Conga king gets them dancing in the aisles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2005, 12:00am

Poncho Sanchez

Hong Kong Cultural Centre,

Grand Theatre

Final show last night

On the first of his two shows in Hong Kong, elder statesman of the conga drums Poncho Sanchez got the auditorium swinging with a salsa-inspired take on the late Ray Charles' One Mint Julep.

The track, which has become a staple in his nine-piece band's repertoire, set the tone for the performance - piano alternated with 1960s-style electric organ; a solid brass section of four players took turns to blast short solos; and bass, drums and percussion were at the fore.

Sanchez took centre stage in his white shirt and flat cap. Eyes closed, he threw his head back for conga interludes, beating his bound fingers, forearms, clenched fists and elbows across the skins of three tall drums that each resounded with an individual low timbre.

In African Queen - one of two Duke Ellington numbers played on the night that will appear on Sanchez's 22nd album, scheduled for release in September - he began with the evening's longest and most wide-ranging conga solo; it lasted three minutes.

This melody then swerved into solid Afro-Caribbean swing, with a surprising dub-like drum, percussion and conga interlude at its centre, over which Sanchez emitted the occasional low tribal-like chant. Trombonist Francisco Torres' rasping solo was another high point in this number.

Salsa was only a minor part of the evening's set. El Shing-A-Ling was one of the first salsa numbers and got a few in the audience on their feet, but it wasn't until the encore that the salsa students really made their presence known, swirling in the aisles as almost everyone stood up and grooved to the music.

Sanchez has often reworked James Brown soul songs in his career and the title track of his current album, Out of Sight, was the one that really set the Grand Theatre alight, in an evening of salsa-tinged soul, swing and rhythm and blues.