A Salsa Giant

La Sonora Ponceña - El Gigante Sureño
La Sonora Ponceña

El gigante sureño (Codigo Music/Fania 463 950 8014-2, 2011)

This two-CD set is an excellent introduction to one of the essential salsa groups from Puerto Rico, La Sonora Ponceña. The salsa orchestra evolved with the times and this compilation El gigante sureño, spanning over two decades, shows you the fascinating progress.

Enrique ‘Quique’ Lucca Caraballo formed Orquesta Internacional in 1944 in the city of Ponce, in the southern coast of Puerto Rico. The band performed locally. Ten years later, it was renamed La Sonora Ponceña. The main influences were Cuban artists like Arsenio Rodríguez and La Sonora Matancera.

The leader’s son, Enrique Arsenio, was nicknamed Papo. He loved salsa but he was also a fan of jazz musicians such as Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. By 1968, Papo Lucca was La Ponceña’s musical director and arranger. This was also the time when the orchestra released its debut album on the label Inca Records. With this move, Papo joined the extended Fania Records family and eventually replaced Larry Harlow as the official piano player of the renowned Fania All Stars.

La Ponceña had early hits like “Hachero Pa’Un Palo” and “Fuego En El 23”, which are salsa variations of Arsenio Rodríguez standards. Other hits from the early 1970s include the rumbón “Acere Ko” written by Patato and Totico and “Prende El Fogón” which was included in the seminal Desde Puerto Rico A Nueva York LP.

The direction of La Ponceña changed between 1976 and 1979. Papo Lucca was a fan of the excellent progressive rock that was coming out of England and other countries. He incorporated elements of psychedelia, progressive rock, jazz fusion and Brazilian music as well as electronic keyboards and sound effects. La Ponceña released five albums during this period, which some define as “progressive salsa.”

Next came the collaborations with salsa’s biggest stars. In 1979 La Ponceña released La Ceiba, an album recorded with the Queen of salsa, Cuba’s Celia Cruz.

In 1980, the album New Heights came out. The sci-fi album cover design shows a warrior looking at a distant planet. During this period Papo Lucca demonstrated that La Sonora Ponceña was also a powerhouse in the area of authentic Latin jazz.

El gigante sureño is an outstanding collection of fundamental salsa pieces by one of the finest salsa orchestras in the past decades.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. He was also the executive producer of the first Latino feature film made in North Carolina titled “Los sueños de Angélica.”.

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