No more rhinestones and sequins. These essential accessories for salsa costumes have become far too expensive with the pandemic. In her sewing workshop, Normani Sossa, stylist, is racking her brains to save money. She works on a dancer’s leotard where she replaces them with varnished skai diamonds. « With the lights and the movements, from afar, the effect is almost the same ”, she persuades herself.
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The stylist is depressed. Usually so vibrant and exuberant, like her colorful salsa costume designs known throughout Cali for 15 years, has ” lost everything “. First her husband, who died of Covid-19 in June 2020. Then his income: nearly 90% of his turnover. Her sewing table emptied of the hundreds of costumes she imagined each year. His six sewing machines fell silent. “More shows, more salsa, more money and in the shadows, we little hands, we suffer like the whole sector”. She survives by creating wedding or gala dresses for private clients.
Normani Sossa notably made the costumes for the Delirio Show, the biggest monthly salsa show in Colombia. In one evening, 690 people worked for this exceptional entertainment, including 250 dancers and musicians for 1,600 spectators. During the last three months of confinement from June to August, they offered virtual shows reducing the team to 60 dancers. Since September, they only organize private shows. Employees grit their teeth. “We have lost over 80% of income. The Delirio survives thanks to the help of our patrons: a bank and alcohol brands ”, admits Andrea Estrada Gutiérrez, 34, marketing director.
Odd jobs to survive
While waiting to come back on stage, the dancers practice and the musicians rehearse. Most have found odd jobs alongside their passion. In the Olimpo recording studio, the salseros (salsa dancers) from the group Mantecablue the Latin Corner are happy to meet again for the second time in nine months! All the musicians say they have lost almost 70% of their income. “ We had to reinvent ourselves, smiles Jhon Di Pinto, 42, the singer of the group, i sell accessories for pets. “
Most of these artists work as teachers, they were able to continue their courses online. “It was also a period of creation, it gave us time to concentrate on our music. I was able to study other sounds ”, underlines Denilson Ibarguen, 54, a renowned percussionist who accompanies Yuri Buenaventura on his tours.
Alí “Tarry” Garcés, one of the founders of the emblematic Colombian salsa group Grupo Niche, nevertheless denounces the lack of state aid. The saxophonist is also the leader of Cali’s association of salsa musicians, Musa. “During the confinement, we were able to collect 4,000 food kits that we gave to 1,300 musicians. But I think that half will stop the music and retrain ”, he laments.
In Cali, the party is over
The neighborhoods of San Antonio or Granada are sadly empty. The tourists who came for the festive atmosphere of Cali have deserted. The walls of Zaperoco, popular salsoteca (salsa disco), still vibrate to the sounds of salseros, but everyone must dance in a predefined square in front of their table and with the same person. “Only 30% of our clientele can enter, around 90 people. It’s a shortfall but we have the financial support of a big brand of alcohol, that’s how the majority of discos have been able to survive », Summarizes David Levi, 29, the administrator.
What future for salsa?
But it is above all the future of salsa in Cali that worries professionals in the sector. At the Arrebeto Caleño dance school, 95% of the students were foreigners. “We will be closing our doors soon. The burdens are too heavy to bear, we are pessimistic about the future with ever more debts and no return of foreign students for months ”, sighs Nhora Aleja Tovar, the director.
Isabel Valencia has already closed the doors of Music Street, her music school specializing in salsa. “Thousands of young people from working-class neighborhoods hoped to get by with salsa. They train for several hours a day to become professionals and tour the world. Today it is a whole part of the youth which finds itself on the floor ”, she saddens.
Salsa in Cali
Salsa comes from the Spanish word sauce. This rhythmic Afro-Cuban music, associated with a sensual and spectacular dance, has spread throughout Latin America, among Latin American communities abroad, then throughout the world.
The music is played with a rhythm section, whose bass gives the tumbao and the piano montuno, numerous percussions – congas, bongos, timpani, vibraphones -, brass instruments and is accompanied by singers and choristers.
The city of Cali, before the pandemic brought together 127 salsa academies and employed 3,263 dancers, 319 choreographers, 257 instructors, 6,506 students. 91 orchestras performed in 97 salsotecas (specialized discotheques). In 2020, the 63e Feria de Cali had a budget of 2.7 million euros.