Peru continues to give much to talk about with regards to salsa and the guest we have this time is clear proof of that. We are talking about the talented singer and backup singer Francisco ”Pancho” Chávez, who has been kind enough to talk to us to reveal unpublished details of his life and career in his native country and, of course, in the United States.
Pancho, who currently serves as vocalist and manager of the Orchestra Cambalache, has a very long career in the U.S. Latin music scene, to the point that his group has established itself as one of the top salsa bands in the northwestern United States. It is a great honor for us to have an artist of this stature in this January 2024 edition.
Pancho’s Musical beginnings
Pancho’s first contact with music happened thanks to his mother’s family, many of whom were musicians. Although the young man never go into business in his country, he was able to see how to handle things thanks to his relatives until moving to the United States in 1997.
One or two years later, someone gave him a double album by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico that, he says, he played a million times because he really liked it. This material was one of his great inspirations to dedicate himself to salsa as a genre and nobody could change his mind.
It was in Seattle that he started making music with college friends when he was already living in the United States, implying that he was not yet formally dedicated to music. In fact, Pancho was studying business at the time and was looking for a small musical group with other young college students he met around 1999.
This group turned out to be Cambalache, which he founded along with Colombian musician Camilo Suarez. This would be the first and only group to which the Peruvian has belonged, so everything he knows about music and the industry was learned with this same project.
He always stood out for his talent to sing and do vocals, but he also learned to play some instruments such as the congas, timbales, bongos, cowbells, among others. He also learned a bit of sound engineering and can work a little in this area, although he recognizes that he is not yet an expert.
Recruiting talent for Cambalache
Pancho says that there were not many Latinos at the university back then, so he and Camilo forged a strong friendship and shared many common interests, especially music.
At the time, both were facing the economic problems typical of a college student and saw music as an opportunity to make a little extra money during their summer vacation. Camilo knew other musicians, so he contacted them and proposed them to join the orchestra they were creating.
Pancho and Camilo had thought of a group of five or six people, but there were so many interested in joining the orchestra that the first rehearsals included about 13 people. In the end, solely for economic reasons, they only accepted nine members, of which only he remains.
All these members, including Camilo himself, ended up working with other artists and groups and obtaining new opportunities in the musical field.
Cambalache’s first album was ”Clasiqueando”, which was released almost 20 years ago. Pancho assures that the acceptance to the material was very nice, even though the details are not so refined and worked.
The success they had was a surprise for Pancho and the rest of the group, since the scope they expected was local. “We were surprised that people called us from many countries saying they had heard the album and loved it. There were even companies in countries like Japan and Italy that wanted to buy us songs for distribution” Pancho said on the issue.
It was a great start for everything that came next for the group in the years to come.
Why choose Seattle
Pancho and his musicians chose Seattle as their base of operations because he and all the members of Cambalache have lived there for many years. That is exactly the city the Peruvian chose to make his living there and he never left it.
It is also in Seattle where they all have their jobs and occupations outside of music and where they meet to rehearse and deal with all the affairs related to the orchestra.
In the beginning, it was very hard for them because the Latino audience was not very large when they created the project. However, that has been changing, and today, many Latinos live in the city and maintain their Latino customs, including music.
Other tasks besides music
In addition to being the vocalist and manager of the orchestra Cambalache, Pancho is also a business administrator and manages his own event company whose main element is, of course, music. In this company, Pancho and his staff are in charge of hiring artists and bands for private events. Of course, Cambalache is involved in the operation of this project.
The event center managed by the Peruvian singer has a capacity for 500 people and has its own stage. He rents it to hold events there and has all types of clients waiting.
They have hired artists such as Gilberto Santa Rosa, Tito Nieves, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Willie González, Conjunto Bahía, Frecuencia Latina, among others.
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