Sweet Hot Sauce: Azúcar con Aché

Posted on in Art + Soul by Roy Strassman

Freight and Salvage, September 10

“As I was motivatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybellene in a Coup de Ville.” This scene, from Chuck Berry’s eponymously named 1955 hit, popped into mind soon after Azúcar con Aché took the stage. Maybellene goes from 90 mph to 110 in her attempt to elude Berry in his Ford. That’s how it was with Azúcar—they took off in fifth gear and accelerated madly from there, outpacing whoever might give chase.

Azúcar con Aché (“sweetness with powerful blessings”) has been on the scene in various incarnations for 25 years. All members of the octet are women, and oh, do they ever smoke! One goal of this Bay Area premier salsa/Latin jazz band is to inspire young women musicians to do what any male group can. Mission admirably accomplished. The show was billed as ACA’s valedictory performance but none of the musicians are leaving town, so who knows? The group’s multicultural personnel range from the Caribbean to throughout the Americas. They are highly educated, a few with advanced degrees from elite schools.

They included both Latin standards and well-penned originals.

Azúcar con Aché
Azúcar con Aché

As they began the popular salsa favorite “La Negra Tomasa” (aka “Bilongo”), the audience clapped mightily as dancers thronged the floor. Puerto Rican–born lead singer María Cora mamboed alluringly while singing of a lover’s plangent longing. This woman done got the Mo!

The audience too bears mention: almost entirely female and largely LGBT, they were, for this male reviewer, a brand-new cultural experience. Lively, enthusiastic, and musically well-informed, these women could dance up a storm! Their carefree abandon was infectious.

During the encore, as a farewell celebration erupted, well-wishers glad-handed with the musicians. Afterward, the musicians intermingled leisurely among the happy crowd. What a joyous, soulful, memorable performance it was.


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