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Anthology of Afro-Cuban Music Reveals the History of San Francisco Bay Area

Rather than dwelling on the reasons why the San Francisco Bay Area’s longtime role as a creative hothouse for Latin jazz and salsa has been overlooked and undervalued for half a century, trombonist/arranger Wayne Wallace and filmmaker Rita Hargraves decided to let the music speak for itself. Scheduled for release on Wallace’s Patois label on August 13, Salsa De La Bahía is a two-CD companion piece to Hargraves’ celebratory documentary The Last Mambo, which traces the evolution of the Bay Area’s Latin music scene from Cal Tjader, Benny Velarde, and the Escovedo Brothers to present day masters such as John Santos, Jesus Diaz, and Anthony Blea. The Last Mambo DVD will be released on Patois in spring 2014.

More than a historical survey of the singular sounds that have emerged from the Bay Area, the album opens and closes with three thrilling pieces recorded especially for the project by Estrellas De La Bahia, an all-star orchestra encompassing many of the scene’s key players. The package includes extensive liner notes by Jesse “Chuy” Varela, who has incisively chronicled the Bay Area scene for more than three decades as a journalist (JazzTimes, Latin Beat, The San Francisco Chronicle) and DJ and music director for KCSM.

The fact that all of the bands featured on the CD are active, save for the Machete Ensemble, speaks to the scene’s vitality. At the same time, all the music, except for the three Estrellas De La Bahia tracks, was originally released on indie labels, which goes a long way toward explaining why so much of it stayed under the national media radar.

“These people are alive and the music is present,” Wallace says. “So much great music has come out of this funny little outpost for Cuban music, where so many of us have gone down there and brought back contemporary and archaic strains of the tradition. We don’t have an overt Cuban population but the Bay Area really embraced the music, and Salsa De La Bahia offers a good place to start checking it out.”

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