La Rumba Buena: Redeeming the Soul of the Torontonian Salsa Lover One Night at a Time
By: Sebastién Pol
For Garret (DJ Drumspeak) it all began with a mix tape of Willy Colon, Joe Cuba, and Tito Puente he listened to as a teenager. For Anton (DJ Blancon) it all began with La Murga’s trombone intro one night in a bar in Stockholm. Today, after years of exploring a multiplicity of Latin rhythms and collecting hundreds of records from around the world, it is precisely the love for classic salsa what brought them together to make La Rumba Buena[i]; a night exclusively dedicated to salsa brava[ii] in Toronto where you can dance your heart out just as if you were in the barrios[iii] of Cali, San Juan, el Callao, or Havana.
Talking about how they fell in love with salsa dura, both Garret and Anton maintain that being hip-hop kids in the early 90s in Toronto played a significant part in it. “If you listen to 90s East Coast hip-hop, there is a certain hard vibe, an attitude in the music that is influenced by the hardness of being in Harlem or in the Bronx that is present in New York salsa in the 60s and 70s. That was appealing to us”.
Years later, that passion for Latin rhythms translated into an actual cross-cultural exchange that took them to many places in the Americas where they spent months not only learning the language and visiting a variety of salsa clubs, but also collecting vintage records almost with a methodology of trained musical anthropologists. “If you travel and are exposed to the music of the place you are visiting, there is a point where the deep connection between the people and their music makes sense”, says Garret recounting the three months he spent exploring the musical scene in Colombia,
“What in Toronto would be the most obscure die-hard salsa record of the night that any DJ would want to hide from you, a bartender in Cali of an average salsa bar would tell you the name of the band, the year, and even the record label by heart. The knowledge and passion for the music there is unbelievable”.
Acknowledging the fact that they are indebted to people like William Holland Quantic, Miles Cleret of Soundway Records, A Man Called Warwick, and others in Toronto who have paved the way for the recapturing of classic rhythms to new audiences, Garret and Anton have honoured this legacy by creating an all-night vinyl salsa dura in Toronto that resembles the salsatecas[iv] of neighbourhoods in Latin America where people not only dance until their feet hurt, but can sing and play along to live percussion among the flashiest dancers. A true homage to los rumberos[v].
“Since we started DJing around 2008 in the city, we always had a Latin music segment of half an hour or so, and every time we played salsa we saw how the whole vibe changed” says DJ Blancon. “People loved it, so we decided to make it a whole night”.
They say that the original idea was to make a salsa night two or three times a year, but after the first night the people who attended, including the owner of the venue, begged them to create another salsa night soon. Today, hosted by renowned Cuban musician Edrey Riveri (Ogguere) whose interaction with the people in between performances adds heart and soul to the Latin vibe of the event, La Rumba Buena has consolidated itself as a monthly no frills night of pure rhythm, classic tunes, humidity from sweaty bodies, and dancing. It’s a lot of hectic dancing for those able to catch and endure the frenetic rhythms.
Garret and Anton’s vision is to continue creating salsa nights to the point that they would eventually be capable of bringing big names from around the world to Toronto and make an iconic night in the city. As far as I know, we might be witnessing something that could provide a beautiful twist to the salsa scene in Toronto. Who knows? All I know for sure, after having experienced the closest thing to a night of pure salsa from el barrio in Toronto, is that even if it had been true for the Lebron Brothers that “sin negro no hay guaguancó”[vi], it would be hard to deny that in the blood of these two Torontonian DJs there is more than enough rhythm and guaguancó. It is truly contagious.
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[i] La Rumba Buena is a term that refers to a great party in Latin America.
[ii] Salsa dura, also known as salsa brava, is a style of salsa music developed in New York in the 1970s with an emphasis on the instrumental part of the music over the lead vocals.
[iii] Literally “the hood” in Latin America.
[iv] A term that refers to clubs that only play salsa music.
[v] Literally people who love to dance.
[vi] A song of the Lebron Brothers that says that without black people there would not be any “guaguancó” which is one of the traditional Cuban rhythms from which salsa was derived.
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For the next La Rumba Buena check its Facebook site:
For a taste of DJ Blancon and DJ Drumspeak’s classic salsa selection check: