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Salsa New Year 

by Mike Corrigan


Of all the parties that will be raging at local watering holes New Year's Eve, this one grabbed my skull and took it for a ride. And rides, it turns out, are most definitely part of the deal. Tuesday night, two of downtown's most beloved temples of live music are teaming up to turn you on with a double dose of Latin sounds, compliments of two superb bands, San Diego's Agua Dulce (at the B-Side) and Spokane's own Milonga (at Mootsy's). One $10 cover charge will get you into both shows all night long -- and make you eligible to enjoy limousine service between the two clubs. Seriously. Too underclothed or wasted to shuffle the three blocks that separates the B-Side and Mootsy's? No problem. Revelers can take in their fill of one band then hop the limo to catch the other without missing more than an acceptable number of beats.


And yeah, you heard right. Those beats are in every way of the Latin persuasion. We're talking a collection of rhythm-heavy yet melodic styles ranging from Afro-Cuban, salsa, samba and bossa nova to Latin jazz, reggae, funk and Tex-Mex -- all tenderly arranged and passionately executed to assure a lively and irresistibly danceable concoction.


The seven-piece Agua Dulce ("Sweetwater") draws inspiration from the traditional sounds of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Brazil. Brothers Tizoc and Joaquin Hernandez form the backbone of the band on bass and drums, respectively. They've played with each other for over 15 years, achieving true drum-bass simpatico. Dante Loaiza sings lead in English and Spanish as well as playing the Puerto Rican guitar, trumpet and percussion. Israel Maldonado sings lead in Spanish and Portuguese and plays classical and Brazilian guitar and leads the Brazilian percussion. On the keyboards, Cuban guitar and lead English vocals is Dante Thomas. On congas and percussion is Paul Lopez. Since forming in 1997, Agua Dulce has performed all over the world (France, Holland, even Iceland) and is currently on tour promoting its self-produced CD, Searching For Juana.


Back in our own little corner of the world, accordion player Nicolas Vigil put Milonga together just over a year ago after the breakup of his previous Latin group project, Mas Y Mas.


The six-piece band includes Vigil and his sister, Jennifer, on lead vocals, Armando Arguello and Dan McElfish (also both of Jupiter Effect) on bass and guitar, Miguel Cortez (of Fuego and Soul Proprietor) on congas and Kali Garcia on drums.


Vigil claims he owes his emergence as a Latin musician to what was, essentially, a chance occurrence.


"That's a story in itself," he says. "I've only been in music three years. It all started when I was cleaning the basement one night and found an accordion in the closet. And I taught myself how to play it."


Who but a few fearless souls out there would look at an instrumental contraption so impenetrable, so outright intimidating (at least to the eye) and say to themselves, "hell yeah"? Teach yourself accordion? How?


"I don't know," he laughs. "For one thing, I was drinking. And listening to Mexican music. I grew up listening to that stuff, so I knew how it was supposed to sound. I'd just sit there by ear and kind of memorize the notes. I listened a lot. I was listening to a lot of Los Lobos and stuff like that."


Milonga has spent the last year converting widely divergent Spokane audiences with all manner of music preferences to the variety and fun intrinsic in a live Latin music experience. The band has brought its festive sound to the local stages of First Night and Pig Out in the Park as well as various Cinco de Mayo celebrations and nightclubs such as Mootsy's. "Good" also refers to the fact that Vigil sits in with other bands around town (Jupiter Effect for one) and even lends his raging accordion stylings to a national touring Latin group called Ozomatli that recently snagged a Latin Grammy and frequently tours with Santana and Los Lobos.


"Bumbershoot 2000 is when I first met Ozomalti and played one of their songs," he says. "Last summer, I went on tour with them. Every time they come around the Northwest, I go hook up."


Vigil says Milonga is an amalgam of personalities and influences from all over the country and the world, though most of the members consider themselves firmly Spokane-based.


"My sister and I were both born and raised in Spokane. Pretty much everybody in the band is from Spokane, although three of them aren't originally from here. Our conga player was born in Saginaw, Michigan, our bass player is from East L.A. and our drummer is originally from south Texas. It's cool because they bring in a lot of different influences."


That confluence of influences -- both traditional and contemporary -- ultimately produced Milonga's pan-Latin sound.


"We play every style of Latin music under the sun," Vigil says. "And that's kind of the cool thing about Spokane. If we were out in Yakima or the Tri-Cities, we'd probably just play Tex-Mex because of all the people from Mexico there. But here, you've got a really diverse crowd, people from Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain even. So we've got to have a diverse mix of Latin styles."


Advanced tickets to the Salsa New Year's Party are available at Mootsy's and The B-Side.
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