Local Peruvian Salsero Julio Bravo

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The Bay Area is home to at least 30 salsa bands. That means "salseros" can find live music any night of the week. The scene is diverse, with musicians from all over Latin America, including Peru. Julio Bravo is a local salsa band leader and he hails from Lima, Peru. In honor of Peruvian Independence Day, reporter April Dembosky brings us a taste of what Julio Bravo calls “Salsabor”—salsa with flavor.

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APRIL DEMBOSKY: Friday night at Montero’s in Albany. By 11 p.m. the windows are fully steamed from the sweat on the dance floor. Hips swivel. Skirts fly waist-high in triple spins.

DANCE INSTRUCTOR: Cross-body lead, here we go! And 1, 2, check, flake left turn together the basic 2, 3, 5, 6, 7…Okay partner switch, we’re ready for the music!

It’s a classic scene. Girls staring at their feet. Guys counting the beat out loud. People are so nervous, they rarely notice the band and its leader, Julio Bravo. They don’t realize just how much he’s on their side.

JULIO BRAVO: We play the right amount of time, I mean we don’t make a song last 15 or 20 minutes. Cause you know, imagine you play a 15-minute song and you get the wrong partner. It’s hard to tell them, “I don’t want to dance with you no more.” So we know that, and we put that into consideration when we play.

Bravo’s been playing salsa music in the Bay Area for years. He moved to the States from Peru in 1989 and later made it to the finals of Buscando Estrellas, the Latino Star Search. He played at events for the Peruvian consulate, nonprofit fundraisers and lots of private parties.

BRAVO: Peruvians like to celebrate things, anything. They buy a refrigerator and they make a huge party and invite people. So that kind of helped my career.

Wendy Ceyenne’s grandfather hired Bravo for her quinceanera. That was 15 years ago. Now she comes to Montero’s once a month to dance to Bravo’s music.

WENDY CEYENNE: It’s nice when you can relate, you can sing along, and you can enjoy yourself. Brings back memories, I guess.

Ceyenne was born in Lima. She one’s of about 30,000 Peruvian immigrants living in the Bay Area. She says they connect over music and use it to pass on the culture to their kids who were born here.

CEYENNE: Even when you clean you have music blasting in the background and that’s something you grow up with. When parents are cleaning they’re blasting music, when they’re cooking they’re blasting music. And that’s what you grow up with, so it continues. And that’s how my kids are, they’re used to it.

Julio Bravo performs mostly covers of popular salsa numbers. But he also slips in some of his original songs about Peru. He sings those in salsa style or traditional Peruvian tempos.

BRAVO: It’s like a ballad type of song, you know, the beat is like dancing waltz, doom da da, doom da da.

Bravo writes nostalgic songs about Peru, before immigration and globalization. Mi Esquina is about the corner where he used to hang out, and how it’s changed.

BRAVO: In Peru, in Peru people hang out on the corners, but that’s just a cultural thing. You don’t stay at home or your friends don’t come at home and have everybody inside the house. You go out and stay on a corner, you could stay there for hours just talking and talking, and you do that everyday. Sometimes I go back to Peru and in my neighborhood and everybody’s gone. Friends have gone to different countries, to Europe.

He also writes about how people change when they leave.

BRAVO: I wrote a song about a girl that came from Peru to the States and she forgot all her traditional things in Peru and she started using, instead of cooking she will use just microwave, no more laundry by hand, all the laundry machine and all that, and people think it’s really funny.

Bravo brings the old and new worlds together in his albums, and the Bay Area salsa scene.

BRAVO: We wrote a song, it’s entitled San Francisco Tiene Salsa. I mean, there is salsa from Monday through Sunday, and there is many different places, all the bands are working. So I wrote a song about that.

You can see Bravo’s band perform live at Café Cocomo, Roccapulco, or Montero’s... if you look up from your feet long enough.

In San Francisco, I’m April Dembosky for Crosscurrents.