|I was delighted to discover PASION, a New York-based, female Charanga band would be entertaining guests at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Convention in Kansas City, Missouri on September 26, 1998. The opportunity to see and hear this group had finally presented itself.
The prospect of seeing and hearing this group was exciting for two reasons. First because Charanga is one of my favorites styles of Latin music and secondly, because the personnel of this nine and sometimes ten-piece band is dominated by eight female musicians. For those of you unfamiliar with this category of Cuban music, the orchestration is distinguished by its use of violins and flutes. It is a style of Salsa that is not commonly played in most parts of the country, the exception being Miami and to a lesser degree New York. Charanga has a swing that is intoxicating. What makes one marvel about dancing to Charanga is the way the groove of the music seems to sneak up on you. Most tunes usually start out at a medium, mellow pace and then very gradually with no warning, the band is rocking and so are you.
PASION was sheer delight. They employ a three-woman vocal line made up of Debra Resto, Madeline Rosado, and Cecelia Engelhart Lopez. Each woman possesses a tremendous voice and takes turns singing lead. The three-part harmony was flawless. I was especially captivated by the soulful delivery of the lyrics by Ms. Resto.PASION is a group of musicians whose backgrounds encompass the spectrum of classical, Jazz and Latin music. Co-leaders Betsy Hill (violin, vocals) and Connie Grossman (flute) formed this group out of a belief that Latin music performed by a predominantly female band has great appeal. But believe me, they do not rely on their femininity to carry them through. What truly surprised me was the amount of original music they performed. I expected to hear Charanga classics like Pare Cochero, Soy, or other favorite titles dominate their repertoire. Instead, except for a few non-Charanga and non-Latin or Spanish titles the material presented was their own. Several of the musicians are also composers.Co-leaders Betsy Hill and Connie Grossman have much experience with the Latin music scene. Betsy joined her first Charanga band in 1981 and has recorded with Johnny Pacheco and Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. She has appeared with Tito Puente, Larry Harlow, Cachao, Ray Barretto, Bobby Rodriguez, “Patato” Valdes, Pupi Legaretta, Dave Valentin and La Lupe. Connie has been on the Latin music scene since 1987. She is currently recording and performing with Yomo Toro, Charanson, Cubalibre, Siglo 20 and The Latin Jazz Society. She has performed with Conjunto Libre, Tito Puente, Orq. Broadway, Larry Harlow, Charanga ’76, Nino Segarra, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Bobby Rodriguez, Pupi Legaretta, Fajardo, and many, many more.The uniqueness of PASION’S sound and the message it conveys is a confirmation of the strength, talent, and ability of female musicians. PASION is a multicultural group from diverse backgrounds. Female conga players are still not common and Japanese female conga players are even more rare. Yasuro Kimura is the group’s congista. Jennifer Vincent plays bass and Wendy Ryan, piano. Willie Martinez the lone male of the group who plays timbales was joined for this performance by guirista, Luis Rosas.
PASION made their debut in June of 1997 at New York’s La Maganette, an Italian restaurant with a nightclub in its lower level.
Based on their talent it is safe to say they have a long, bright future. Stay tuned to Salsacentro for appearance dates and record information.