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El Gran Combo spices up evening at DPAC

Laura Miller | Monday, October 9, 2006

Internationally acclaimed salsa band El Gran Combo offered a lively and stimulating performance at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts last Wednesday.

El Gran Combo has rocked the world of Latin music ever since its formation in 1962. After the release of its first album in 1963, the group quickly rose in stature, touring all over Latin America. Despite a somewhat constantly changing membership, the band has managed to overcome internal problems and continues to produce good music. It was awarded the “Agüeybaná de Oro” prize in 1969, indicating its status as the best music group in Puerto Rico. Since then, it has continued to produce songs that top the charts.

Considering the band’s unique sound, its long-lasting success is less than surprising. An amazing conglomeration of vocal and instrumental talent embodies the spirit of the famous Combo.

On Wednesday, its brass (Taty Maldonado on trumpet and Victor Roderigues and Moisés Nogueras on the trombones) created a big band classic atmosphere. The use of the conga (Miguel Torres), timbales (Domingo Santos) and bongos (Mitchell Laboy) modernized the music while allowing the band to direct each song to embody the salsa culture. Also included on the jam-packed stage were a piano (Rafael Ithier, musical director), alto saxophone (Eddie Perez), saxophone (Freddie Miranda) and bass (Freddie Riviera).

The three vocalists (Charile Aponte, Jerry Rivas and Papo Rosario) had strong, steady voices, which only added to their general likeability. Their willingness and ability to connect with a much younger audience – which included taking song requests – made the show especially enjoyable.

The three also had choreographed dance moves that partially explain their success in the entertainment industry. These days, it is unusual for popular music groups and singers to fully understand how to produce a good concert. Dancing is usually either distracting or barely enough to keep the audience interested.

El Gran Combo’s expertise in show business was clearly evident in its ability to produce a captivating performance. They successfully engaged a college-aged audience – a crowning achievement considering the young age of the group itself. Many of El Gran Combo’s members are middle-aged or older, but the group had the talent to bridge generational gaps and made the performance entertaining for people of all ages.

This was very well reflected in the diversity of age in those attending the concert. Student attendance is a consistent problem at the DPAC. This problem was partially remedied for El Gran Combo’s performance, because unlike other DPAC events, free tickets were available through several venues for students who took the time to preorder – and the difference in attendance was astounding. While the DPAC was not sold out, there was a larger amount of students present than in many sell-out crowds.

Beyond the numbers, the students in attendance were all extremely excited about seeing El Gran Combo, which was apparent in their participation. Not only was the performance vibrant, but the Notre Dame students also reflected and intensified the energy coming from onstage. During the first song, most of the students had stood up and were dancing by their seats. By the second, most moved down in front of the stage, around the aisles and to the box seats in order to show their salsa skills or have a good time learning some moves.

Although most of the older members of the audience remained seated throughout the performance, it was apparent that they enjoyed watching the students dance. For the final song, El Gran Combo requested everyone to join in the dancing. The DPAC felt alive and electrified.

Between the top-of-the-charts performance from El Gran Combo and the energy from the audience, Wednesday night was more like a party than just one of the days before midterms. El Gran Combo drew out Notre Dame students’ love of dancing by letting the Latin music flow and added spicy flavor to an otherwise typical weekday evening.