Antonio Garza, founder of salsa band La Orquesta Salmerum, talks to SMAG about the Latin music scene in Houston, playing with Jerry Rivera, and the band’s future music plans.
The group is nominated for “Best traditional Latin band” in the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards.
So where are you from?
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. My family is from Mexico, but I spent most of my life in San Antonio. I went away for school, and I eventually made my way to Houston. [Now] I live here in Houston.
How do you like the Houston music scene?
Oh, I think it’s great. I’ve lived in different parts of the country and have friends all over, and everyone’s impressed by the music scene. Everyone thinks Houston’s got the best music scene…especially for Latin music.
It’s not really a place that most people will think [is known for] salsa, or merengue, or música tropical because it’s Texas. So a lot of people don’t really realize that there’s a lot of talent here from all over, really. The band is made up of Colombianos, Venezuelanos, Puertoriqueños, Dominicanos, Mexicanos…people from all over.
How many members do y’all have?
How long has [the band] been together?
The group has been around since November 2001.
Is that what you play? [Referring to the white keyboard he removed from his car.]
I play saxophone and for a couple songs, I play keyboard. Yeah, just a little bit.
Are there other artists that you like to play with?
We back up a lot of artists that come to town, like instead of a club bringing the whole entire band, they’ll just fly the artist, maybe a musical director, and then we back them up.
We’ve played with, the last person was, Jerry Rivera. That was most recent, in New Orleans. But we play with a lot of [people]…Tito Rojas, and Maelo Ruiz, Anthony Cruz, some new up and comers like Edgar Daniel—he’s got a hit song right now, “Cuando Baje la Marea”—and Kevin Ceballo, Charlie Cruz…quite a few people. Paquito Guzmán, some of the old timer people, too, that have some hits from the 80s—people still love’em. And they draw a big crowd here in Houston.
How was the experience of the last gig?
With Jerry? Oh, it was really cool…well, it was in New Orleans, so that’s a fun town. It was a good experience, backing up such a well-known salsa singer, and seeing the fan reaction.
What do y’all have planned next?
Well. We gig here in Houston regularly. We’ve been doing four times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. That keeps us pretty busy. We take little trips here and there if we’re backing up artists, or we might play at a club with someone else…we stay pretty busy.
[We’re] trying to get a little production together so we can have something to put out to people. We have a lot of people asking us if we have a CD and we don’t…yet. A couple of the lead singers have done some stuff on their own, just like a few songs. We’re trying to figure out which of those we want to use, and then we’ll have some of our own as well.
Who comes up with the music?
It’s a collaboration of people. In clubs and here tonight, we’re going to be playing mostly covers. We just try to pick popular music that people have heard before. We don’t like to play anything that’s super obscure, and try to stick to how the song goes and not stray too, too far from the regular…what you hear on the CD, basically. And that’s been a good formula for us.
We have people, like I said, from all over. So the Dominicanos help us with the merengue, the Colombianos and Puertoriqueños help us with the salsa…and [we see] what’s good and what’s not good. So we collaborate.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Thanks to Antonio for the great interview!
Photo credit: Stephanie Meza
Online voting for the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards ends Aug. 8 at 12 a.m. The ballot is available here and in the July 22 print issue of the Houston Press.