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La Excelencia

Latin Dark Horse

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The Richmond Folk Festival's expert booker, Josh Kohn of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, says that La Excelencia might just be the dark horse of the festival. “I guarantee people will love them,” he says. “If the audience doesn't have their jaws on the floor after they are done playing, I'll never program the festival again.”

Folks, that's certainty. Led by percussionists JosAc VA­zquez CofresA- and JuliA­n Silva, this young Afro-Latin band from New York City takes the salsa form back to its street-corner roots, incorporating political subject matter and infectious brass into a percussive brew that's intoxicating and oh, so easy to dance to. But in a Latin music industry that's adopted a more polished and stylized attitude, La Excelencia members are thought of as renegades for, among other things, wearing tennis shoes on stage.

“We got tired of the kind of rules that were placed on us because we were salsa,” Silva recently told The New York Times. “We had to wear uniforms for the cover picture. We had to have the pretty-boy singers. They were telling us to write about this and not about that, to sing about love and not protest, to cut our hair, look sharp and sing to the women. JosAc and I just got fed up with it, and so we told the record label: ‘You know what? We're out, we're done, we don't want to be part of this.'”

The band puts out its own independent label CDs these days, and keeps winning over audiences for its inspiring blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and take-charge showmanship. “It's going to be hard to follow La Excelencia,” Kohn says.

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