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The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra killed it at the Spot two weeks ago with their unique brand of fusion, bringing the sounds of popular (but don’t worry, hipsters, not too popular) indie rock tunes into contact with the driving brass and percussion we know and love and call salsa. I had a chance to interview a few members of the WSO, and decided I’d settle on two questions:

  1. You’ve been granted the power to hear any classic salsa artist cover any rock song? Who do you pair with what, and why? How does it sound?
  2. The same, but in reverse: if you could hear any rock and roll artist or band cover any classic salsa song, who/what would you choose and why? How does that sound?

I’ll let them take over from here.


Gianni Mano – Percussion

Salsa bands covering English-language songs has been tried a number of times, usually with less-than-stellar results. (Though Manny Oquendo y Libre’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” is a true classic.) I suspect it’s because the arrangements don’t get the same attention as an original tune by the Salsa band might. From my point of view as arranger for the WSO, most Salsa-versions try to sound too much like the English original. Salsa (meaning Afro-Cuban/Puerto Rican/Nuyorican) music is its own style and must be respected. The original English-language tunes are just a jumping-off point. Of course, one must be inspired by the lyrics, melody and chord changes, but one must also experiment and tear the tune apart, putting it back together with the glue of clave and tradition.

(Early) Metallica playing Tito Puente’s “Machito Forever.” It may be TP’s most hardcore tune: a relentless instrumental which is composed to constantly raise the energy and show everyone how it’s done. With a young Lars laying down a double-time beat, and all distortion pedals turned to 11, it might work in a twisted parallel universe.

Or how about Jack White and one of his groups like The Dead Weather doing El Raton. He understands the blues.

Or a prog-rock band like The Mars Volta doing Sonido Bestial.

The flip side is much harder to envision. I could hear a charanga band doing Prince’s “1999.” I could hear Nothing Compares 2 U as a bolero by Tito Rodriguez. And have Ruben Blades do something by The Decemberists. Maybe is has to be something written by Prince, since he’s so funky already.

James Hall – Trombone

There’d be something delightfully apocalyptic about hearing Tom Waits sing “Todo Tiene Su Final.”

For sheer novelty, I’d go with Hector Lavoe singing Styx’s “Blue Collar Man.” All those synth figures could make great salsa horn lines, and Lavoe could tear up some Pregónes over those changes!

Jhohan Hernandez – Congas

It was kinda done in the mid 90’s, depending on what type of rock we’re talking ’bout. RMM (Ritmo Mundo Musical) which included Salsa legends like Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Oscar D’Leon, and others recorded an album called RMM…Tropical Tribute To The Beatles. This was basically Beatle songs in salsa. Wasn’t the greatest thing ever… but it was aiigghtt. I’ll probably like to see Herman Olivera do “November Rain” with a huge Eddie Palmieri solo in the the middle and a nice descarga towards the end. Oh yeah, and Jorge Santana doing the Slash parts. lol

“November Rain” is a good one. Follow that with Neil Diamond’s “September Morn.”

Andy Cotton – Bass

Lou Reed singing Quimbara.”


Never before have I wanted to hear certain songs redone. Maybe the WSO can deliver on a couple of these, eh? Here’s hoping.

What would your answers be? Post below!