Mambo Kings sprinkle Latin into orchestra |

Mambo Kings sprinkle Latin into orchestra

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily

VAIL ” When Richard DeLaney was growing up in Lima, Peru, something stirred him about a scratchy song he often heard on the radio. It was called “Molindo Cafe” (Grinding Coffee). It was simple yet hypnotizing, with heavy percussion and bass.

Now, after years of experience in orchestra, jazz and salsa ensembles, DeLaney still thinks about that song every time he sits down to write a new piece for Mambo Kings.

“I’ve known that song since I was 10 years old,” said DeLaney, who started his Cuban jazz seven piece (now a five piece) in the mid-90s after serving as director and arranger for Rochester, New York’s famed salsa ensemble, Orquesta La Muralla, and performing with the Rochester Philharmonic.

“It’s a memory I’ve had all along,” DeLaney said of the old song. “That’s what comes into my head when I think about good music.”

Mambo Kings, not to be mistaken for the 1992 blockbuster film, are DeLaney on piano, John Viavattine on saxophone, Freddy Colon on drums, David Antonetti on congas and bongos and Hector Diaz on bass.

“It’s rhythm-based music,” explains DeLaney, who has also taught piano in Rochester for the last 30 years and arranges all of the music for Mambo Kings. “With rhythm-based Latin American music, any music that commonly used bongos, you inevitably go back to Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Afro-Spanish, Latin jazz, they take the same dance rhythms.”

While Mambo Kings will join forces tonight for a sonic performance with Rochester Philharmonic, DeLaney said coupling a band like his with an entire orchestra is a fine science.

“Latin music is syncopated. It’s rhythmic,” DeLaney said. “I think there’s a myth out there. People think music that wasn’t written by dead white guys is sloppy by nature. At the orchestra, nobody asks them to give up their high quality. Orchestras have to be very organized. Playing in an orchestra, with 70 or 80 people playing together, you underestimate how complicated it is to perform.”

Mambo Kings will play five numbers with the orchestra tonight, then play a couple more on their own. They say they tend to wow audience members who come to see the orchestra and serve as a springboard into orchestra appreciation for those who don’t ” the ones who come for the salsa and jazz sound.

“We bring out people that don’t necessarily listen to an orchestra, also people who go out to see an orchestra play, and oops, here’s this Latin thing with horns and violin,” he said. “Orchestras attracted to the Latin element, well, like anything else, it’s music you have to relax to play. That doesn’t mean you play less or play differently. We all have a good time. We have to adjust to the demands of playing with a lot of people.”

DeLaney said he and Mambo Kings are very conscientious of not overwhelming the orchestra as some musicians and smaller bands tend to do.

“In some pop shows, it can be a little schizoid,” he said. “They can get too avant-garde with the pops thing and bury the orchestra.”

Thus, Mambo Kings deliver a magically united garden of sound when playing with the array of instruments in an orchestra, but change into their alter egos once they’ve got the stage to themselves.

“We basically let all the stops out,” DeLaney said. “The audience changes its expectations. It’s a great release. We take a lot of chances when we play by ourselves. That’s another part of the jazz element. We have a lot of fun. The drummer tries a new fill. We laugh a lot. There’s all different kinds of complicated beats. People have told us what’s fun about watching us play is watching us play.”

Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 748-2936 or

Vail, Colorado

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