For years, Canada has welcomed waves of newcomers from Latin America and the Caribbean. A thriving music scene has grown out of this migration, like the one at Lula Lounge, a nightclub in a working-class neighborhood of Toronto. The club’s co-founder, Jose Ortega, cut his teeth in New York’s legendary Latin scene. When he came to Toronto, he found the vibe fresher, more open to experimentation. And he found talent. It was just a matter of time before the country produced great Latin bands, and a new album, Lula Lounge: Essential Tracks, captures the story of Latin gold in the frozen north.
Toronto’s Latin bands are diverse. But the music on Lula Lounge: Essential Tracks is largely powered by Cubans. One of the city’s newer Latin bands, Changui Habana, tears into a classic guaguanco — one of the bedrock rhythms of Cuban dance music — in the track “Guaguanco.” Cuban arranger and composer Roberto Linares Brown brings vitality and verve to “Pa Ti Dj.”
Expatriates naturally feel nostalgia for home and the past; this explains the dominance of old-school sounds among the 15 tracks on this Lula Lounge set. Of course, the Lula Lounge is also about exchange and experimentation. We get a taste of that in “Que Equicacao” by Havana-born rapper Telmary Diaz.
Latin music is unlike any other genre. Born in a clash of African and European cultures, it’s always been about fusion. At the same time, its sense of discipline, form, competitive excellence and knowledge of its own past could rival any classical tradition anywhere. So, great Latin music in Toronto? Not so much of a surprise after all, but it sure is a delight.