Latin Lessons

Now that it's finally cooling down outside, there's really no good excuse to not shake it to Tito Puente Jr. and other Latin musicians all day Saturday at Festival del Centro, the final leg of the Latino Cultural Center's five-day grand opening celebration. Puente Jr.'s music--a pop, Latin jazz and dance hybrid--is largely influenced by mambo, cha-cha and merengue, some of the genres his legendary father, Tito Puente (who passed away in 2000) was a pioneer of fusing. The elder Puente is largely recognized as the first Latin entertainer to expose the general U.S. public to sounds from Puerto Rico and Cuba mixed with popular U.S. music of the time. Dubbed "El Rey" ("the King") in Spanish, Puente recorded at least 119 albums between 1949 and 2000. He even appeared on The Simpsons.

Not surprisingly, Puente Jr., who resides in Miami but was born and raised in New York City, began his musical career at a young age, at least partially under his father's tutelage. The younger Puente started out by playing in New York clubs with other Latin artists. His 1996 debut album Guarachando featured the hit single "Oye Como Va," a cover of his father's signature hit. Plan on getting down to that one Saturday, as well as El Rey favorite "Ran Kan Kan." Puente Jr.'s modern music influences range widely, from Marc Anthony to rock groups like RUSH, Boston and Aerosmith to pop stars Michael Jackson and Madonna. But while Puente Jr. has worked with hip-hop and other modern music styles, he seems more devoted to performing his father's old-school mixes of big-band jazz sounds and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, especially since his father's death and the end of the Tito Puente Orchestra. Puente Jr. is a showman like his father, singing, dancing and playing percussion out in front of his backup band. Local, and very danceable, Cuban salsa band Havana NRG (New Rhythm Generation) opens for Puente Jr. at 7 p.m. Music and dance begins at 11:30 a.m. with the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. An hour, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., has been slated for Norteño and Tejano music. The festivity's wide variety of musical performers is intended to reflect Dallas' diverse Latino community, according to the organizers.

Acclaimed Peruvian singer Tania Libertad performs Friday evening, but unlike Saturday's Festival del Centro festivities, it costs $50 to see her show. All musicians perform at the $10 million Latino Cultural Center, that big orange terra-cotta building just east of downtown at Live Oak and Good-Latimer Expressway. The long-awaited center has been under planning and construction since 1996. On that note, Saturday is the last day to buy an engraved brick for 50 bucks, which will help fund center programs and maintenance. The price of the bricks, to be permanently placed in the center's main plaza, is $100 after Saturday.

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Cheryl Smith

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