To the Latin Beat
By Isabelle Gullo
From tango and salsa
dancers to flamenco and folk musicians, Santa
Barbara is home to an impressive pool of
talented performers. Tinta Latina talks to five
local entertainers who—Hispanic or not—share a
passion for the roots and rhythms of Latin
Fiery and expressive, the
music of Santa Barbara's own flamenco guitarist
and composer Robert Boyd, or "Bertochico,"
transports listeners to Andalusia, Spain. The
artist began his musical training at age six and
has played the guitar for more than 19 years. "I
started with classical guitar as a teenager when
piano wasn't cool anymore," he says.
discovered flamenco at a concert with Javier
Barón at the Livery Theatre in 1994 and
immediately switched his studies from classical
to flamenco. Shortly thereafter he traveled to
Spain only to find what he had sensed back home:
flamenco music was his life calling. "I traveled
around southern Spain, picking up flamenco as I
went, playing at fiestas until 5 a.m.
Experiencing Spanish culture like this was a
life-altering experience for me," he reveals.
Since then, Boyd has studied with such
Spanish masters as José Luis Rodriguez and
Gerardo Nuñez. He is the featured solo artist at
the Bacara Resort & Spa and also performs at
private parties, having entertained for the
likes of Barbara Streisand and Diane Lane.
Additionally, he's composing music for a second
CD as well as for his music and dance company,
Arte y Pasión.
Normally one of Fiesta's
most popular acts, Boyd is taking this year off
to go perform alongside José Luis Rodriguez and
Bailes Ferrer in Miami. "I'm sad to miss Fiesta,
but playing with José Luis is a big honor." To
find out about upcoming concerts, visit http://www.bertoflamenco.com/.
impossible to sit still when listening to Somos
Son, Santa Barbara's own Cuban house band. The
nine-piece group, whose name translates to "We
are Son," has enchanted dancers and music-lovers
at Soho, Ruby's and several major festivals for
the past decade. "Our music is so danceable,"
allows Karl Schiffmann, the band's pianist and
composer. "The rhythms are uplifting and the
With son, the
rhythmic cell, or "clave," is a two-bar measure
pattern, compared to one bar in most music,
including rock and jazz. This, says conga player
Robert Clements, encourages more interplay and
variation. "The clave is what gives the music
the swing. Like they say, ‘Sin clave no hay
All at once vibrant, sensual and
soulful, the unmistakably Cuban beat inspires
dancing from the heart. "Son is at the very root
of Cuban music, and it's at the root of all
salsa," explains Schiffmann, who's traveled to
Cuba several times to study with great musicians
such as Irakere's Chucho Valdes and Cesar "Pupi"
Pedroso of Los Van Van.
While the band's
repertoire includes original songs composed by
Schiffmann, most pieces are covers of tunes by
Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Afro-Cuban All-Stars,
Buena Vista Social Club and many other
arrangements of traditional Cuban classics,
among them Irakere. A number of these songs are
recorded on the group's first CD, to be released
this summer. "It will include tunes we play at
almost every gig, mixing salsa, cha-cha-cha,
cumbia, bolero and son styles," says Schiffmann,
who reveals there's already talk of producing
another CD with more original material.
Whatever the future brings, members are
happy with the band's accomplishments so far.
"I'm proud that we've been able to create a
salsa band in Santa Barbara and keep it together
and perform for a decade," says trumpet player
Barry Nitikman. Don't miss Somos Son at the
MultiCultural Festival August 20. For more
information, visit: http://www.somosson.com/.
may not be Latino, but he
sure knows Latin dance. From salsa to rumba to
cha-cha-cha, the dance instructor and performer
is known for his smooth, graceful style and
moves infused with the spontaneity of hip hop
and Cuban rhythms. "Latin dance has a sense of
etiquette and class," says Faulkner, "and yet
you're free to apply your own style."
Faulkner started dancing nine years ago
at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Portland,
Oregon, his native town. After a few years of
teaching ballroom, swing and Latin dance, he got
involved with a Portland performing group, Sabor
Latino, with whom he traveled to Italy, France,
Spain and China. "Dancing really opened my eyes
to the world," Faulkner reveals.
2002, the salsero came to Santa Barbara, where
he spends his time performing and inspiring
dance students of all ages through his business,
Taste of Rhythm (http://www.tasteofrhythm.com/).
He teaches private and group classes at Santa
Barbara Dance Studio on Ortega Street as well as
at UCSB and Santa Barbara Junior High. "I love
teaching as much as I love dancing," says
Faulkner. "I've seen many times how dancing can
change a person's life."
Tango Santa Barbara
begins with the music," says Argentinean-born
Fay Villanueva of Tango Santa Barbara when asked
what it is she loves the most about tango. "The
richness and beauty of the lyrical expression is
incredible." She adds, "Because there are so
many composers and orchestras of the great tango
era, there is an equal amount of styles from
each period open to study, not to mention the
wave of tango interpretation that ‘techno-tango'
For the past 15 years,
Villanueva and her partner, Brian Griffin, have
kept tango alive in Santa Barbara through
teaching and performing at venues like the
French Festival, Multicultural Dance and Music
Festival and Dancer's Ball. Most recently, the
duo enticed audiences at the annual BASSH at the
Lobero Theater. The couple teaches classes
privately, at UCSB and Café Buenos Aires and
through the City Parks and Recreation
Department's Adult Dance program.
the years, Villanueva and Griffin have built a
solid partnership on and off the dance floor.
"Brian is the main instructor and I work
primarily with women's technique since a woman's
needs differ distinctly from those of men
leaders," explains Villanueva, noting that the
two still train with top tango maestros. "Simply
said: Brian is the head of Tango Santa Barbara
and I'm the heart." Visit http://www.tangosantabarbara.com/
for more information.
Celebrating the rich musical
heritage of Cuba and Mexico, folk music group
Cascada de Flores performs for audiences across
America and south of the border. The talented
quartet divides its time between the Bay Area
and Santa Barbara, having entertained locally at
Soho, the Unitarian Congregation Hall, Casa de
María, Reds Café and Coach House. "We get the
best of both worlds: the diversity of the
cosmopolitan, and the depth of community as we
find in Santa Barbara," says the band's flautist
and dancer Sabra Weber, who lives in town.
Cascada de Flores first started playing
together in 1999. Passion for songs and
traditional dance music of Mexico and Cuba
inspired the band's repertoire, which consists
of Mexican country music (ranchera and son),
Mexican and Cuban canción (song) as well as
bolero and Cuban son. "It's a weave of
traditional and popular sounds that continues to
inspire our existence," Weber notes. "We love to
make connections between the songs and their
roots, as well as connections with music of the
United States. Yet, it's our love of older, or
traditional, music and its original contexts
that communicates so well with our audiences."
Band members also enjoy passing on what
they learn to audiences of all ages, performing
at schools, libraries and centers throughout
California. "It began as a showcase of the
variety of Mexican music and dance and somehow
turned into a story that also touches upon that
old Mexican humor that many people here haven't
had the privilege to experience," says Weber.
"Once a girl at an elementary school in Vallejo
came up after the show and said ‘Now I'm glad
I'm Mexican.' That was a wonderful
A Cascada de Flores show in
Santa Barbara is in the works for Sunday, July
23. Check out http://www.cascadadeflores.com/
for venue updates.