MUSIC REVIEW | Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band bridge the cultural gap at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts


I’m always late to the artists’ party; I learn about the goods and the greats after they’ve already been creating and performing for decades. You don’t know Buena Vista Social Club?! Sheepishly I reply …um no. Of course, after my first taste of those infectious Cuban rhythms, I buy a CD on Amazon and watch the documentary. Yes, I may be late to learn, but I’m quick to fall in love.

I found myself in similar standing when I went to see Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band on Friday, October 26 at the Ordway. I love Latin American culture, I love Spanish language, and I love salsa dancing. Check. Check. Check. I didn’t know much about Poncho Sanchez, other than he sounded like someone who would put on a great show, someone who would get us swaying in our seats. Turns out, he did that and more.

When the house lights went down and the stage lights came up, the party officially began. There in the center, flanked by trumpeters and a pianist, was a man with a white beard and a fedora, playing only like a passionate conguero could. I loved the way that Poncho prefaced his pieces. He started his songs with a punchy swat to the drum, writing the rhythm of the song all by himself, before his band members followed suit. A grounded, sultry drum beat soon transformed into a spicy melody, punctuated by the blast of trumpets and the harmonies of piano and bass.

Poncho played with passion; I could tell he loved his craft. It was clear that he’d been working to develop and perfect his music his whole life.

I appreciated his minimal commentary; he didn’t jibber-jabber, as some artists are wont to do. I only heard him speak a few times. When he did put his bearded mouth to the microphone, it was to encourage the audience to dance and enjoy themselves.

As the show progressed, I watched the dynamic inside the theatre change. My focus shifted to the colorful and moving display of salsa dancers, swaying happily to Latin beats. I’ve never been to a performance where I’ve seen an audience so engaged. Well, scratch that. There was The Sound of  Music Sing-A-Long at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. But still. Peanuts by comparison.

I said earlier that I love to salsa dance; seldom can I sit still when others are grooving. This time was different. I eased back into my seat cushion and watched the party unfold downstage. I didn’t just hear music. I saw, first hand, how that style of music informed social customs and celebrations, how it inspired people to come together and interact with each other. I absolutely loved the level of audience participation. Seeing theatergoers, young and old, being drawn like magnets to the dance floor was fun, refreshing and entertaining.

When the show ended, the woman sitting next to me jumped to her feet and started yelling “Otra! Otra!” I wanted to hug her and shout, “Estoy de acuerdo!”

Having attended a few events for the Mascaras y Milagros festival, I thought Poncho Sanchez was the perfect close to the series. The festival celebrated Mexican culture in Minnesota, and Poncho Sanchez did his part and more by contributing to that celebration.

At his performance, I couldn’t help but think, what better way to facilitate understanding. The passionate and exuberant display of dancing and musicianship piqued my interest in a musical genre that I didn’t know much about. Just picture it: bridging cultural gaps by way of music and dancing.

I think Poncho’s onto something. 

Read Anna Hoeschen’s report from the Ordway-sponsored Cultural Conversations (October 2012).

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.