This review is part of a series on world music in Champaign-Urbana.
Last Friday, the Iron Post was packed for Timbalú, a local Salsa band that formed towards the end of last year. For at least the first hour of the show the building was at capacity and a line of people waited all the way out the door to get to enter only when another attendee leaves, on a one-in-one-out basis. Those in the line were waiting for good reason, as the 10-piece band brought energy and mastery to the room with a style of music that is a fairly rare treat to see live in Champaign. The event was also a fundraiser for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico. I found out about the show on the calendar on the Center for World Music website. Check out my article about CWM to learn more about one of the central pillars of the world music scene here in Champaign Urbana. I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to go to this show, but afterwards I sure was glad I chanced across finding out about it, and that I got there in time to get in. Timbalú will be playing next on March 2nd at the Independent Media Center in Urbana and March 17th at Cowboy Monkey.
The Iron Post keeps a very eclectic and very full live music schedule, which you can keep up with on their online calendar. I’ve watched dozens of shows there spanning at least a dozen different genres, but right when I walked in this one was immediately unique to me because it was the first time I saw the place with the stage set up on the side closer to the entrance, opposite the room from the normal stage. This was to accommodate the huge 10-piece salsa band and the requisite dance floor, which was filled with people shaking it after just a couple of songs. The band started up around 9:30 with “I Like It Like That”, and the audience quickly perked up. The second song was a Spanish language song I wasn’t familiar with, but I could tell it was very popular because it got most of the crowd singing along, from the young to the older. The band made sure the crowd could feel the energy early in the show. They transitioned seamlessly from song to song for the first 5 or so tunes until they finally took a break for some stage banter.
The band was set up with a percussion section with three members, one of whom was the band leader and lead singer, a horn section with a flute, trombone, alto sax, and tenor sax, a vocals section with three more singers, a piano player, and an electric bass player. The band leader was a British fellow, and his Columbian wife sang and shook her maracas with flags of her home country painted on them. Liz Faermark of Dewclaw sang as well, including taking the lead vocal on the Violent Femme’s classic “Blister in the Sun”, which lent itself perfectly to a salsa rendition to close out their first set. The other half of Dewclaw, Cody Jensen, sat in his percussion station in the corner, complete with drums, cowbells, cymbals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a few more tricks back there I was not cognizant of. The percussion among all 3 of them had me completely mesmerized trying to wrap my brain around the intricate polyrhythms, but those efforts gave way by my mind being taken over by the groove. On the top end of the sound, flourishes of the flute embellished the full bodied mid and bass range harmonies. When the members had a chance to solo, each shined as bright as the last. The entire band played with such chemistry, and that chemistry spilled onto the dance floor and out into the crowd.
At the end of the first set a Puerto Rican audience member was called up to speak about the damage done by hurricane Irma. The emotion in his face and voice was vivid as he told his first hand account of the destruction and what many of his fellow Puerto Ricans were going through. But the speech became even more moving when he talked about how so many regular people sacrificed anything they could to help each other out, such as his own father, a retired electrician, who suited back up and got to work volunteering to help restore telephone and power lines. He said he saw the same thing here in Champaign-Urbana, in Chicago, and in Indianapolis, where he has seen an outpouring of support and donations. As the speech came to a close the band leader walked around the crowded room with his donations bucket and dozens of people opened their wallets. That night Timbalú raised over $800 for Puerto Rican hurricane relief while they raised the spirits of a capacity crowd.