Fiesta Latina: Juntos y Unidos

Everywhere you turn, the traditional pulse of Latin American music is heating up the mainstream.

The recent hit movie The Buena Vista Social Club is just one example of the way the lively, layered rhythms of Latin percussion have penetrated North American consciousness. And these rhythms are quickly infiltrating everyday life, not only for those of Latin heritage, but for any music lover who appreciates an intricate beat.

This weekend, the age-old musical traditions of the Caribbean and Central and South America can be heard live, locally, as part of the third annual Fiesta Latina.

“Juntos y Unidos” (“together and united”) is the theme of Fiesta Latina 2000. It’ll be held Saturday, Sept. 23, coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, in an effort to celebrate Latin American culture and heritage through the traditional forms of music, dance, native food, and arts and crafts.

The Asheville Art Museum co-sponsors the event, which gives attendees the chance to absorb the sights, sounds and flavors of an international festival within the confines of Pack Square. Museum Executive Director Pamela Myers remarked on the event’s remarkable growth: “An exhibition of Latin American fiber arts traditions was the genesis of Fiesta Latina. With a lot of help from a very active community, last year’s celebration drew more than 10,000 people, and this year we expect even more.”

As usual, the entertainment schedule is as enticing as a still-intact pinata: Fiesta Latina serves up something for everyone, with a spectrum of activities that includes storytelling, puppet-making, pinata-breaking and even a rappelling demonstration by the Asheville Fire Department.

The main stage, however, is reserved for la musica, where headlining bands West End Mambo and Solazo will offer their shimmering polyrhythms. Also on the bill is DJ Sandra, who puts her spin on things throughout the festival, radio host Dave Gonzales of WNCW, and Solazo’s Vladimir Espinoza, who’ll offer dance lessons. WLOS reporter Emily Lopez emcees the event; and a first this year is a fashion show, sponsored by Boutique on Lexington Avenue.

West End Mambo is a high-energy eight-piece that performs Latin jazz, salsa and traditional styles including mambo, bolero, rumba and guaracha, laying down dizzying percussion under their original songs. The always-hot Solazo — rooted in Cuba, Argentina and Chile — offers sensual Cuban rhythms heightened by the haunting notes of the Andes. This group’s diverse influences (members have been known to cruise from flamenco to mambo within a single song) are central to their sound — what comes out is true contemporary Latin dance music mixed with soulful ballads.

DJ Sandra — who also hosts WNCW’s weekly Sunday-night radio show, “Ritmo Latino” — expresses her vision of Fiesta Latina 2000 this way: “[It is a] Latin American culture celebration for people of all ages and backgrounds. There is a lot of diversity within the [international] Latin community, [with] 21 Spanish-speaking countries. … [We hope] to help everyone experience the different cultures that make up the entire Latin culture.”

She adds, “ALAS [Asheville Latin Americans for Advancement Society] will have information booths specifically for bilingual people.” These cultural-awareness oases will display art and information about the history, current events and traditions of certain Latin/Hispanic countries, including Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and Puerto Rico.

Closer to home, ALAS president and event chair Edna Campos offers insight into the local Latin population: “We are a community that is very diverse. We encompass people from many different ancestries. In terms of numbers, the last census showed that there were 4,700 Latinos living in this area; however, we think that the number is really closer to twice that. Hopefully by the new census there will be a significant increase.

“We are a group that has all different occupations and lifestyles,” she stresses, adding, “Some of us are monolingual Spanish speakers and some of us are monolingual English speakers.”

DJ Sandra, meanwhile, views both Ritmo Latino and Fiesta Latina as opportunities that are “all about music, and spreading Latin culture to the people.” She also points out that there is, as yet, no Spanish-speaking radio station in Asheville. Thus, she uses her air time to “introduce people to new music.”

The DJ describes the Latin sound as “very positive and rhythmic and danceable.” What’s more, she proclaims,”It’s healing music.”

Fiesta Latina 2000 — sponsored by the Asheville Art Museum, the Asheville Parks & Recreation Department, ALAS and the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s New Leaf Fund — will be held Saturday, Sept. 23, in Pack Square, beginning at 1 p.m.

An indoor stage in the Pack Place lobby will showcase local acts Daniel Davila, a singer/songwriter and musician who mixes Spanish and English lyrics in classical, Latin, blues and jazz compositions; and Dueto Preludio, which features Francisco Serna (guitar) and Beatrice Lamb (vocals) playing traditional Spanish and Mexican boleros (love songs).

West End Mambo takes the main stage at 1:30 and 7:20 p.m. (Also catch them at The Bier Garden on Haywood Street, around 10 p.m.) Solazo plays Fiesta Latina at 5:45 and 8:45 p.m. The festivities will end with a rumba finale — a percussion-heavy impromptu jam session.

For more info on Fiesta Latina 2000, call the Asheville Art Museum at 253-3227.

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