After the success of its annual festival at the Hollywood Bowl, mariachi music in Los Angeles developed so much that some claim that the city has replaced Guadalajara as the mariachi capital of the world. Will something similar happen with salsa?
The second annual Salsa and Latin Jazz Festival, held Saturday night at the Bowl, drew a crowd of more than 13,000 (twice as many as the first edition) and was a fast-paced artistic success that could go a long way toward making the event the heart of the growing local salsa community.
The excitement started early, with Tito Puente and his Latin Jazz All-Stars performing Hilton Ruiz's "New Arrival." Putting Puente as the opening act--he's usually a headliner--was an unconventional move by the promoters, but in the end it proved most effective. When Ruben Blades wrapped up the show with "Pedro Navaja," his biggest hit, the house was on fire. The ballots are in: Blades is back.
However, it's hard to steal any night from Oscar D'Leon, who went from salsa to bolero to cumbia and even ranchera, amazingly keeping the audience on its feet even during the slow numbers. He shared a song with Celia Cruz and special guest Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, but the fiftysomething Venezuelan, all but unanimously regarded as today's best salsa singer, could have stayed forever.
Cruz's presence has long been a symbolic affair. Still possessing a uniquely powerful pitch and irresistible charm, it's obvious that singing gets more difficult for her each time out.
Only her larger-than-life presence allows her to finish convincingly, but make no mistake--this is not the same Celia, despite an adoring audience that seems unconcerned about her shortcomings. Where she lost her voice by the eighth song a year ago, now she misses notes from the very beginning. She still has the guts to gradually begin taking charge, but only for short periods.