Camino al Cielo

Havana NRG's Cuban salsa returns to Los Angeles through Dallas

By Elisa Martinez Medina
Published on LatinoLA: February 24, 2005

Camino al Cielo

By Elisa Martinez Medina

In spite of end of January winds night winds of about 35 degrees, Havana NRG packed the house with southern California salseros. The eight-piece Cuban orquesta came all the way from their current home of Dallas Texas and played with a big tight sound at the lovely Granada ballroom in Alhambra. This was Havana NRG's second time in Los Angeles since forming a group in 2002. They are currently touring to promote their latest CD release, entitled Camino al Cielo.

Over the past four and a half years, promoters and Afro Cuban music lovers have been denied access when it comes to great Cuban groups like Los Van Van or Charanga Habanera and the list certainly goes on. For now, Cuban artists have essentially been banned in the United States due to the politics of Washington. But salsa has been an important musical genre for decades in the United States and American audiences definitely like it Cuban-style. The nearly one thousand people at the Granada for Havana NRG made that clear. It's a positive thing that promoters are bringing us recent Cuban ?migr?s and/or orquestas that play Cuban salsa to represent.

Mariela Suarez plays violin, piano, sings coro and is musical director for Havana NRG. She graciously spoke with me at-length during a set brake. Mariela is from Havana Cuba, the Vedado district. Other band members are from various parts of Cuba that include La Havana, as well as Holguin, Pinar del Rio and Matanzas. In addition to the Cubano/as in Havana NRG, one band member is from Peru and another is from the United States.

The Cuban musicians in the band attended Cuba's highly acclaimed music conservatories and spent some time playing music among others in Cuba's red hot timba scene. In 1995, while living in Cuba, members of what is now Havana NRG shared an award with Manuel y su Trabuco for best new band. Later that same year, Mariela and some of her colleagues who had played together in Cuba were given a gig in Monterrey Mexico where they played for a few years. While in Monterrey they met up with other Cuban musicians, later relocated to Dallas Texas in 2000, and officially founded Havana NRG in 2002.

Havana NRG creates a fusion of timba, salsa, merengue and son. They've brought this rhythmic cocktail to audiences all over Texas, as well as New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and San Francisco, and also to international audiences in Japan, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Israel.

Mariela discussed the band's recent CD Camino al Cielo. ?Our main focus, even though we are Cubans, is that we show we are ready to play any type of music. People at first had doubts about us doing 'too many styles', but we as a band stuck to the positive feelings we had about the versatility of our CD, which even includes Bachata, and our desire to do this with good quality.? Mariela and the band are pleased with the new CD.

In terms of Cuban-style salsa, which Mariela said has suffered ?an almost intentional lack of promotion in the United States while it's well accepted all over the world,? she reminds us that it just depends how you promote a musical genre. ?We've educated the salsa public in Dallas Texas and they do accept and like contemporary styles like timba.? As for audiences in places like Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and Tel Aviv and beyond, ?They do have open minds and really enjoy all different types of Afro Cuban music,? Mariela said.

It's easy to agree with the people packed onto the dance floor dancing casino rueda, or salsa on 1 or on 2 at Havana NRG shows when you hear the new CD. Yes, as Mariela explains, it is a mixture and a tasty one at that. The CD starts with a couple of smooth, very danceable salsa tracks with that unmistakable Cuban spice. There's a couple of merengues, one being very romantic that dancers could float across the floor to, another with a heavier, funky beat for all those shimmies and tricky turns. There's a couple of elegant charangas with soulful Cuban rhythms. There's a cool Latin jazzy mambo track that can be enjoyed by dancers who like their salsa on 2. There's a nice Bachata for dancing with that special someone, and there's a salsa-hip hop song that younger audiences will like.

The last track on the CD is perhaps the best in terms of heating up the dance floor with energy for all types of dancers. ?Con Guiro Clave y Bongo? is distinctively Cuban, the beat, the vocals, it packs a punch and is sure to make dancers do the big moves who can, and everyone else smile and feel the groove.

Camino al Cielo is on NRG records and
was recorded in Dallas in December 2003.
Havana NRG can be contacted at
P.O. Box 452182
Garland, TX 75945


About Elisa Martinez Medina:
elisangela medina can be reached at elisangela88@yahoo.com

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