Red Deer’s Grupo Konga brings Latin music to new audiences

The 10 musicians mix it up with salsa, merengue, bachata tunes

With musicians from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela – as well as Alberta and Quebec – Red Deer’s Grupo Konga is truly a multicultural, multilingual band.

Communication is rarely a problem, however, among the 10 members of Central Alberta’s Latin music group.

“My English is not so good, but music is the same language,” said percussionist Saul Castro, from El Salvador.

Montreal-born band director Claude Godin feels music is “a language that can be spoken differently by different people.”

Change a song’s cadence and it shifts genres, from country to rock to blues.

In Latin music parlance, you can speed up the tempo, add bass drum and create a merengue.

Slow things down and stress syncopation and you’ve got a bachata.

Godin, a seasoned saxophonist known for performing jazz and blues, wasn’t even sure he’d like Latin music when Grupo Konga musicians asked him to join their band last fall, “to help us get to the next level.”

He rose to the challenge of a totally new musical style — and discovered that he really enjoys playing salsa, merengue, bachata and cumbia tunes.

“I thought, Wow! Everything I was told about Latin music is wrong,” said the musician, who discovered it’s actually based on a diversity of complex rhythms.

Grupo Konga was started seven years ago by newcomers to Alberta from Central and South America. They began playing together as a way of keeping their musical and cultural traditions alive.

Castro said it helped make connections in a new country, while smoothing the transition.

The band’s membership has changed over the years, but now also includes: Vinicio Blanco on vocals and percussion, vocalist Edgar Cruz, Alex Corzo on keyboards, Freddy Ruiz on bass guitar, Manny Valencia on the timbal drum, Andrew Ludtke on trombone, Kevin Mendoza on vocals and percussion, and Todd Petersen on trumpet.

Some of the musicians come for bimonthly practises in Red Deer from Edmonton and Calgary.

Godin envisions adding another five members.

After the success of the festive Cinco de Mayo event at The Vat — which got people from all cultures up on the dance floor last month — the musicians are interested in performing at more Central Alberta clubs and private functions.

Blanco, who’s played with Grupo Konga in Calgary and Edmonton, looks forward to sharing his rich musical culture with more local audiences. “We like to give it a Canadian twist,” he said.

For more information, please visit the band’s Facebook page, or email saxmania2005@yahoo.ca.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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