Sunday nights are not known for attracting crowds for a 9 PM show. However, a show by Los Van Van, the songo group dubbed the “Rolling Stones of Salsa”, proved to be an exception. During four nights at Yoshi’s, a jazz and contemporary music club in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, the Cuban band drew packed crowds. On this particular Sunday evening, the dance floor was packed with a coterie of enthusiastic dancers.
Los Van Van was founded in December 1969 by bassist Juan Formell (who did not make the tour: see below) along with fellow conservatory-educated musicians. Amalgamating the sounds of soul, disco, rock, and funk,with the rhythms of traditional son Cubano and rumba, the group created songo, one of today’s most popular rhythms. With the opening of cultural exchange in the 1990s, Los Van Van gained American fans, winning a 1999 grammy for their album Llega Van Van
. Many now-famous musicians were schooled in the band.
Taking the stage at 9:15 PM, the large group (16 members plus a few guests) packed the club’s ordinarily-ample stage. Holding up the sound were two superb violinists, three trombone players (including the Bay Area’s own Mara Fox), flautist, keyboard players, percussionists, a guiro player and bassist Pavel Molina Ruiz. All were fronted by the four vibrant and energetic vocalists — Yenisel Valdes Fuentes, Abdel Rosales Sotolongo, Mario Enrique Rivera Godinez, and Roberto Hernandez Acea. This is an energetic band who have been playing together for a while, and it shows.
The audience responded enthusiastically to the vibrant sonic mix, holding up their hands and dancing along. But after a scant 40 minutes, the band began singing “van van” and left the stage, only to return for a 20-minute encore. All in all, it was a short but very sweet performance!