In Conversation with Toronto's SWA Salsa Orchestra
2019 Canadian Latin Award nominees SWA Salsa Orchestra fuse traditional salsa with the rhythms of hip-hop, R&B, and soul, putting an urban twist on traditional Latin American sounds.
As well as making great music, the Toronto-based band also has a mission to collaborate with and support emerging artists, offering them musical training and professional opportunities. The members of SWA are not only colleagues, but also long-time friends, who believe that diversity and unity are the keys to success.
In anticipation of SWA’s February 15th concert at Lula, featuring New York-based salsa multi-instrumentalist Sebastian Natal as a special guest, Lula Lounge’s Zamira Lacosta sat down for a chat with SWA members Alex Naar (also the band’s musical director), Andres Magno (band manager), and Jairo Acuña, (promotions manager).
Zamira: Tell me about your group’s name.
SWA: The name SWA is a tribute to one of the greatest and most influential groups in the history of hip-hop, N.W.A.
Zamira: How long have you been playing together as a band?
SWA: We formed SWA in January 2016, so 4 years!
Zamira: SWA is a big group! How many members are in the band?
SWA: At Lula, we always play with as a 14-piece band, and sometimes also feature DJ Grouch who’s originally from Panama, and is a veteran of Toronto’s DJ scene. Our core band members are Albany Caldera (vocals) Jonathan Amador (bass), Jairo Acuña (congas), Marco de La Cruz (piano), Gerardo Magno (cowbell, tambora, bongos), Ricky Franco (vocals, guitar), Alex Naar (saxophone, vocals), Andres Magno (drums, timbales), and Marcelo Baladan (vocals).
Zamira: You’re known for your openness to collaborating with other artists. Can you mention some of the artists or groups you work with?
SWA: Yes, we really love collaborating with other musicians. Some of our favourite collabs include Toronto Hip Hop group Los Poetas, Cuban-Canadian singer Adonis Puentes, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ismael Miranda, Panamanian-Canadian singer Fito Blanko, Puerto Rican salsa vocalist Yan Collazo, Colombian singer Carolina la O, Uruguayan-Australian vocalist Gonzalo Porta , Cuban-Canadian solo artist DKNO, classically trained tenor Romulo Delgado, and our latest collaboration, Puerto Rican salsa legend Tito Rojas.
We’re also very excited to be working again with New York-based multi-instrumentalist Sebastian Natal of the Pedrito Martinez Group. Sebastian will be joining us on February 15th for a very special concert at Lula Lounge.
Zamira: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations, and what are the genres you connect with most?
SWA: First and foremost, we can all agree on Panamanian icon Rubén Blades, who is a singer-songwriter, actor, and activist, as well as a politician. Our other influences include Calle 13, DLG, Issac Delgado, Manolito Simonet, El Niño y la Verdad, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Toronto’s own Luis Orbegoso!
Our favourite musical genres are salsa urbana, timba, merengue, hip-hop, soul, R&B, and reggaeton.
Zamira: Who are some of your biggest supporters?
SWA: Definitely Argentinian-Torontonian entertainer ITZ Nico P, who is also a personal friend of ours. Also Corporación Azul Dj Services and Toronto Latinos, the urban apparel company behind the ‘Barrio’ line.
Zamira: Which of your songs would you say is most popular with Lula audiences?
SWA: We do a merengue medley of the popular songs Te Boté (by Ozuna), Ella me Levantó, and Dura (both by Daddy Yankee). It is definitely a crowd-pleaser! Check it out on Youtube!
Zamira: Aside from regular performances at Lula Lounge, where else can we catch one of your shows?
SWA: Besides Toronto venues, we’ve had the opportunity to play music festivals such as the MAS Latin Festival in Woodbridge, Salsa on St Clair, the Markham Village Music Festival, Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival in Owen Sound, the Humber Bay Shores Festival, and the TD Niagara Jazz Festival. We usually play in our smaller formats of 6 to 12 members in these festivals in order to cater to their needs and requirements. We also love to play weddings and corporate events!
Zamira: Do you have any upcoming recordings planned?
SWA: We are actually preparing to record a few original songs to be released in 2020, such as Con Actitud, Dueña de la Pista, No le Digas a tu Novio, La Fanática and Manipuladora, to mention a few.
Zamira: Can you sum up SWA’s mission in a sentence?
SWA: SWA‘s mission is to build a bridge between tradition and new influences, as well as connecting with current social movements, using that special magic that is music.
Keep in touch with SWA at: www.salseroswithattitude.com
Zamira Lacosta is a singer, composer, emerging journalist, and proud part of the Lula team.