Edgardo and Candela. Photo: Irene Young

By Andrew Gilbert

Percussionist Edgardo Cambon was already a successful Bay Area bandleader when a 1989 trip to Cuba ignited his band Candela. The Uruguayan-born salsero had founded the group shortly after settling in the Bay Area two years earlier, but several days in Havana provided a lasting jolt of inspiration, and he returned home with new energy and drive sparked by Los Van Van, the Cuban band that pioneered the hard-hitting timba sound.

Edgardo and Candela have been fanning dance floor flames ever, and one of their regular spots is Shattuck Down Low, where the band performs next Wednesday.

The group’s repertoire is divided between original material and classic salsa tunes by Van Van, Oscar D’Leon, Isaac Delgado and Tony Vega. “We’re not 100% Cuban, or 100% New York, which makes the band a little different,” said Cambon, who also celebrates the Candela’s 24th anniversary at The Seahorse in Sausalito on Sunday, July 24.

“We explore a variety of rhythms: mambo, son, cha cha cha, merenge, and everybody in the band has collaborated to make this sound.”

Born and raised in the culturally rich capital of Montevideo, Cambon discovered an aptitude for rhythm while taking classical guitar lessons. At 17 he started hearing the great salsa musicians of the ‘70s, such as Ruben Blades and Eddie Palmieri. Forged in New York City as a blend of Cuban rhythms and hard bop horns, the style hadn’t become popular in South America yet and Cambon realized he would have to head north for a career as a salsero.

Over the years, he’s worked with many of the region’s most creative players, including pianist/composer Rebeca Mauleon, percussionist Michael Spiro, pianist Omar Sosa and body percussionist Keith Terry. But it’s with Candela that he’s been able to most fully express himself, developing a body of tunes that combine the ferocious grooves of salsa dura with uplifting lyrics.

Live Salsa with Candela is on Wednesday July 20 at Shattuck Down Low at 2248 Shattuck Avenue. Tickets: $8, for 21+.

Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and East Bay Express.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...