Julio Bravo and his amazing orchestra
The San Francisco Bay Area is fortunate to have many musical talents who have made left this corner of the United States of America at the top. Acclaimed Julio Bravo is one of them and there are many reasons for stating that. Julio Bravo is a famous singer and musician who has been performing with his orchestra in many nightclubs and salsa festivals for quite some time now. He is the leader of the Orquesta Salsabor, which is composed of 12 members whose place of residence is the East Bay.
This Peruvian says that they are a hard-working group with many decades of experience. He has also said at times that playing with the same people for so long makes a huge difference in terms of sound. In that sense, Salsabor is not unlike other orchestras of its type and time.
As a child, Bravo already showed a big vocation by the world of music and this is reflected in his appearance on children’s television programmes, school plays and some more formal projects. At the end of the 80s, he came to the United States and it would not be long before he started walking the path still to be followed today. One of his first projects was his incorporation into the Trio Los Chalanes, which led him to become more and more known in the Latin community of his new country of residence.
One of the events that projected the most his image as an artist was his brilliant participation on the TV show Buscando Estrellas, a contest in which he reached the final and became much more recognized than he already was thanks to his hard work. With the amount of fame he had earned so far, he started taking part in La Orquesta Internacional, with which he performed on countless occasions in various venues in California and had a heavy demand from places that wanted him to perform there.
A few years later, he made the difficult decision to create his own orchestra which he named Salsabor and with which he remains active to this day. All this time, both Julio and his musicians have earned a reputation for professionalism and quality that would guarantee them the confidence of many festival organizers in night clubs and private events.
His hard work has made his orchestra one of the most important salsa groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.
We are talking with Julio Bravo, Peruvian artist and leader of Orquesta Salsabor. Good afternoon, Julio. How are you?
Very good afternoon, Karina. I am delighted to be here. Thank you for the invitation.
Julio, you had your first contact with music when you were very young in your country. At what age did you know you wanted to dedicate yourself to the musical world?
I think you are born with that. I think it all started when I was in school. In elementary school, I was always involved in the performances or the school theater. That’s how I think it all started.
So, from schooling age, you already expressed this interest in the world of music and the arts.
Exactly. I did not necessarily sing, but we acted and did skits. In my neighborhood, musical manifestations were very frequent. My parents always organized meetings at home and my friends came, and they loved to bring their guitars and the acoustic cajón. There were always meetings at my house or at a neighbor’s.
Do you think there was something that inspired you?
In Peru, we have the Creole music genre. Since I was a small child I listened to it at home with my parents. In order to play it, you only need the cajón accompanied by a guitar. In neighborhoods, when there are no guitarists, children have a cajon or they make one in wood. In the 70s and 80s, there was a strong influence from Creole music on radio and television in my country, plus my parents and neighbors liked it. So, seeing all that up close was one of the things that inspired me.
In 1991, you were on the TV show Buscando Estrellas, since your career took off in many ways. Do you consider that this project changed your professional future?
That helped me a lot, but it happened when I had barely two years here. When I came from Peru, I did not want to be a great musician or look for work in that field. I came to seek a future in whatever God put in my way and I was fortunate to have music as an instrument to generate work. When I started singing here, on my first week here, I went to sing at a restaurant because some friends took me over there. It was called ”El Chalán” and that’s where I met a group that performed that night and started playing with them, but I would recently arrived, so I had to get a revenue-generating job to pay the rent. I worked construction for about 10 years, but I was finally starting to work in music only on weekends. In 1994, I formed my orchestra after singing in several groups. I did not have such a plan, but the conditions were right and doing what you love does not take much effort because the thing leaves naturally.
You mean, when you arrived in the United States, you were ready to do other activities and the music thing just came naturally.
Exactly, I did not come with the desire to become an artist. I studied journalism at university in Peru, but I knew that it would be tough to practice my profession here because of language and immigration status. There were many obstacles that, like every immigrant, I had to learn how to overcome. I came with a degree in Communication Sciences, but I worked construction and did it with pride. 30 years later everything I worked in construction also helped me become a real estate and loan officer. However, I have not been able to leave music as a passion. I can quit jobs that have come my way, but music never.
Never got to practice journalism in the United States?
I could never practice journalism, but there were a couple of magazines run by some friends from the Peruvian community and I collaborated with them writing about show business. I also got to interview a couple of artists at that time. When La Orquesta de La Luz came to the San Francisco Bay Area, I interviewed them for that newspaper. I have not worked as a journalist, but I have done many things related to that environment. I have worked in radio and looked for a job at a television channel in my youth. Unfortunately, I did not have migration documents, the Green Card as people call it here.
How do you think language made things difficult for you at the beginning?
I always liked English, although I did not know how to speak it. Whenever I listened to songs in my country. We tried to imitate what artists said, but we could not (laugh). Before coming to this country, I decided to have as a priority booking intensive English classes a year before. I mean, every day, I had a two-hour class during the year my departure. That helped me a lot. When I came here, there were some barriers and I did not understand what people were saying, but I managed to learn a lot of vocabulary. Here, each working branch has its own vocabulary. If you work cleaning houses, you are not going to use the same vocabulary as if you work construction or in a store. I do not feel that language was an obstacle for me. I met people who discriminate in the early years, but that has not stopped me from moving forward. I do not think it is a barrier that prevents you from growing.
What were your favorite bands in English?
The Bee Gees and I also liked the Beatles. When the Bee Gees and the ”Saturday Night Fever” movie with John Travolta came out, I was about 13 years old and was working on a children’s television programme. On Wednesdays, we sang Peruvian music and played the cajón, but on Fridays, we did dance shows in the clothes of that time with large collars. I worked there for five years and that helped me a lot in my artistic training because it was a wonderful experience. The programme was called ”Villa Juguete”, which had music and dance. That helped me a lot to overcome stage fright.
What makes Orquesta Salsabor different from other groups in the San Francisco Bay Area?
I do not know what the main difference is. I think I like to play my original music, but I also know the importance of playing what people want to hear. You can’t just play my original music because I am no longer famous enough for people to know my numbers from beginning to end. For example, Oscar D’ León has more than 50 years in the artistic life and still plays ”Llorarás” every time he comes to the Bay. When people listen to one of those songs, they come out to dance immediately. I think I have the good sense to know when to play the hit songs that I have chosen over the years. I think that is what has differentiated me from other orchestras.
What do you think has been your best professional decision in your career?
The best decision I have made was to form my orchestra and it has taught me many things. I was taught to be a manager, a soundman, among other things. If someone new in this world wants to know what steps to take, I can gladly say what not to do to not make any mistakes. I do not think we have made mistakes as an orchestra, since we have always tried to do our best. We have had to travel in a van, in a plane or each in his own vehicle to go to play. The musician moves by the desire and motivation to show the gift which the Lord gave us. The restaurant and record label owners move by the economic benefit, but the case of the musician is different. I think the best decision I have made was to form my orchestra. I think that, if you talk to the musicians I have worked with, they know that, as the leader of the orchestra, I have done the best I could to offer them a good, fun and healthy working environment.
And the worst one?
When I started with the orchestra, I wanted to make studio recordings here and I lost a lot of money because the musicians I called to record did not arrive after I paid for the studio. The desire to to record here made me lose a lot of money. And by the way, this was money I was saving for the project, but it was gone away soon enough. That’s where I was recommended to talk to a producer and musician named Oscar Pitín Sanchez. I only knew him by his music, but I struck up a friendship with him. He helped me produce two of my salsa records. Sadly he passed away last year. Then I started getting some experience in the recording studios because experience is needed for everything. In the studios, the thing is cooler because there is no audience to applaud you. On the contrary, you do not want to make any mistakes because everything will be recorded. After being wrong in producing my own album without the required experience, I found a light on the way after a very long tunnel (laugh).
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