Ola Fresca Party For Our Right to Fight
There was a wild party at Lincoln Center this past Friday. It wasn’t a celebration of the events of the day – far from it. This was a defiant salute to immigrants and their vast contributions to American culture, instigated by a second-generation Cuban-American.
Ola Fresca frontman/crooner Jose Conde told the sold-out crowd of dancers who packed the floor at the atrium space that he was going to steer clear of politics this particular night, but by halfway through his band’s electrifying set of oldschool salsa dura, mambos and rumbas, he couldn’t resist sending out a dis in the direction of the Trump property a few blocks to the south. Resounding cheers from the twirling couples who packed the dance floor reaffirmed Hillary Clinton’s landslide margin of victory in this city in last year’s election.
The show started with a slinky, seductive, syncopated conga pulse behind Conde’s come-hither baritone. He explained that he was especially psyched to have a four-man brass section – three trombones and a trumpet – along with piano, bass and a three-man percussion section channeling decades of classic Afro-Cuban beats.
A “tale of temptation,” as he put it, was next. Conde took care to explain the blend of metaphors behind La Mano del Rumbero: the drum head being the drummer’s hand, and vice versa. Looking back toward the golden age Cuban salsa of Tito Puente, it was a launching pad for a long series of sometimes subtle, sometimes triumphantly emphatic cadenzas and turnarounds from the timbalero.
Where the night’s first set was for the lovers – winding up with a bouncy anthem chock full of steamy steam-table metaphors – the second was for the fighters. Conde kicked it off with the soul-infused Bandera, a stark and crushingly relevant immigrants’ cross-border narrative. Likewise, the dynamically shifting Conviviencia spoke to the need for burying the hatchet and building unity, a message that was hardly lost on this multicultural audience. Conde is a master at working the crowd: as the show built toward fever pitch at the end, the vamps got more expansive, the percussion breaks longer and by the end, it was easy to imagine a young Conde doing yoga on the beach in his old Miami hometown (true story), hearing classic Fania-era sounds blasting from a boombox across the sand and thinking to himself, “I can do this too.”
This concert was part of Lincoln Center’s Vaya 63 series (the atrium space is just south of 63rd Street). As impresario Jordana Phokompe reminded, her goal is simple: serving the needs of the community. Without any elaboration, she reminded everyone that New York is about thirty percent latino.
These free dance parties feature both big names from as far back as the 70s as well as more current talent; the next one is Feb 24 at 7:30 PM with the intoxicatingly fun Pedrito Martinez Group. In order to beat the line of hopefuls waiting patiently outside to get in, your best bet is to get to the space at least a half an hour before showtime.