The Conga Room Becomes the Lion’s Den For Oscar D’León

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Salsa singer Oscar D’León performing on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at The Conga Room. (Instagram/Conga Room)

Salsa singer Oscar D’León performing on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at The Conga Room. (Instagram/Conga Room)

What would you do if you’ve almost lost and eye this year, ten years earlier had three heart attacks while performing in a festival in Martinique and turned 70 years old this year?

If you ask Emilio León Somoza, better known as Oscar D’León, you would play a Thursday night salsa concert at the world famous Conga Room in the presence of over 1000 crazed fans.

Very “old-school”! Oscar D’Leon is known by many names: El Diablo de la Salsa (“The Devil of Salsa”), El Sonero del Mundo (“the Son Singer of the World”), el Faraón de la salsa (“the pharaoh of salsa”), El Sonero Mayor (“the Great Son Singer”) or my favorite El León de La Salsa (Salsa’s Lion).

He is a “SONERO” in capital letters, an arranger, conductor, base player and all around superman at the age of 70.

Wearing a blazer over a white/blue patterned shirt and sunglasses, El León de la salsa began with “Ahora Nadie se Muere de Amor” followed by his very popular “Lloraras” in which the audience joined in with full force.

He was backed up by a large band which included 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 3 percussionists, a base player and flanked by a female and male violin players.

The Conga Rooms was filled to capacity to hear this old school sonero, and this included many Latino political figures who hopped on stage in order to give Oscar D’León a City of Los Angeles certificate for his great accomplishments. Oscar reciprocated with a couple of Mexican traditional tunes as a thank you.

With his next tune “Yo Quisiera,” he gave a nod to the many Latin American communities in the audience including his native Venezuela, which made up a good percentage of those in attendance. Then the jacket came off and the sweat began to pour from his brow as he showed off many dance moves that would shame anyone half his age.

The ageless D’León followed with two of his most memorable recordings: “Melao De Caña” and “La Piragua.” He recorded both with the Venezuelan band Dimension Latina in the 1970s. While performing, he signed autographs at the same time from the stage.

A very well known ladies man, D’León managed to flirt very effectively with the ladies in the audience even with his new glass eye. Early this year he suffered an accident at home when a trunk hit his left eye and the doctors were unable to save it.

The late Tito Puente made the song “Ran Can Can” famous and with his rendition, D’León gave a nod to one of the greatest Latin artists to ever live; he also was a personal friend. The Colombian classic “Yo Me Voy Pa Cali” made people dance up a storm, which was followed by the bolero “Mucho Corazon” by Mexican female composer Ema Elena Valdelamar. It was dedicated to the Cubans in the audience. I raised my hand!

I have had the pleasure to see D’León in Los Angeles since the mid 1990s as part of the RMM Salsa Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, The Conga Room (on Wilshire), The Mayan, and at the Los Angeles Salsa Congress. He is forever youthful.

This night at the Conga Room, El León de la Salsa danced, sung out his heart out, sweated up a storm, flirted but most of all he “roared” the best old-school danceable salsa this side of the Mississippi.

His audience reciprocated by a barrage of photos and videos that were taken as a memento of this glorious night given to us by a 70-year-old young Oscar D’León.

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