Spanish Harlem Orchestra will bring salsa style to Penn State

Spanish Harlem Orchestra will perform Thursday at Eisenhower Auditorium.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra will perform Thursday at Eisenhower Auditorium. Photo provided

The distinct sounds, moods and rhythms of New York’s Spanish Harlem will be transported from some 250 miles away to a local audience next week.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a two-time Grammy-winning Latin dance music group, is set to perform Nov. 9 at Eisenhower Auditorium.

The band’s music — which encapsulates aspects of Latin jazz and salsa — evokes the spirit of New York City and Spanish Harlem, said band leader Oscar Hernandez.

“It resonates all over the world,” Hernandez said, noting that people “want to know about Spanish Harlem, the place. It’s a real place with a real sensibility and a genuine history of music.”

The 13-member band is composed of five horn players, three percussionists, three vocalists, a bassist and Hernandez himself, who plays the piano.

Hernandez also serves as a producer and arranger for the group. In live performances, he can be seen on the side keeping a watchful eye on the band while providing a steady musical basis on the piano.

“Spanish Harlem Orchestra is one of the finest music ensembles of any style of music you can hear,” Hernandez said. “People are going to experience great musicianship, and they’re going to experience the passion and artistry of Latin music at its best. They’ll get a glimpse into the culture, and that, in and of itself, is amazing.”

The ensemble was formed in 2000 when music producer Aaron Levinson approached Hernandez about the idea of recording a set of “old” songs in a salsa style. This set the template for Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s debut album, “Un Gran Dia en el Barrio,” which was released in 2002 and earned the band its first Grammy nomination.

The band went on to win two Grammys, for the albums “Across 110th St.” and “Viva La Tradicion,” and scored another nomination with the album “United We Swing.”

For the upcoming concert, Hernandez said the audience can expect to hear much of the band’s old material, as well as pieces from the band’s next LP, which will be released in 2018.

“Spanish Harlem Orchestra is dedicated to the sounds of the barrio,” said Laura Sullivan, marketing and communications director for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State. “They want to keep the history and legacy of salsa dura alive and expand the audience for the music.”

In anticipation of the concert, there will be a free Salsa Social held at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the State College Municipal Building. The public event is designed to instruct community members on basic salsa dance moves, said Sullivan. No dance experience or reservation is required.

Hyun Soo Lee is a Penn State journalism student.


▪ What: Spanish Harlem Orchestra

▪ When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9

▪ Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park

▪ Info: www.cpa.psu.edu