Obama’s Favorite Salsa Musicians Are in Miami, but You Can’t See Them Play

In the heat of summer, it seems President Obama is dancing la salsa dura.

Along with 40 artists, including Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Marley, the president chose Miami-based Colombian salsa band Sonora Carruseles to appear on his summer POTUS playlist late last month. The chosen song, "La Salsa La Traigo Yo" ("I'll Bring the Salsa"), is a fast-paced invitation to move to the hard sounds of bass, horns, and percussion.

The 11-piece band, previously little known in the United States, was taken by surprise by the news. Since then, the band members have been busy fielding calls from media outlets, from the AP to Univision. They're lining up tour dates and selling out copies of their new album.

But unfortunately, those of us here in town won't be able to catch a show from our new hometown heroes, because the band doesn't perform locally. In fact, they say Miami is a pretty horrible place for a salsa band.

"When we got to Miami, we had some performances here, but this is just not the place for salsa music," singer Daniel Marmolejo says. "There are a few tiny clubs that barely pay. It’s kind of a crisis."

Sonora Carruseles formed in 1995 in Medellín, Colombia. Fourteen albums and 20 years later, the band has found its greatest success outside Colombia, in places not necessarily associated with salsa music, from Japan to the Netherlands to Hungary. Fans are drawn to the band’s classic, hard salsa sound, mixed with boogaloo.

The bandmates moved to Miami in 2004 to be able to more easily access international crowds. From Australia to Budapest, they have packed giant spaces full of audiences as large as 150,000. Their music is a favorite in international salsa institutes, salsa congresses, and even on the hit Fox series So You Think You Can Dance.

But being included on the president’s summer playlist is by far the biggest honor for the band, Marmoleja says.

"We thought it was a good joke," he says, "until Caracol Radio [in Colombia] called." 

The White House told the AP that it couldn’t explain how the items got on the playlist but that Obama chose the songs himself.

Manolo Puerta, the band’s manager, says he thinks Michelle Obama may have caught the Sonora Carruseles bug in a Zumba class and passed the word along to her husband.

"Michelle does exercises, and I'm sure that's why she liked it," he says. "Our songs have few words but a lot of rhythm. And that's what dancers want."

Since news of the playlist broke late last month, the band has been giving interviews to the press and prepping for upcoming shows. Next, they'll head to Guatemala. Unfortunately, Miami is not on the list.

Michael Mut, the bassist/vocalist in the local Latin Funk band Electric Piquete, says he’d love to see Sonora Carruseles perform locally. He agrees Miami's live music scene has taken a hit in recent years, but there's still a demand for live salsa.

"It may have taken a step backwards, but I don't think it's dead," he says. "Sure, we're not New York, but if you have people who are passionate, you're always going to have a scene."