Latino music scene adds vibrant touch to Sonoma County

Music is a way for a culture to express itself, and the well-established dance events, live music performances and bands with long histories in Sonoma County are testament to the vibrant influence of the local Latino community.

Few weekly dance events are as enduring or popular as Santa Rosa Salsa’s “Sensual Salchata Nights,” held every Sunday night at the Flamingo Resort’s Lounge on Fourth Street. Irene Silva founded Santa Rosa Salsa in 2001 with a clear goal of bringing great live salsa music to Sonoma County and providing the community with a crucial resource, while sharing her love of the music and dance.

“It’s quite possibly the longest-running salsa event in the Bay Area,” Silva said.

Before it becomes a full-blown night of dancing and drinking, Santa Rosa Salsa provides two dance lessons: from 7 to 8 p.m. when instructors teach the basics of salsa and 8:15 to 9:15 p.m., when they teach a bachata lesson.

“The instructors are really clear, which I think is really key for the night,” Silva said.

Silva emphasizes that people can come without any experience and without a partner.

“There’s a big misconception that you need to come with a partner,” she said. “It’s a really comfortable environment, and it’s good for your health - it’s great cardio.”

Lexi Castillo, 24, says she goes salsa dancing every Sunday night, either at the Flamingo Resort or in San Francisco. The Guatemalan-Italian said she enjoys the inclusive atmosphere the night provides.

“It’s usually packed wall-to-wall with people of every demographic and every age group,” she said.

For those looking specifically to listen to a live band while getting their salsa dancing fix, Santa Rosa Salsa also hosts what’s called their “Sultry Salsa Nights” on the first Saturday of every month at the Flamingo Lounge. The night begins with two salsa lessons: a beginner’s class from 7 to 8 p.m. capped by an intermediate class from 8 to 9 p.m.

The band starts immediately after the lessons, playing until about 12:30 a.m., when a DJ takes over.

Additionally, four holiday weekends a year - Labor Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day weekends - the Sunday bachata event features live music. Silva said she only brings top-notch musicians from the Bay Area and claims the select performers are either Grammy Award-winning musicians or trained by Grammy winners.

The next live music event is May 29 and features a set by Montuno Swing, led by Grammy winner Christian Tumalan.

While Santa Rosa Salsa provides a resource educating the community with dance, musician Cristina Briano and her band, De Colores, have been performing in Sonoma County since 1978.

According to Briano, De Colores plays music from all Latin American countries without focusing on a single genre or style of music. However, in their early days, the music they performed had strong political and social messages.

“When we first started performing, we considered ourselves ‘cultural workers’ because we felt our music helped bridge whatever divide existed between the Latino community and the community at large,” she said. “We felt that music always helped unite people.”

The group’s Sonoma County roots run deep, and it’s no surprise they’ve performed in rallies, marches and political events.

“Now, we perform a lot of Latin-American music and old rancheras and things people love to hear, exposing people to the different cultural genres,” Briano said.

Today, De Colores performs frequently at Gaia’s Garden on Mendocino Avenue and events at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. Their next performance at Gaia’s is May 27. For those who’ll miss that performance, catch them playing at the Sonoma County Fair or Cotati’s Accordion Festival this summer.

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