Saxophonist and composer Henry A. March started his career playing salsa, meringue and jazz and becoming a part of Miami's glitzy, multinational Latin music scene. But he found his calling playing the music of his Colombian hometown.
“It is a traditional style from a very specific environment, little bands from the little towns on the north coast,” he says. Papayera music is a big part of small town life: a unique, strolling combination of European municipal brass band and Afro-Cuban street percussion group. Driven by distinctive, complex patterns on the snare and bass, it evokes comparisons to the upbeat portions of New Orleans funeral marches. “It is very danceable, contagiously happy music,” March says.
For a long time it flew under the radar, even in Colombia. “No one was paying attention,” he says. “The nightclubs were interested in the big orchestras. But little by little it became very popular.” His band — Henry A. March and La Gran Banda (the full name is necessary since “the great band” is decidedly generic) quickly found an audience among the more than 100,000 Colombians living around Miami. “We are giving ourselves something of our own to listen to,” March says. “We didn't have that before.”
The group is something of a family affair. March's son plays percussion and his brother doubles on trombone and saxophone. There are two more drummers, a trumpeter, another trombonist and an electric bassist. “Traditionally there would be a big tuba,” March says. “But that is very hard to travel with.”
March is proud his band is recognized as one of the best in Miami, its appeal reaching beyond the core Colombian and Latin audiences to other Americans. Asked why people should seek out his band's performance at the Folk Festival, he says that different people have different tastes, and that nothing is for everyone. He offers an invitation, not a promise. “You have to listen to the music,” he says. “Then set your opinion.”
Saturday: Noon-1 p.m. at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion.
Saturday: 6-6:45 p.m. at the Dominion Stage.
Sunday: 1:15-2:15 p.m. at the Ukrop's/First Market Stage.
Sunday: 4-5 p.m. at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion.