The pork and dancing that permeate Latin culture may not outwardly seem to have a Jewish connection, and yet Jewish Latin roots run deep in our history. In Boston we tend to associate the word “Jewish” with more Ashkenazi traditions, but in Miami, Los Angeles and other parts of the country, the Sephardic and Latin cultures are pervasive. And just how the food and arts scenes are evolving in Boston, so is the perception of what Jewish culture is in the city. From a sold-out dinner at Olé Mexican Grill with Mexican-Jewish author Ilan Stavans to multi-lingual concerts by Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, who spent many years in Spain, the Jewish Latin focus is hot in Boston and brings a certain spice to our more familiar klezmer and Israeli folkdance traditions.
On Thursday, Feb. 27, Malachei Mambo: Angels of Mambo, a newly formed Boston group, will be making its debut as part of the fifth annual Boston Jewish Music Festival. Headed by local cantor Gaston Bogomolni, this diverse crew of Latin and Jewish musicians will be part of a multimedia evening with music, photography and salsa dance instruction.
Gaston and I had a few minutes to chat recently about his inspiration for this all-star group, which includes a Jewish Argentinean on drums, two Cubans, Joe Kessler of the Klezwoods and more. (Sounds like a good setup for a joke, or just a really great show!) Gaston grew up in Argentina, lived in Barcelona, studied ethnomusicology and is now a cantor, so who better to be leading this eclectic group? And how did he even get to be the Jewish Latin music maven that he is? I asked, and here’s what he said:
“I grew up singing. I’ve had many Sephardic and Middle Eastern musical influences in my life, and I even used to do Israeli folk dancing. I lived in Cuba for a long time, where I was exposed to so many Caribbean styles, and was forced to love it! I’ve lived in Spain and Argentina as well, always taking in the local music and culture. But through all this, there was little mixing of the two cultures for me. Then I left Argentina to come to the U.S. six years ago. When I got to Boston, I finally realized that the folklore and the stories that this Latin music tells is a beautiful tradition that I had taken for granted…and it has such natural connections and similarities to Middle Eastern music. And just how Latin music has a place in American culture, I made it my mission to make a place for Latin Jewish music.”
While this Latin spin may be newer to Boston, salsa is a huge trend in Israel right now. In this respect, Gaston is not only exposing the Boston audience to his view of the Latin Jewish sound, but he’s also proud to bring authentic contemporary Israeli and world trends to Boston. As he says, “For me—trend or not—I’m bringing something new and interesting to this city.”
So, curious to see what happens when a big bunch of talented Jewish and Latin musicians get together? Find out and get your hips moving (or at least try!) at the Malachei Mambo event on Feb. 27!