Berlin Jukebox: Esquina Latina

Article published on July 1, 2014
Article published on July 1, 2014

With nine band mem­bers and many in­stru­ments “Es­quina Latina” is prob­a­bly one of the biggest bands of Berlin. And by doing this the band wants to es­tab­lish Afro-Cuban Salsa in the cap­i­tal city. Cafeba­bel re­cently spoke with three of its mem­bers.

Most peo­ple as­so­ci­ate salsa with Latin Amer­ica. Very few would think of Berlin when talk­ing about hot sounds. But in the cap­i­tal there is more than just bor­ing melodies. Since 2010 Es­quina Latina has been play­ing afro-cuban music here. The band makes a sur­pris­ingly new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tra­di­tional music from artists like Bebo Valdez, Ray Bar­retto or “Buena Vista So­cial Club”.  And this, with nine band mem­bers, vo­cals and many in­stru­ments: per­cus­sion, drums, alto sax­o­phone, bass, gui­tar, piano, bari­tone sax­o­phone and trum­pet. 

How did you come up with the idea to play salsa?

Tobi: A few years ago, I took some drum­ming lessons and back then my teacher en­cour­aged me to­wards this di­rec­tion. He him­self had been taught by a very fa­mous Conga-player. This seemed to fit perfectly for us, as me and Tuz were search­ing some­thing new at the time. At first Es­quina Latina was, also, a kind of an art self-study-pro­ject:  we cap­tured the style and then de­vel­oped our own per­sonal voice.

Henry: This music is ex­tremely lively and it car­ries me away every time, even though per­son­ally I don’t lis­ten to it that often. How­ever, I have a real deep con­nec­tion with it, al­though I can’t re­ally ex­plain it. More­over, like Funk and Jazz it be­longs to a sim­ple but at the same time quite com­plex style of art that holds so much po­ten­tial for a mu­si­cian.

Does any of you have a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Latin Amer­ica?

Henry: Yes, my fa­ther has a Cuban wife and I have also been in Cuba my­self. Since I vis­ited, I have a very close bond with that fam­ily and that coun­try. That is one of the rarest spots on earth where some­one can still ex­pe­ri­ence the “old times”.

"La­gri­mas Ne­gras"

What is spe­cial about your music? How would you de­scribe your per­sonal style?

Tobi: We play Salsa. But we also have many other in­flu­ences, in par­tic­u­lar from Funk, Jazz and Blues – which is the style we orig­i­nally come from.

Lea: Even if we make cov­ers of songs, we try to en­rich them: we make new arrange­ments, for ex­am­ple we might change the line of the wind in­stru­ments.

Tobi: That is also the case for elec­tric gui­tars, as often they are not pre­sent in the ex­ist­ing arrange­ments.

Henry: Of course, we play Salsa, like many, but ours is “young and fresh”. We also have the flow, the vigor and the en­ergy that comes from our pub­lic and from our­selves.

"El Cuarto de Tula"

Which are your per­sonal role-mod­els?

Tobi: We have been ob­vi­ously in­spired by the “Buena Vista So­cial Club”. The album is quite im­pres­sive. Per­son­ally I like “Los Van Van”, one of the Latin Jazz bands from Cuba. Apart from that, I find the fu­sion be­tween Jazz and Salsa very fas­ci­nat­ing.

Lea: Glo­ria Es­te­fan is re­ally good; es­pe­cially her salsa record “Mi tierra”. I can iden­tify with her voice and gen­er­ally I like her singing style. Un­for­tu­nately there are a few women that sing salsa. I some­what lack role-mod­els.

Henry: Tito Puente, Perez Prado, Buena Vista So­cial Club and James Brown.

You have just ap­peared at the “Karneval der Kul­turen”. The “Fete de la musique” comes next, today. What does Berlin mean to your music and for you per­son­ally?

Lea: Berlin is ob­vi­ously our home­town, the city that de­fines us. But Berlin is also a big stage, where we go out on the streets.

Henry:  Thus, we have quite a mixed pub­lic. And po­ten­tially all parts of the pop­u­la­tion can have ac­cess. Berlin is a re­ally tol­er­ant, fucked up, beau­ti­ful, ugly, crazy and en­ter­tain­ing city.

"La vida es un car­naval": Es­quina Latina per­formed at the Carnival of Cultures 2014.

Tobi: This city pro­vides with many pos­si­bil­i­ties to have ac­cess to music. In Wed­ding there is a big Turk­ish speak­ing com­mu­nity with re­spec­tive music in­flu­ences. And that goes, in prin­ci­ple, for all in­flu­ences. You can lis­ten to music any­where and make it your­self. We make Salsa. There are not so many salsa bands here. Most of them are rel­a­tively small. And we are here with nine peo­ple, which is rare. But we have ob­vi­ously the right sound.

And how do you see the fu­ture for Es­quina Latina?

Tobi: We ob­vi­ously want to try new Arrange­ments. This is why we have record­ings al­ready planned. Fi­nally, we will try a small out­door ses­sion: in parks, with­out the aid of tech­nol­ogy more or less and keep every­thing short. Dance with every­one.

Lea: Sim­ply put, pack our boxes and go out, for ex­am­ple to play in Mauer­park. We want to be mo­bile and to play for even more danc­ing crowds

If you want to watch Es­quina Latina per­form live, you can go to their con­cert tonight: The band will play at 20:00 on the stage of Arthen­schutzthe­ater (Lüneb­urger Str., 10557 Berlin Mitte).

CAFÉBABEL BERLIN has turned on the JUKEBOX

Fed up with the eternal sunshine of top 10 hits, radio loops and Spotify playlists? From April 2014 onwords, we will introduce you to young musicians, DJ and live acts from Berlin who still have the musical power to surprise you. Check out the Juke­box! More tracks und play­lists on Face­book and Twit­ter.