Booty"). While the lyrics were raunchy at times, the bass-driven beats -- helped by keyboardist Armando "Monsieur Armand" Figueredo, Mauricio "Maurimix" Arcas on the congas and Manuel "Mamulo" Roura on drums -- were rarely objectionable. The audience, especially those who didn't understand Spanish, couldn't have cared care less about the words, preferring to get down and dance to the retro '70s-style music. Neither longtime Amigos aficionados nor that evening's converts were disappointed, as evidenced by the many calls for "otra, otra, otra" ("more") and the band's quadruple encore.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Warm Latin flavor makes Bossa comfortable
Current Correspondent
Photo Credit Bill Petros/The Current

It was a typical Saturday night at Bossa Bistro and Lounge. The candlelights flickered. Droves of people of all nationalities walked through the gigantic carpetlike drape covering the front door. Couples cuddled on the couches, sipping their tasty Brazilian specialty drinks — mainly mojitos and caipirinhas. Downstairs, Alfredo Mojica and his Cubano Groove salsa band were jamming while a small group of dancers did their thing. And upstairs, Nayas, my favorite local Latin rock band, was playing cover songs from my alltime favorite indierock/ reggae/global musician, Manu Chao. You’re probably wondering about the location of this cool, bohemian spot. You might be surprised if I told you it was right in the heart of the city, in a location that has gone largely astray from its Latin, African and other minority roots to become a yuppieville of sorts, full of pricey condos and swank martini bars. Bossa is an abnormality in the recently gentrified Adams Morgan, seeking to bring back some of the Latin flavor and music lost over the years, according to general manager Wagner Depinho. Because of the area’s changes, I was surprised to “discover” Bossa while walking through the famed 18th Street strip of bars and nightclubs on a cold January night in 2004, a few months into the lounge’s existence. At 2463 18th St., Bossa is sandwiched between two other live-music venues with wooden patios out in front — Ghana Café and Madam’s Organ. While the exteriors are similar, what brought me into Bossa was the lively music you can see and hear through the lounge’s large, glass-windowed front. Once I entered, it felt like I was walking into someone’s comfortable living room, with warm, dimly lit candles the size of a desk lamp, and couches and small tables comfortably spread out on the floor. A large wooden bar is filled with Brazilian and American beers and liquors, and the main music stage is just to the right of the entrance. There is an art gallery of portrait photographs lined up on the exposed brick wall. It’s a very inviting atmosphere, with plush maroon Arabian-style couches and a friendly staff. On this particular Saturday night, all the couches were packed (it was just before midnight), but I was drawn upstairs by the sound of Nayas playing one of my favorite Manu Chao songs, “Mr. Bobby,” an ode to Bob Marley. Not surprisingly, there were other Manu fans jamming upstairs, singing along to the song, bobbing their heads and waving their hands. Even though it was a year before I would first see Manu Chao perform live, Nayas’ performance
seemed familiar, as if it was Manu there with his band. While the music may be the initial draw for the foot traffic on 18th Street, the food and drinks likely convince many to stay. As with its variety in terms of music, Bossa has a wide-ranging menu, filled with yummy South American and Persian comfort foods all made with organic ingredients and offered at surprisingly affordable prices. The drinks are also delicious. The name Bossa is a reference to bossa nova, the relaxing jazz music from Brazil. For that reason, the lounge pays special attention to its signature Brazilian drinks, caipirinha and mojitos. It’s now been a little over two years since I first stepped foot into this delightful lounge. During that time, I’ve seen Nayas numerous times, as well other fabulous bands of all types — bossa nova, salsa and American and Latin jazz — and even stand-up comedy. When I had my 25th birthday party at Bossa, it was amazing how at home the staff made me feel. I was also there for New Year’s 2006, when the lounge offered an amazing spread of Brazilian-style steak, hummus and veggies before the clock struck 12 and free champagne at the stroke of midnight. These are the moments I live for — and the reasons I call Bossa one of my favorite places in D.C.