Music » Local Music

Poncho Sanchez



In a Latin-jazz map of the world, the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the city of New York would be inflated to the size of Greenland — or larger. But the music resonates and resounds far beyond those places. We could talk about Japan’s Orquesta de la Luz or Detroit’s Orquesta Fuego. But just now, consider congero-bandleader extraordinaire Poncho Sanchez. A Chicano born in Texas, he grew up in Los Angeles on the mambos, cha-chas and rumbas of the greats — Tito Puente, Machito, Tito Rodriguez et al. “I thought it was my music,” he said. “It was bred into me.”

His big break came when he hooked up with the band of Cal Tjader, a Swedish-American from the Midwest who’d fallen in love with the Afro-Cuban pulsations and made them the core of his music. Sanchez quit his foundry job, hit the road with the West Coast-based Tjader and worked with him for seven years.

“A lot of people have said that Cal passed the flame to me,” Sanchez once said of his mentor, who passed away in 1982. “That’s pretty heavy, but it has a lot of truth in it.” And for the last 20 years, Sachez has tended the Tjader flame in his own band, building it into — as Down Beat put it recently— “one of the tightest Latin jazz groups in the world.”

Poncho Sanchez performs Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on the Main Stage at Chene Park in downtown Detroit (at Atwater and Chene, on the Detroit River). The official concert schedule can be found at

Be sure to check out the rest of MT's special features in celebration of the Concert of Colors:

  • "Mixing the waters" — An introduction to the Concert of Colors (and some of the artists performing there), where exotic world sounds mingle and flow across boundaries and borders.
  • Amina — Defying categorization, this Tunisian Parisienne’s sensual and tender voice seems at ease floating between the worlds of drum and bass, jungle, Asian and traditional West African beats.
  • Burnt Sugar — Having updated Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with a multilayered mix of electric, dreamy funk, this ever-evolving jazz-session collective just keeps getting deeper.
  • Cheb Mami — An Algerian native whose return to the desert breaks musical borders. Sting calls him “one of the greatest voices in world music today.”
  • Cibo Matto — Japanese-born master sound chefs who serve up an irresistible stew of funk, hip hop, hardcore, melody and fractured pop.
  • Lágbájá — A colorful, enigmatic post-Fela phenomenon, mixing elements of Afrobeat and drumming with Western pop twists.
  • Lo´ Jo — A French group that brings Europe and Africa together with the sweet strains of a seductive dance ... a musical trance.
  • Los Lobos — Quintessentially American, this long-lived East Los Angeles-based combo mixes rock, ranchera and more with an authenticity that can never be questioned.

W. Kim Heron is Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to

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