Salsa band mixes old and new

Cambalache: a little bit of 'azucar' and a whole lot of 'sabor'

Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2004

Seven years ago, Pancho Chavez moved from Lima, Peru, to Seattle to study toward a business administration degree at the University of Washington. Somewhere along the way, and without any previous musical experience, he ended up as the lead singer for a salsa band.

"My dad likes that story," Chavez joked.

What happened at UW was that Chavez met Camilo Suarez, a Colombian music major. The two hit it off and decided to form a small band - four of five people - to showcase their Southern American cultures.

"We decided that I would run the business part and he would run the music part," Chavez said. "And we had a singer at the time, but the singer left, so (Camilo) just said, 'Why don't you start singing?'"

It was difficult, he said, to master the complex rhythms of salsa singing. On top of that, the band - named Cambalache - began to rapidly expand. New members begat new friends and soon there were 13 players.

Now considered one of the best orchestras, salsa or otherwise, in Seattle, Cambalache plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 19, at the ANB Hall. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors and $55 for families. You can buy them at both Hearthside Books locations, Rainy Day Books and the Observatory.

The tickets include a free salsa lesson with Heather Haugland and Antonio Diaz from 7-7:30 p.m. at ANB. Haugland and Diaz will also host a brush-up salsa class for all former students from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18, at Juneau Dance Unlimited, in the Scottish Rite Temple near Fourth and Seward streets. Call 586-5825 for more information.

This is Cambalache's second trip to Juneau. The group was the guest dance band at the 28th Annual Alaska Folk Festival in April 2002. Photos from the band's Folk Festival appearance and adventures through town are available at Click on "pictures."

"It was incredible; we all loved it," Chavez said. "People were really warm and really great. We didn't know what it was going to be like. It was such a party. We stayed at the Alaskan Hotel, and it went until 7 a.m. every night."

Cambalache includes four Peruvians, five Mexicans and four Americans, and a combination of bongos, timbales, congas, trombone, trumpet, piano and bass. The group's first compact disc, "Clasiqueando," due out April 10, is a compilation of old-style salsa classics and contemporary tunes. It took two years to record and complete. The band will have a few copies in Juneau, though its CD release tour starts April 16.

Cambalache is booked to play Seattle's Folklife Festival, as well as the Victoria Latin Caribbean Festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Three years ago, they were chosen to play at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Seattle. Their club shows in Seattle draw 400 people a night.

"The music in Lima varies," Chavez said. "You have some rock, you have some Latin pop, and then you have a section that is pure salsa."

"The Peruvian salsa dances are a little different," he said. "We try to interact with people. We try to show them that we're having fun on the stage as well. We try to make songs for salsa-lovers and non-salsa-lovers."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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