It’s unusual to be shivering in Miami, but the locals keep telling us this February has been an unusually cool month. Orchestra members spent most of their day indoors, including trumpet player Andrew Koskela and professor Bernardo Hernandez, rehearsing for three hours at the Gusman, then retreating to a dressing area upstairs to wait for show time. A stack of Little Caesar’s pizzas was delivered, and, later, Krispy Kreme donuts.
Between rehearsal and showtime, the singers sat in a hallway under, well, Floridian orange light for a quick take of Arroyo’s “A Mi Dios Todo Le Debo.” From left in the video: Luis Figueroa, Michelle Walter, Romulo Lander, Jose R. Mellado, and Leonardo Tatis.
In the lobby, with the show about to begin, Miami’s Colombian population was out in force. Miami has got style, and patrons didn’t disappoint. Members of local government made themselves knows to the Berklee associates, as did the carnaval king, parents of Berklee students, journalists, and others who were all thrilled to have Berklee in the house.
There was a buildup to the orchestra’s performance: a folk band, dancers of all ages, announcers, singers, people in traditional costumes, and the queens from this year’s festivals in Miami and Barranquilla. This was an event to make Colombians feel like they were home again for a couple of hours. Everything that would be experienced at the carnaval there was represented here, and it moved them from their seats. People stood and danced at the back of the hall, in the balcony, along the aisles, and in the front of the stage.
The audience was ready to party when 18 of Berklee’s finest Latin players and singers appeared. Joe Arroyo sat in the front row and all night people shook his hand and snapped pictures. Now, they were hearing a big group with extra percussion, a flautist, horns, and four singers who danced and drew more people from their seats. Everybody was on fire from the time they hit the stage. Students were from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Cuba, among other countries. The audience’s anticipation was met, and more. Over the course of the set, some of the folkloric dancers came back to the stage, and more patrons filled the open spaces down front, moving and singing along. The program included Arroyo favorites such as “Pa’l Bailador,” “El Torito,” “La Noche,” and “Tamarindo Seco.” People knew the words and sang along.
Eventually, Arroyo took the stage. He shuffled from the wing to the mic, but when he opened his mouth and sang “En Barranquilla Me Que Quedo” and “La Rebelion,” his voice was commanding. He hit a wooden percussion instrument through the two songs he sang with the students. Earlier in the day, Marino Ossa-Eslait was asked if there was a chance that Arroyo would sing. “It’s not if he will sing, but when,” he said. The crowd seemed to be thinking like him, dancing and partying like they were preparing to lose their minds at the sight of him on stage in Miami.