Meet the only university-based Cuban Charanga group in the country
Senior Bobby Frith plays the guitar during the Charanga Carolina rehearsal in Kenan Music Building on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. The Latin American music style has Cuban roots but draws inspiration from many different music styles to shape it's own unique sound.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article removed a section that misinterpreted David Garcia. Garcia said that Charanga Carolina had players from classical and jazz, and that there was also a bluegrass ensemble at UNC. The article has been updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
Singing, guitars, horns, strings, percussion and more all come together Tuesday nights to create authentic Cuban-based dance music at Charanga Carolina.
MUSC 212 section 5 is the official name, but Charanga Carolina is much more than just a major requirement. It's the only university-based Cuban charanga ensemble in the country.
David Garcia, the professor and director of the course, described charanga as a traditional form of Latin dance music.
“It’s what bluegrass is to country music, charanga music is to Latin jazz and salsa," Garcia said.
The diverse style set is actually one of the reasons Garcia chose to create a charanga group, rather than a typical Latin jazz band. In doing so, the group needed instruments of all varieties, which allowed for more students — regardless of their expertise — to join and play.
Charanga Carolina is composed of a wide range of majors, instruments and experience.
James Larkins is a sophomore studying music and chemistry. After seeing Charanga perform at a concert last year, the singing and diverse set of instruments had him sold.
Larkins started playing the cello in fifth grade. Quickly, he realized he wanted to learn how music itself worked, more than just learning the instrument.
“I wanted to learn how everything in music works — a lot of people sort of gloss over that,” Larkins said.
With this heightened interest, Larkins now pursues music composition and the cello under his music major.
Even though the cello is not a primary instrument in charanga, Garcia was able to incorporate it, pulling together several different compositions for Larkins to have a role.
In his time with the group, Larkins witnessed the melting pot that is Charanga Carolina. While he had played with classical musicians before, charanga marked the first time he was able to play with jazz musicians. This experience of playing with musicians across styles has helped him on his journey studying music theory.
“Everyone has a different story when it comes to charanga," Larkins said. “It’s great music.”
First-year Toby Falvo's experience with charanga is a little different, but still illuminating, he said. Falvo is a music major and plays percussion for the group. For Falvo, it’s charanga's unique percussion style that excites him.
Charanga’s percussion works differently; it’s more of a team effort. Typically, in a jazz setting, Falvo is the only percussionist, and he leads the band. At Charanga Carolina, he has to work alongside other drummers to lock down the rhythms.
Falvo said he is pushed to play in a different way, focusing on rhythm as a collective.
Garcia agreed. He believes charanga uniquely sharpens a musician’s rhythmic skills.
While Charanga Carolina stands at a unique intersection of musical styles, students also get an inside look into the culture and history of the songs played. For many songs, Garcia will explain the backstories of the songs and their composers.
One of Falvo’s favorite backstories touches on themes of triumph and victory, specifically for lower and working classes. With these added pieces of knowledge, charanga easily fulfills its global music credit, he said.
At the end of the term, around April, the group will perform in shows outside of class. For most of his students, it offers a rare opportunity for them to play in front of dancers.
“I like to take the students outside, off campus, to play for dancers, because it is dance music,” Garcia said. “That is one of the more exciting opportunities for the students.”
Garcia said Charanga Carolina hopes to diversify a music player’s palate while also teaching about the cultural relevance of their tunes.
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