Daniel Leon wears a clean blue polo shirt and does not rush to finish his beer. We are talking at a bar down the street from an upcoming show at the D-Note. Mr. Leon is a nationally accomplished singer (cantante) who has recently found his way to Boulder with his wife, Tamil, of Puerto Rico. Daniel is the first in his family with a bachelor’s degree, though Tamil is doing her doctoral work. He is open and warm, has a firm handshake, and a genuine laugh. He and Tamil dance later in the evening and light up the already heated room.
Salsa dancing is still an enigma to many in America, and it is such a shame. Singers like Daniel perform almost nightly in bars packed full of joyous dancers across the country. Though salsa dancing is sensual, that aspect is magnified in the minds of many. This magnification, coupled with shyness, have prohibited some from enjoying what is a continuation of traditional community dances that people have done around the world for all of history.
The evening in question, the D-Note hosts dance instructors in the hour before the band begins. A round robin of dancers circles the room and rotates every couple of minutes in an friendly exchange of partners. Though most people dance man and woman, Daniel tells me there is room for everyone on the dance floor, whether they eat at Chik-fil-a or not. The main thing about salsa dancing is that I have never seen anyone dance for more than 15 seconds without smiling.
Later in the evening, a man must simply extend his hand to an lady to ask her to dance for a song once the band has begun. Though the man leads the dance in salsa, there is ample opportunity for the lady to express herself. As with all polite interactions between the sexes, salsa dancing is about communication and negotiation.
Daniel Leon is known from Washington D.C. to the other sea. He has opened for and performed with great (Latino) musicians and groups like El Gran Combo, Jerry Rivera, and Maelo Ruiz. While in our nations capitol city he sang with East Coast scene leaders Salsa Ley.
Daniel spends most of his time in Denver performing with Orquesta La Brava, which is led by Fernando Flores. Daniel joins another gran y talented cantante (great, talented singer), Alfredito Rivera, on stage with this ensemble. Orquesta La Brava is 11 (eleven!) musicians strong.
They cover the international salsa hits of El Gran Combo, Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon, and Ruben Blades for packed crowds across Colorado. With three percussionists, three trombonists, and a chorus of (at least) three singers, Orquesta La Brava and Daniel really inspire the crowd to dance the night away.
My personal favorite song Daniel sings with the group is “Aguanile.” Check out a clip from a recent performance in the embedded video. The sound is not so good on the small camera I made the video with, but you can sense the passion and power in Daniel’s voice very well.
Additionally, Daniel is combining the spirit of songs like “Plante Bandera” and “Plantacion Adentro” with the DIY spirit of the modern off-label music world. He has written several of his own songs that identify with his own personal and cultural, latino roots.
In the title of this piece I call Daniel “La Voz de Colorado,” this means “The Voice of Colorado.” There is a tradition of great singers taking or being given the moniker La Voz, Daniel Leon is a deserving recipient of this title. I hope you can celebrate the lively and diverse culture and music of our Queen City of the Plains with him soon.