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Three review spotlights make up Latin Beat this month: an after-hours interview with international tango stars Fabian Salas and Carolina del Rivero from their recent visit to Montas Lounge; a meditation on Carlos Santana's spiritual groove and his Friday-the-13th concert in the Alltel Pavilion; and a toast to Durham's hottest Colombian salsa party ever, thrown last Saturday, June 14, with Grupo Niche at the Sheraton Imperial.

The Tango Lesson
(Salas & Del Rivero at Montas Lounge)

"You never saw me teaching tango in a bikini?" says Carolina del Rivero, a chic brunette with a mischievous laugh, reminiscing about how she first met members of Triangle Tangueros at a dance convention in Tampa. Her partner Fabian Salas, the boyishly brawny co-star of the 1996 film, The Tango Lesson, takes her order on his way to the bar. The two are unwinding after a sultry and athletic exhibition performance and a day of workshops last month that initiated local dancers into the mysteries of the Argentine tango.

In the film, directed by Sally Potter, Salas plays one of a trio of dance instructors who dance with the British Potter in her fictional memoir about the tango obsession. Salas has yet to see Robert Duvall's tango movie, Assassination Tango, but hopes it will do what Potter's Tango Lesson, and even dance scenes from Pacino's Scent of a Woman did--arouse greater interest in tango worldwide.

"I taught Duvall [and his co-star] a few times ... they came to some of my classes when I was in the D.C. area. He's a very personable man," says the 39-year-old Salas. Now living in Buenos Aires, he teaches and performs full-time with del Rivero, 23, whom he met in 2000 at a social dance for tango known as a milonga.

"At first I didn't pay attention to him--I was dancing tango for pleasure. I knew him from the movie, but I never took a class with him. Then he called me to rehearse one day," says del Rivero of the meeting. Salas soon wooed her away from the study of ballet and modern dance, and into the life of a professional tango dancer.

With a dedicated local following, Triangle Tangueros hosts regular milongas and visits from world class tango instructors several times a year. To find regular local class schedules, milonga locations, and upcoming special events, see and

Archangel of the Future
(Santana at Alltel Pavilion)

Carlos Santana says the angel Metatron guided his 1999 comeback album Supernatural. He passionately believes that music "rearranges your molecular structure," and while that may sound flaky, who would know better than Santana, with his seemingly supernatural ability to sustain notes and channel pure music through the technology of the modern electric guitar?

Santana looked relaxed Friday night, chewing gum on the Pavilion's big screen that mixed live close-ups of his guitar playing with nature imagery. Alltel's corporate slogan ("are you connected?") around the perimeters got re-purposed by Santana's message of collective consciousness: "You need to feel connectedness with all your sisters and brothers. You can never feel compassion unless you feel connected." By donating his U.S. concert proceeds of the Shaman tour to fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa, Santana gave that message heart.

His new generation of fans stood up for songs they knew from the two recent albums, which pair Santana with young recording artists from Macy Gray to the Foo Fighters. But his universally recognizable '70s hits struck a chord with everybody, from the opening riff of "Jingo" to "Toussaint L'Ouverture," "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." The fact that these last two are better known as Santana music than in their originals (Fleetwood Mac and Tito Puente, respectively) says a lot about his force as an artist, and his musical legacy. With Tito gone now, it was especially good to know Santana is still keeping Puente's music alive and part of our collective consciousness.

Members of Grupo Niche give their all to salsa fans at - the Sheraton Imperial on Saturday, June 14. - SYLVIA PFEIFFENBERGER
  • Sylvia Pfeiffenberger
  • Members of Grupo Niche give their all to salsa fans at the Sheraton Imperial on Saturday, June 14.

Colombia's Salsa Kings
(Grupo Niche at the Sheraton Imperial)

Grupo Niche is less a cult of personality than it is a songbook--and a corporation. This 33-year-old salsa machine is the brainchild of Jairo Varela, the composer and arranger behind the poetic and socially conscious hits that have made Grupo Niche some of salsa's greatest international stars. Varela re-records his tunes periodically as the band evolves, and has spun off several of Colombia's other top salsa bands in the process.

Playing for an estimated crowd of 1,500 at the Sheraton Imperial ballroom, Grupo Niche came on around midnight, the three lead singers looking regal and charismatic in black power suits. Part of the key to Niche's unique sound is this trio (or sometimes quartet) of male voices, combining and sharing the functions of sonero and coro by singing their melodic lines in close harmony. Leading off with "Sin Sentimientos" and "La Negra No Quiere," they devoted themselves fully to fans for two solid hours of megahits accompanied by Temptations-style choreography.

It was the first gala latina on this magnitude for promoters Jorge and Alberto Diaz (of Chapel Hill's Patio Loco), and one can only hope they will bring more big-name salsa acts to the Triangle in the future. Everything from sound quality to the feng shui of parking, ballroom and bar went off without a major glitsch. VIPs did have to battle with their banquet-sized tables and chairs for dance space, but a nice parquet floor further back allowed ample dance room and what was still an exciting proximity to the stage.

The band took roll call by city of their Colombian fans who were out in force, answering to Bogota, Medellin and Cali--especially Cali, Niche's hometown. At one point, friends and strangers held outstretched arms in a roomwide embrace, and their ecstatic encore cheers of "otra!" were only quieted at last by a prayerful version of "Ana Mile." With its haunting coro, "te pintó pajaritos en el aire," still hanging in the air, the peaceable kingdom of salsa fans finally agreed to let Grupo Niche retire from the stage.

News for the Latin Beat? E-mail Sylvia Pfeiffenberger at

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