You walk through the dark entrance, leaving the tropical night behind. Suddenly, waves of sound crash against you like ocean waves. Breaking a sweat, your heart beats to the rhythm of basses, bongos, bells and brass. The walls seem to throb. The acrid smell of sweat mixed with perfume assails you. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, interrupted by the hypnotic flashes of multi-colored strobes, you realize that it is not the walls that surround you, but the dancers: dozens of dancers twirling, weaving and twirling, limbs. blinking, hips moving in quarters … beat of time. You fill your lungs with the spicy aroma, tighten your belt a little and dive in. Welcome to Chango’s in Cali, Colombia, one of the most popular salsa nightclubs in Latin America.
Cali, a modern and festive city, is located in the heart of the “Valley”. when Colombians say “the Valley” they mean the Cauca Valley, a not so small Garden of Eden one hundred and fifty miles long and about fifteen miles wide between the coastal mountain ranges and the Central Cordillera. Until the turn of the century, this estate was little more than a rural outpost.
Later, with a population of about 15,000, the Valle del Cauca was largely a cattle territory, divided into vast tracts among the “haciendados.” They were proud, almost haughty men who raised cattle for leather and meat. Some had sugar cane plantations that were used to produce the sweetener “panela” and distill the crystalline but powerful “brandy” that is still drunk today. Life was slow, measured, patriarchal, and unchanging.
It has been said that the Cauca region is to Colombia what the South is to the United States. In fact, there are similarities. In times past “noblemen walked the unpaved streets in embroidered velvet or scarlet cloth coats and buttoned with gold and silver, their flowered silk vests and ruffles on their shirts were of the finest cambric,” says Kathleen Romoli. , author. of Colombia: Gateway to. South America. And like the southern states in colonial times, large numbers of slaves were imported to work the fields and serve the nobility.
Time has brought many changes. Today, the vast sugar cane plantations still line the Valley. The mechanized production of cotton, rice and cattle has made Valle del Cauca the most important agricultural area in Colombia, after “Café Rey”. And with economic growth has come the industry. A sleepy colonial city in 1900, Cali has become a huge manufacturing center with over a thousand industries at last count.
There is sauce in the air
However, with all the changes, Cali retains a homey charm, a different personality from other cities, an atmosphere that you might expect to find in the Caribbean. Romoli describes it well:
The most striking thing about Cali today is not the plaza with its imposing government buildings and lines of taxis, along the avenues of giant palm trees, nor the suburbs with its modern villas and churches, whose bells ring melodies instead of ringing like Bogotá , nor the busy factories. It is the penetrating air of joy, almost of joy. Not that it is a city of many diversions; Cali is not gay by virtue of commercial facilities for organized fun, but by the grace of God.
Cali attracts travelers from all over; tourists, businessmen, backpackers, scientists and students. And of course, salsa fans and salsa artists. Recording studios, “rumberias”, “discos” and “viejotecas” abound.
What is the attraction of Cali? The lively atmosphere of the city? The spectacular sunsets? The natural beauty of the soaring Andes? The vaunted beauty of his women? Maybe it’s the weather where it’s always June. Or could it be your extraordinary cleanliness? Many Colombian cities are clean, but Cali is so clean that it stands out. Or maybe it’s the trees and flowers: the rippling crimson and purple bougainvillea that falls in abundance from the walls, the golden cup that drips from the eaves, the waxy bells of the trumpet stream, the poinsettia bushes, the beautiful gardenias, trees with magenta leaves and carmine flowers or others with feathery green – white flowers or clusters of pale pink – the wild extravagance of flowers among which hummingbirds with iridescent green bellies flutter even in winter.
No sauce no dates
Cali has all of these. But undoubtedly for many, the main attraction that draws them to this charming city is salsa music. The sensual and tropical rhythms of salsa permeate the lives of more than two million Caleños. On every bus you will hear salsa. Go for a walk, school or shopping, salsa is in the air. And of course there is salsa on almost all of the more than two dozen local radio stations. Throughout the city, 24 hours a day, salsa plays through the speakers in the streets, parks, stores, cars, portable radios and private homes. Cali lives and breathes Salsa. But why Salsa? Many other musical traditions, styles, and types of folk music flourish in Cali (including traditional Cumbia, where machete-wielding dancers trample women with full breasts and frilly skirts). What is special about the sauce? After all, Vallenatos, a folk music brand with roots dating back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors, is still hugely popular, especially as it was sung by artists like Colombia’s Grammy Award winner Carlos Vives. Boleros (see Luis Miguel’s “Unforgettable”) and merengue continue to have a following here.
Why has this style become so deeply ingrained in culture? For fans, the answer is simple: “I love salsa music.” Whatever the reason for its universal popularity in Cali, salsa is more than just music, more than a dance. It is an indispensable social skill, explains my friend Carmenza: “No salsa, no dating.” You can’t meet others if you can’t dance. “And that’s why there are salsa dance schools all over the city. Lessons are paid by the hour. Prices range from $ 2 to $ 6 per hour for more private, one One-on-one instruction. Group classes develop quickly. Salsa classes are not just the place to go to learn, but also to practice and perfect your movements or pick up new ones. They are a good “meeting place” for residents of the Neighborhood “It’s important to dance really well or you’re boring,” says Sofía, an avid salsa fan.
Cali calls itself the “Salsa Capital of the World,” a title plucked from post-Fidel Cuba and often shared with New York City. But even those who might oppose the “World Capital” will agree that Cali is without a doubt the “Salsa Capital of South America”. Top Latin salsa artists, like New York’s Jerry “King of 54th Street” González, fly in regularly to show off. At any moment you can see all the famous names of salsa, the artists visit the “Queen of Salsa” of Cuba, Celia Cruz; guitarist, singer and songwriter Juan Luis Guerra from the Dominican Republic; Frank Raul Grillo, the Cuban American also known as Machito; Reuben Blades, the popular Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor, and politician renowned for his musical innovations and traditional salsa; Willie Colon; Oscar d’Leon and others.
THE SAUCE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
And you don’t have to go far in this city of dancers to hear all the different styles and variations of salsa. Juanchito, with 120 of the best dance halls, is the rhythmic and beating heart of the Salsa nightlife of Cali. Every week throughout the year, two hundred thousand locals party in this eastern suburb. Cali is full of discos and old clubs for young and old. Latinos of the younger generations tend to prefer a softer and more sentimental music known as Salsa Romantica, popularized by orchestra leaders such as Eddie Santiago and Tito Nieves. Internationally popular salsa singers of the 1990s included Linda “India” Caballero and Mark Anthony. The Puerto Rico-based orchestra “Puerto Rican Power” is another hot group with fervent fans in both Cali and Puerto Rico.
While it is exciting to hear famous salsa music artists from abroad, don’t forget about the many world-class leading groups and salsa musicians from Cali who mix the old with the new. The classic and the innovative. It’s worth a trip to Cali just to hear the vibrant non-traditional sounds of Jairo Varela and Grupo Niche. Or other artists such as “Son de Cali”, the totally female “Orquesta Canela” and Lisandro Meza who also inject new blood into the Cali salsa scene. These and the intoxicating classic salsa sounds of Kike Santander, Joe Arroyo and Eddy Martinez rumble through the air and flow through the veins of the “coca-colos” (from the late teens to the early 20s) and “cuchos” by The same in discos, salsatecas and even old clubs that attract people over 35 years old.
When I arrived in Cali in 1995, I thought my salsa was fine. After all, he had learned some gentle moves from a group of hot Puerto Rican beauties during a summer stint in San Juan. Even in my home state of Pennsylvania, there were opportunities on Friday or Saturday nights to sneak out and mingle with Latinos at our local Hispanic watering holes. I also perfected a fast double step in a rectangular pattern, adding twists and turns to the heavy beat. I had no trouble finding and keeping dance partners. Then in Miami, during a Labor Day weekend retreat, I met a Latina girl. I invited her to dinner and dance later that week at “La Cima”, one of the best salsa clubs in the city, to show my moves. She was impressed. A year later we got married and after a couple more years we moved to his native Colombia.
Colombian salsa is a different beast. The style, rhythm, and rhythm are similar elsewhere, but it’s a different story on the dance floor. My feet recognized the rhythm, but acted like I was wearing Bozo shoes. For a while, I stayed in central places like “Cuarto Venina,” perched on the banks of the knee-deep, brown Cali River. Just listen, don’t dance here. The music is so subdued that you can carry on a conversation between empanadas and cold coastline. It can be the perfect touch for a Sunday afternoon. Today, my pretty Latina and I consider each other “cuchos” (the set of more than 35 years). Ten years have passed. Yet we are still here, still dancing salsa. And I keep showing my movements.