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In Conversation with Ángel “Papote” Alvarado: Desde Ponce a Nueva York



Ángel "Papote" Alvarado
Ángel "Papote" Alvarado

After their great success in Chicago and New Orleans, Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia arrive in New York City to perform live on Saturday, September 30, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in Hostos Community College.

I had the opportunity to talk to Ángel about his upcoming show in New York. Héctor “Pichie” Pérez – the Bronx-born “sonero” and 30-year lead singer of Papo Lucca’s acclaimed salsa band La Sonora Ponceña will join Ángel y el Grupo Esencia on this very special event. This culturally rich evening will resonate with lovers – young and old – of contemporary Puerto Rican Bomba, Plena, Salsa and Afro-Caribbean music.

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia are very excited about the opportunity to perform their music in New York once again. They are eagerly rehearsing the repertoire, which will include a good selection of their biggest hits, old and recent. In their Hostos Center debut, Ángel y el Grupo Esencia will celebrate 25 years of performing and recording their dynamic style of hard-hitting, danceable Bomba, Plena and Salsa.

A Reminder that Hostos Center and Latinjazznet would like to reward our readers based in the NYC area with 2 pairs of tickets every week through Saturday Sept 30. We would like the winners to join us as our guests. Send an email to telling us you want to attend the concert and type Angel & Grupo Esencia in the subject. Winners will be selected at random and contacted via email.

Saturday, September 30, 2023 at 7:30 p.m.
Main Theater | Hostos Community College
450 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10451
Box Office Info: (718) 518-4455

Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y Grupo Esencia
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y Grupo Esencia

DN: Hello Ángel, first of all, tell me about you and your beginnings in music in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado: Greetings brother, I am the founder and director of el Grupo Esencia and I also chair the committee in favor of our culture in Ponce, Puerto Rico, we have been working here on the island for 25 years in what is the National Afro-Caribbean Festival.

I have been working with el Grupo Esencia for around 27 years, and in my beginnings, well I always say that music comes with me from the cradle, I was practically born with the drum in my hand, since my father in his youth was a conguero player, he was one of the first people who formed those small groups in our neighborhood, during the time of Maelo and Cortijo.

Mr. Antonio Rodríguez, may he rest in peace, was my uncle and my godfather, and he used to teach me how to play the timbales. He was known here in Puerto Rico as the king of the bomba, a tremendous bomba dancer. I also learned percussion from my uncle Ángel Aguilera, who was a timbalero, from those rumberos timbaleros, from the parties, from the rumbas that formed on the street corners during the 70s, from Fania. I am from ’69, so I have been absorbing and nourishing myself from all this music through my uncles, my family, the experiences in my neighborhood.

Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

DN: How was El Grupo Esencia born?

El Grupo Esencia was born from the vision of creating a group here in Ponce. Mostly the existing groups were bomba and plena groups, they were folkloric, traditional, they didn’t have metals, so I decided it was time to get started with Esencia. I have always really liked the music of Mon Rivera, the sound of Willie Colón with the trombones. So I decided to use 3 trombones, bass, piano and a tresero and we started digging into our music, in the bomba and the plena, and in our beginnings, well we always did salsa too, but we had not thought about recording our music.

DN: When did you start recording your music? Tell me about the seven albums you have released.

In 2000, we released our first studio recording titled Sonaron los Panderos. In 2003, we recorded our second production La Verdad, which at that time included the latest compositions by Maestro Tite Curet Alonso, in addition to being co-producer and advisor of said project. Andy Montañéz, Ángel “Cachete” Maldonado, William Cepeda and Richard Martínez participated as guests in this production. La Verdad is considered by many to be the Musical Jewel of the Contemporary Plena.

Albums: Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Albums: Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

This album [La Verdad] is the one that I treasure the most, because I had the honor and privilege of having worked with the great maestro Don Tite Curet Alonso, I had grown up idolizing his music. Having had his advice and his latest unpublished lyrics for this production represents an incalculable value. Unfortunately, Don Tite was unable to see the finished album. The maestro died the same day I went to look for the album in San Juan with Mr. Willie Sotelo, may he also rest in peace. With Willie, who was the musical director of El Gran Combo, we made four albums, including La Verdad.

Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

In 2005, we released the production De Ayer y Hoy – Raíces Esenciales. Two stalwarts of music participated in this project: trombonist Jimmy Bosch and Héctor Calderón from the group Yuba Iré. This production contains the songs: Ecuajey and Guerrero de Bronce, which became radio hits in Puerto Rico.

In 2011, we released the album Con la Fuerza de un Tren, which had the special participation of great figures of salsa: José Alberto ‘El Canario’, Luisito Carrión and Moncho Rivera. The production was nominated for the 2011 Latin Grammy Awards in the Best Traditional Tropical Album category. The Grupo Esencia walked the awards red carpet and received its Nomination Medal.

Albums: Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Albums: Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

In 2014, and with the overwhelming force that has always distinguished us, we launched our fifth musical production, titled Sé Muy Bien de donde Vengo. On this occasion, we had the participation of a veteran of Puerto Rican music, Andy Montañez. In addition to El Septeto Santiaguero de Cuba, Jerry Rivas, Carlos ‘Cao’ Vélez and Félix Torres. This album was selected by the National Foundation for Popular Culture among The 20 Best Productions of 2014.

Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

At the beginning of 2017, we released our album 20 Years of Sabor and Sacrificio, which featured Maestro Papo Lucca as a special guest. It is a project that compiles the group’s long career and offers four unreleased songs.

The first single titled Una Libra Entera de Sabor had a lot of airplay on Puerto Rican radio. And as always, we presented the variety of rhythms and dynamism that has always characterized us so much.

Albums: Ángel "Papote" Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia
Albums: Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia

This was another of our albums worthy of a Latin Grammy nomination, and a testament to the efforts and creativity of our group, which represents the cultural conscience of Puerto Rico.

Starting in 2018, we began releasing songs that would later be part of our next album in commemoration of the 25 years of formation of our group. Among these songs are: Yo Me Quedo, with Pirulo as a guest artist; Azúcar y Candela, with the great sonero Gilberto Santa Rosa as guest artist; Cuatro Soneros, with another great sonero, Gilberto “Pichie” Pérez as guest artist.

Ángel "Papote" Alvarado with Gilberto Santa Rosa
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado with Gilberto Santa Rosa

DN: And then El Tren de la Sabrosura gets released in 2022.

Under the title El Tren de la Sabrosura, this album was released in November 2022. El Caballero de la Salsa, Gilberto Santa Rosa, entered the corner of la plena, José Alberto ‘El Canario’ showed off his soneos. The virtuosity of the percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo was felt. Moncho Rivera, Luisito Carrión, Pirulo and Gilberto ‘Pichie’ Pérez demonstrated their skills. And Jerry Rivas, Jimmy Bosch, Toñito Vázquez and ‘Cao’ Vélez were part of the guests. The late pianist Willie Sotelo, who was musical director of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, was also present in what appears to be his last recording before leaving the earthly plane.

It was a tremendous recognition for our group that the National Foundation for Popular Culture of Puerto Rico awarded us with the Best Record Production of 2022 for El Tren de la Sabrosura.

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: El Tren de la Sabrosura
Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: El Tren de la Sabrosura

DN: El Grupo Esencia continues to be active after the pandemic, touring and performing, in Puerto Rico and abroad?

For sure. Currently, el Grupo Esencia continues to perform not only in Puerto Rico, but also in USA and internationally. We recently performed with great success in New Orleans, at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Everyone who attended this important event felt the force of El Tren de la Sabrosura. We have also been to La Fiesta Boricua in Chicago; at the Festival de Toros y Salsa in the city of Dax, in France; at the Annual New York Parade, when this event was dedicated to the city of Ponce; at Lincoln Center (Damrosch Park), in the New York Plaza; at the Festival Musical Tenderete of the Canary Islands, in Spain.

Our mission is to continue making Puerto Rican music known, as well as offering quality shows and recordings to leave a legacy for new generations.

We invite boricuas in New York and all those music lovers of contemporary Puerto Rican Bomba, Plena, Salsa and Afro-Caribbean music, to come to Hostos Center this coming Saturday, September 30, 2023. It will be an unforgetable evening.

DN: Thank you Angel for taking the time to talk with me about you and your music. We at Latin jazz Network wish you the best in your future musical projects.

Thank you Danilo for taking the time to work on this interview!

[All photos of Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia provided by the artist]

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: Yo Vengo

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: Azúcar y Candela

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: La Negrada

Ángel “Papote” Alvarado y el Grupo Esencia: Se Te Fué la Guagua

Web Publisher. Founder, Editor & Webmaster for Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report & That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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