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The Independent Culture
If anyone should be an inspiration to the legions of non-Latin Europeans dutifully signing on for GCSE salsa classes, Larry Harlow should. Jewish, and the son of a band leader and an opera singer, Harlow veered abruptly towards Latin street music, rather than jazz or the classics at the Music Art High School in New York in the 1950s. "We were right beside Spanish Harlem - I used to listen to the music in the Latino grocers' shops."

Harlow served an apprenticeship playing cha cha chas in the house rumba bands of the borscht belt hotels. In 1956 he visited pre-revolutionary Cuba, fell in love with "the culture and the women", became a santero (initiate of the Afro-Synchretic cult equivalent to voodoo) and immersed himself in the sounds of the great soneros and mambistas, Beny More and Arsenio Rodriguez.

In the 1960s and 1970s his novel rearrangements of trombone, trumpet, violin and flute sections moved him to the centre of New York's Latin scene, working with artists like Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barreto and Willie Colon, the generation whose tough new hybrid sound first came to be called salsa. Harlow was the first artist to be signed by the seminal Fania label, co-wrote the Latin rock opera Hommy (Mark 2 version on the way), played for the famous Mohammed Ali-George Foreman fight in Zaire (a fiasco: everyone came for the fight, not the concert). The last decade has been spent with his own band touring the world.

Last year conga ace Ray Barreto had the idea, inspired by the "fantasy band", an ad hoc group of jamming jazz stars, of reconvening Harlow, himself, singer Adalberto Santiago and cuatro player Yomo Toro as the Latin Legends Band. Thus Harlow makes his first ever London appearance on Saturday (Barreto is a regular performer and Santiago was here last year). No longer a breath- bating prospect, perhaps, but a most intriguing one.

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