The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You
The beat goes on for the musical outfit Eddie Ortiz and Son Caribe, which has been filling the islands with intoxicating rhythms of the Caribbean for the past 20 years.
The leader of Eddie Ortiz and Son Caribe may be the only one of Hispanic heritage in the band, but that doesn’t mean the other 14 members aren’t as passionate about Latin music or aren’t immediately drawn in by the allure of its pulsating rhythms.
“For me, it’s always been a lifelong thing,” says Eddie Ortiz, a New York native of Puerto Rican descent who was raised on Latin tunes. “It’s my culture — it’s something that I was brought up with at home. With the rest of the musicians, I think they enjoy the fun musical arrangements.
“We have a nice blend of multicultural input,” continues the band’s trumpeter and arranger. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. To me, I’m blessed with the best. We look forward to playing together … we have fun on the job.”
These days, the fun includes the band’s forthcoming CD, which is currently in production and will feature 10 originals when it’s released later this year. In addition, the group’s cover of Si Te Vas has made its way to No. 4 on the NewGenSalsa International Top 50 Charts — a smoking-hot indication that the band’s steamy Latin sounds continue to strike a chord with listeners around the globe.
“Latin music is performed in a variety of languages, but the rhythms are what carries the name of Latin music,” explains Ortiz, whose band has performed at just about every major Latin music event in Hawai‘i over the years and has opened for music luminaries such as Celia Cruz and Poncho Sanchez. “The primary rhythms we play are salsa, meringue, bachata and mambo.”
So, just how did this band with island roots come to be? Ortiz explains that he used to play in another group while stationed here as a U.S. Marine. When his military career ended, his desire was to continue living in the Aloha State, but the lack of what he calls “authentic Caribbean music” in Hawai‘i bothered him. He took it upon himself to fill that music void by creating Eddie Ortiz and Son Caribe in 2000.
Son Caribe means “rhythm of the Caribbean” in Spanish, according to Ortiz, and is a nod to the type of music (contemporary, top 40 and jazz) that the band creates. Its goal is to make people feel good and to engage with all audiences. He adds that his goal as a songwriter is to compose songs about people who are in love.
“Our hope is that when people leave our performances, they feel better than when they came,” he says. “If people leave the night feeling better than when they arrived, I think we’ve done what we set out to do.”
Besides Ortiz, the band boasts members of various ages ranging from their 20s to their 50s.
“It’s a good mix because you’ve got a lot of experience with the older musicians, and you’ve got a lot of energy and vigor from the younger musicians,” he explains.
The current group consists of Cynthia Romero, featured vocalist and auxiliary percussion; Clayton “CJ” Silva, congas; Guy Lum, timbales; Joseph Nakamoto, Jeremy Killeen and Josue Rodriguez, trombones; Daniel Sananikone, trumpet; Hitomi Davis, piano/keyboard; Reid Ishikawa, bass; Shaun Torres, bongos and auxiliary percussion; Daniel Weber, guitar; Ray Lafoon, drums; and Luis Santos, vocalist and auxiliary percussion.
While each member plays an important role, Ortiz credits Romero for her versatility and ability to sing in five different languages: English, Japanese, Tagalog, Korean and Spanish. Interestingly enough, while Romero can sing in Spanish, she’s actually not fluent in the language and learns the lyrics phonetically.
Prospective members don’t necessarily need to be experienced in Latin music to be a part of the band, he adds.
“As long as they’re willing to learn and listen so that I can teach them — I’m good,” explains Ortiz, adding that he’s employed around 500 musicians in the band since its formation. “It’s been fun because I enjoy teaching. It’s fun to bring somebody along and watch them develop skills in a different genre of music that they didn’t have before.”
When the band first stepped out on the scene, the members had a hard time getting booked at venues. The band was told that Latin music was “a niche market” and that “it’s not really marketable.”
“That was one of the biggest obstacles — just getting our foot in the door,” Ortiz recalls. “It was very difficult in the beginning until we proved ourselves that we could not only draw an audience, but maintain an audience, and thankfully, continue to grow audiences.”
Despite the challenges the band has faced, Ortiz believes that all the work that the group has put into the ensemble has paid off. From initially struggling to book appearances to performing internationally, Eddie Ortiz and Son Caribe has come a long way.
“We were able to establish ourselves in Asia from Hawai‘i, and now we’re starting to get attention from Latin America, which is something that I’ve always wanted to be able to do,” Ortiz beams.
Whether it be with tourists who remember the band from a previous trip to Hawai‘i, or with college students looking to dance the night away, the band has maintained a strong following. In fact, fans eagerly await the band’s return to performing live at Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites’ courtyard — that is, once the finishing touches are put on the album.
Ortiz says that “every guest is important” and that the band will always strive to put its best foot forward at each performance because the members know they wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for the community.
“I’m so grateful to the people in Hawai‘i for the way they received us,” Ortiz says. “It’s something that I would’ve never imagined before I started the band. It’s been such a blessing, really.”