Salsa Congress and its founder, Albert Torres, celebrate another year in Los Angeles at this weekend's festival.
Albert Torres founded the Salsa Congress many years ago in Puerto Rico, but the festival is now a big part of L.A. culture, especially over Memorial Day weekend every year. Such is the case this holiday weekend, when the annual Los Angeles Salsa Congress plays host to a lengthy list of things to do and see, including musical performances from Dominican salsa singer José Alberto “El Canario,” bachata singer-songwriter Toby Love and legendary salsa band Tipica 73.
In an exclusive interview with Living Out Loud, Torres speaks about the festival’s objective, finances and attendance, among other things.
Living Out Loud: When and how did the idea to create the Salsa Congress come about?
Albert Torres: I started it in 1997 in Puerto Rico, and by 1998, I had decided to bring it to Los Angeles. It has traveled to China, Japan, Istanbul, Greece, Israel and many other [countries] – over 40 around the world. The one in Los Angeles is one of the most important ones we do. There, we’ll be celebrating Tito Puente’s spirit, who left us 14 years ago.
LOL: What is the event’s objective?
AT: The main goal is to keep live music alive, and to provide a place where everyone, from 3 to 80 years old, can have fun, attend workshops, dance, hang out with friends and make new ones. It appeals to many different people, from those who dream of dancing on a live stage, to those who just simply want to keep their children off the streets. I’ve been sober for 27 years, and now I dedicate my life to keeping kids from what I went through. This event gives them a chance to be part of something fun and meaningful.
LOL: What can we expect from the festival, and how does it all function?
AT: We start at 9 a.m. daily, and we set up several different workshops where people can learn everything from the Cuban mambo, New York mambo, etc. Our workshops are hosted by Grammy-winners, and they also teach how musical arrangements are done. We also have workshops for percussionists and other musicians. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., we have a pool party with a live DJ and live shows from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. for kids and beginners. At night, we have the shows by the professionals for about an hour and a half, and then guests just keep dancing and partying until 3 a.m. People from all over the world both teach and participate at this event.
LOL: Financially, how has the festival performed in recent years?
AT: The economy got really bad a few years ago, and we definitely saw a drop in public response. People had a lot less money for travel and accommodations. However, for the past three years, it’s been incredible. We have been averaging three to four thousand people, but his year we expect between five and seven thousand people. We will have a stage at Grand Park with two orchestras, dance contests and other activities, free of charge to the public.
LOL: What happens if you exceed costs and attendance is not very high?
AT: Whenever that happens, the money comes out of my pocket. We don’t usually have that many sponsors, but this year, several companies have expressed interest in sponsoring the event for next year. That will be a huge benefit for the event, and will allow it to continue growing. We invite musicians and dancers from all over the world, and we sometimes have to fund their travel and accommodation arrangements, and some professionals are also compensated.
LOL: What’s the cost of admission for the public?
AT: It depends on who is performing on any given day and whether or not people want to attend any of the workshops. If people want to attend the workshops, the cost is $250, but that’s good for the whole week. If you just want to come for one night, it ranges. For a Friday night, the cost is $40; for Saturday night, it’s $50; and Sunday is $40. Monday is free, Wednesday it’s $15 and on Thursday, it’s $20.
LOL: Every year, the event pays a tribute of sorts. Is it always to a specific performer?
AT: Well, last year we brought African dancers to celebrate the heritage of our Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican music, among others. This year, we’ll be remembering Tito Puente and his legacy.
Los Angeles Salsa Congress takes place May 21-26 at the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown. For more information, visit mysalsacongress.com.
Edison Millan contributed to this story.