More Than Meets the Eye
Octavio Figueroa keeps the salsa-holics
By Dena Burroughs | Web Published 10.21.2002
Those of us in Los Angeles who love musica tropical certainly
have an abundance of options. We have access to the concerts and presentations of famous artists who stop by our city regularly
(i.e. in the next few weeks alone both Ruben Blades and Willie Colon will be in town!), and we also are fortunate to count
with great local talent.
One of these ‘locals’ who are truly a pleasure to listen to is Octavio Figueroa and his group,
A couple of weeks ago Octavio and his group played at the Babylon Court in Hollywood. What a fun afternoon
that was! While Octavio’s band played, a few of us ‘salsa-holics’ danced non-stop, as many bystanders curiously watched and
tapped their feet, or moved in place, to the contagious beat of the music.
It is common to see Octavio’s band play
at public events such as this one. Quite often they play at outdoor concerts, museum festivals, and others of the sort.
day at the Babylon Court I made it a point to talk to Octavio to find out more about him, where he came from, how he got started
and what his future projects are. As it usually happens, every person has an interesting story, and our conversation showed
me that, ‘como si fuera poco’, Octavio Figueroa is a lot more than what meets the eye.
Octavio was born in Lima, Peru,
and came to the U.S at age 20. He attended school in Montana up to his graduation from college (with a Bachelors degree in
Psychology). He then moved to Denver, Colorado, where he continued his college courses in music until 1982, when he moved
to Los Angeles.
His experience as a musician is extensive. As his specialty is the piano, early in his career he played
it for several recognized local artists such as Bobby Matos. It was also as a pianist that he performed in several countries,
including Japan and Australia, and of course in other places within the US. He eventually formed his own band, first called
‘La Sorpresa’, and now called ‘La Combinacion’.
With ‘La Combinacion’ he plays a variety of music, with a little more
emphasis on cha-cha-cha and Cuban classics. According to Octavio, such emphasis probably has to do with the fact that Willie
Cadenas’ voice has a particular affinity to that type of music. Cadenas is the group’ singer, the owner of a voice certainly
fantastic, and Octavio’s associate now for more than ten years.
I got a copy of Octavio’s first CD, called ‘Ritmo
Caliente’ which combines songs with both ‘La Sorpresa’ and ‘La Combinacion’. My favorite is the second cut called ‘Barranquilla’,
which is a great dance song. (By the way, Octavio takes copies of that CD to most of his presentations, so if any of you are
interested in getting a copy, know that you can purchase it directly from him.)
This week, Octavio will be playing
on Tuesday, October 22nd in San Diego, at Café Sevilla (555 4th Ave. Lamp District 619/294-8414), and then here in L.A., next
Saturday, October 26th at Havana on Sunset (8 p.m. to 12 a.m., 5825 W. Sunset Blvd. Hollywood 323/464-1800).
band’ schedule gets updated monthly on his web page http://www.octaviofigueroa.com. There is also a sample of his music loaded
on it, as well as several pictures, make sure to check out his schedule to find out where you can go see them perform.
Make it a point to see Octavio Figueroa y La Combinación soon. It will be to your enjoyment because they are really a
great show, and at the same time you will be doing good by supporting our Los Angeles local talent!
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Salsa has a Peruvian Combination in LA
and Willy Cadenas’ group is among the city’s most popular
By: Nelly Apaza Retamoso
Even though it’s not a Caribbean
country, Peru is known as the South American salsa capital for its taste for everything tropical, which goes way back. Musicians
such as Dámaso Pérez Prado and his mambo, and the Sonora Matancera and all its singers stepped on Peruvian territory during
Peruvian musicians —piano players, percussionists, singers, etc.— have been successful wherever they’ve
gone, interpreting a Cuban son or a Puerto Rican salsa. Take Octavio Figueroa, Willy Cadenas and La Combinación, the salsa
group with in which the two Peruvians are associate directors.
Figueroa, a keyboard player, and Cadenas, a signer, got
together in 1990, and La Combinación hasn’t stopped playing at different cities throughout the West Coast since. It’s one
of the most solicited bands by Los Angeles locals and clubs, where salsa or Latin jazz is the rhythm that is danced to or
It couldn’t have turned out any other way. Each of them brought to the group a great professional trajectory.
"Tavio" Figueroa was among those who introduced Denver, Colorado to salsa in the ‘70s with his Nuestra Salsa group. At
the time, he was the musical director of the city’s Teatro Nacional Chicano de Danza, with which he toured throughout several
states, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia.
When he decided to move to Los Angeles in 1982 "I’d already made a small name
for myself," he remembers and he didn’t have any trouble playing with some LA groups. His skill at the white and black piano
keys made him a fixture at La Sorpresa, one of the best-known groups at the time.
Next to him in that popular group were
musicians such as Papo Rodríguez, Gary Eisenberg, George López, Ramón Ramos and Virgilio Figueroa, who now they make up the
foundation of La Combinación.
Cadenas also had a track record, which he brought from Peru. He was one of the tropical
voices Peruvian groups that played Afro-Caribbean music called upon the most. He toured throughout South American with some
of them. He came to San Francisco on tour with the Hermanos Silva in 1980 and liked California. He came back a year later
In Los Angeles, he found it easy to do the vocals for groups such as Son Mayor, Charanga Cubana and Macondo
before joining Figueroa. Cadenas, who has been a singer for more than 30 years, has shared the stage with Tito Puente, Grupo
Niche, Joe Arroyo, Oscar D'León and Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, among others for whom he opened shows, along with La Combinación.
The group has its own arrangements, made by Figueroa, of songs by other singers of the "salsa dura" era, as well as Cuban
classics, such as Benny Moré compositions. Its repertoire also includes Peruvian waltzes with salsa arrangements. It’s a band
whose wind instruments sounds as well as its percussion one and which does the well-known "descargas" which prompt the public
to burst into applause.
Often, Figueroa and Cadenas perform at restaurants or private parties, for which they have a special
repertoire, on weekends as part of a six-person group. But their strong point is the whole group, La Combinación.
gets extra merit. Along with the Inca group directed by the Argentinean Guillermo Bordarampé, he offers lessons and puts on
shows of Peruvian music at Los Angeles public schools. With him are other Peruvian musicians, Fernando Popayán and Víctor
Vento, who play typical Andean instruments.
Singers who travel to California and don’t bring their own groups along for
contractual reasons always request La Combinación’s accompaniment. And Octavio Figueroa, Willy Cadenas and their group are
there, getting the arrangements ready.
The applause is always the same.
SALSA PIANO MAN
pianist Octavio Figueroa moved to Los Angeles in 1982, he has become a well-known figure in the local Latin-salsa music scene.
After leading the prestigious
La Sorpresa Salsa Orchestra for six years, he formed La Combinación with Peruvian sonero
Willy Cadenas. With La Combinación, Tavio now performs at Los Angeles’s top salsa venues such as the Conga Room, The Century
Club, The Rumba Club, Steven’s Steakhouse, and with a smaller ensemble, the Havana on Sunset.
Tavio’s salsa bands have
opened shows for Tito Puente, Oscar De León, Eddie Santiago, Bob James, and Grupo Niche. They have also backed up salseros
Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Andy Montañez, Melcochita, Nora, the former lead singer from La Orquesta de la Luz and
From time to time, Tavio takes short breaks from LA and performs in other parts of the world. In 1991 and 1995
he spent time in Tokyo with his friend and singer Patricia Albela. He greeted 1996 sailing the oceans as a salsa band musical
director for the maiden voyage of Princess Cruises’s Sun Princess. And every year he visits his family in Australia or Perú,
and ends up gigging with local salsa or Latin jazz bands.
Tavio gives back to his community teaching Latin rhythms to inner-city
youth with programs like Artsreach and Youth First, and promoting Peruvian music and culture with Grupo Inca.
bands have passed some of the now most sought after Latin musicians, such as trombonist Art Velazco, trumpeters Ramón Flores
and Sal Cracciolo, percussionists Papo Rodriguez and Michito Sánchez, and guitarist Ramon Stagnaro to mention a few.
has two CD productions: Octavio Figueroa, with La Sorpresa and La Combinacion Salsa Orchestras and Amazonas, Latin-American
songs with Andean quenas and zampoñas.
Willy Cadenas, nacido en el Perú, cantaba
profesionalmente a los 18 años con la orquesta de Blackie Coronado y sucesivamente grabó con la orquestas de Tito Chicoma,
Enrique Lynch, Freddy Roland, Lucho Macedo y otras grandes orquestas de gran impacto en la capital y provincias del Perú.
Los temas “A la Memoria del Muerto’ y “Mi Propio Yo” se convirtieron en grandes exitos que lo impulsaron a otras
grabaciones en la epoca de los ’70.
Willy realizó giras internacionales a Guayaquil, Ecuador y a Santiago de Chile y su
popularidad creció rápidamente en el mercado tropical de Sud-America. En 1980 viajó a San Francisco, California con la Orquesta
de los Hermanos Silva.
Radicado en Los Angeles, California desde 1981, Willy ha cantado con las mejores orquestas de California,
dirige su propia agrupación “La Combinación” y es activo en las grabaciones de Latinos en Los Angeles. En 1993 celebró sus
25 años de vida artistica con actuaciones y homenajes que le brindaron amigos y colegas tanto en Lima, Peru como en Los Angeles,
Willy es la voz de la primera grabacion de “La Charanga Cubana” de Los Angeles y también grabó el tema “Chimpun
Callao” con la Orquesta Macondo
Junto con Octavio Figueroa, pianista peruano radicado en Los Angeles, “La Combinación”
ha acompañado a muchos cantantes y compartido en el escenario con los grandes de la salsa como lo son Oscar De Leon, Joe Arroyo,
y Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez.
La Orquesta “La Combinación” es una de las mas solicitadas tanto de los locales de salsa de
Los Angeles asi como en diferentes ciudades de la costa oeste de California como San Diego, Santa Barbara y San Francisco.
Ellos actuan en clubs, restaurants, fiestas particulares y eventos comunitarios siempre con su repertorio de salsa clasica.
11022 Mansel Ave.
Lennox, CA. 90304 Tel: 310-672-5578