A full house was already on their feet and dancing as golden-age 60s and 70s charanga music played over the PA at Lincoln Center this past evening. Their monthly Friday night Vaya 63 dance party series at the atrium space just south of 63rd Street has become a New York institution and draws major players from across the decades. Charanga America, based in the Bronx since their beginnings in the late 60s, were the latest to get a multigenerational ocean of bodies slinking and twirling, a rare appearance by a band who still enjoy a big fan base.
In the devastation left behind by the hurricane, it’s certain that there were plenty of people in the crowd still uncertain about how their loved ones are doing. But as the scion of a five-decade Nuyorican music legacy, guiro player/singer George Maysonet, Jr. insisted, “Puerto Rico will rise again.” This time out he led the group – in this current incarination, a hefty ten-piece charanga – in place of his dad, the group’s founder, who was unavailable.
Where classic Cuban big band salsa music relies on brass, classic Nuyorican charangas typically feature violin and flute. This version of the group currently has two of the former and one of the latter: barely a couple of minutes into the first brightly vamping number and their bespectacled lead violinist was firing off a long, wildly shivery solo.
The flute took flight on the next groove as the rest of the the sharply dressed group – on elegantly tumbling piano, fat punchy bass, hypnotic congas and wryly emphatic timbales – ran a bubbly, upbeat 1-4-5 Afro-Cuban riff behind the trio of singers.
They waited until about a third way through the show before they broke out their signature 1978 hit, Ayúdame San Antonio, steady clave from the woodblock contrasting with the lushness of the strings as the flute bobbed and weaved in between the call-and-response of the voices. A swaying mambo featured a biting, suspensefully syncopated, blues-infused Fernando Ramos piano solo.
As the night went on, the music grew more majestic and enveloping, a big cha-cha ballad followed by the funnest and funniest tune of the night, an irrepressible 99-percenter anthem capped off by a high-voltage violin solo. The only thing that could have possibly have made this more fun, in a distinctly New York way, would have been a big steaming plate of maduros straight from the pot – with a squeeze bottle of hot sauce. Charanga America don’t play live much anymore but if you get a chance like this…now you know what you don’t want to be missing.
And the free, frequent Thursday night, 7:30 PM concert series at the atrium continues this Sept 28 with hypnotic Niger duskcore guitarist/bandleader Mdou Moctar.