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Venezuelan Invasion

Guaco is salsa's best kept secret

Apart from a one-day whirl of shows at the Lincoln Center and the Copacabana in New York City last year, Guaco's appearances in the neighborhood to their north have been limited. "It's always for the Venezuelan community," observes Aguado. The Toyota Super Festival was no exception, sponsored in part by the local community newspaper El Venezolano and the new Venezuelan-owned pan-American daily El Diario. Antonio Obregon, an event coordinator for El Venezolano, estimates that roughly 150,000 Venezuelans live in Florida, but he claims that the annual Venezuelan Independence Day celebration sponsored by his paper draws compatriots from as far away as North Carolina and even Minnesota. The turnout at the Toyota Super Festival on a chilly December afternoon, says Obregon, "was not what we had hoped."

With vast stretches of the Tamiami Fairgrounds as open and empty as the Venezuelan plains, the masses huddled before the main stage showed a decided preference for Guaco. The usual nationality roll call turned up few Cubans or Puerto Ricans, Celia Cruz and the Gran Combo notwithstanding. Instead grandmothers, teenagers, and middle-age men wearing hats and T-shirts emblazoned with "Venezuela" all noisily demanded an encore after Guaco filed offstage. The masters of ceremony attempted to distract the crowd with banter, but the chants of "Gua-co, Gua-co," drowned them out. Guaco came back, jamming with the combined familiarity and freshness of musicians who know one another well enough to risk taking the music to a territory they do not know. After that, neither the bright orange wig worn by Celia Cruz nor the prospect of the perfectly executed series of familiar standards by Grupo Niche and El Gran Combo could persuade a significant portion of the audience to brave the December chill.

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