By Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb., April 22, 2015 – Known for its ability to make listeners want to get up and move, Latin music is globally recognized for its upbeat tempo and captivating sounds.
"There is something about it that is electrifying," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomas Morales, 557th Weather Wing weather training developer. "The rhythms of the percussion section, sounds of the brass, the dialogue between the piano and bass, and the harmony of the voice section, are what give Latin music its unique flavor."
Morales is a percussionist in the Omaha area's only Latin band, Esencia Latina Band, which won the 9th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award in the “Best Ethnic” category.
Morales, originally from Panama, said music began making an impact in his life from a young age. "Music was everywhere growing up," he said. "In Panama, upbeat music is heard in grocery stores, public transportation and even throughout the cities and neighborhoods." The country celebrates Carnival, an annual four-day party filled with music, he added.
But his biggest inspiration was his father, Morales said.
"My father always liked the saxophone and did not get the opportunity to learn it," Morales said. "I believe knowing he always wanted to play made me be very passionate about learning. Another factor was the popularity of the El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. This band started in 1962 and currently has over 65 records. They are still together and are stronger than ever."
Morales said he began with learning the conga drums at age 4. "I always loved playing percussion," he said. "My formal music education began with the saxophone at age 11, and at 18, I played in my first salsa band."
In 2013, he began playing with his current band.
"Our band has 13 members and only eight come from Latin backgrounds," Morales said. "We have three singers, three percussionists, five brass, one bass and one piano. It is amazing seeing the energy that comes from band members that are new to this type of music."
The band practices for two hours every Sunday. But Morales credits his band’s audience, more than its hard work, for the group’s success.
"The success of the band relies on the warmth of the people that live in this part of the country," he explained. "People in Nebraska are very open-minded, and they do not hesitate to try new things. There has been a strong salsa dancing scene in Omaha for several years, and there was an immediate connection from the beginning months of the band."
It isn't just the local people who enjoy their music, Morales said. Service members stationed here are often found in the crowd as well.
Fun to Watch
"He is very fun to watch," said Maria Sada, 557th Weather Wing human resource specialist. "He smiles the whole time, is very animated and has high energy. Everyone dances. … Parents, kids, couples -- everyone was dancing. There were people showing others how to dance to the music -- just a good family time.”
Myrna Ramirez, 55th Medical Support Squadron supply technician, said she enjoyed the experience as well.
"His enthusiasm, rhythm and high energy is reflected by his smile and the way he plays his musical instruments and makes you feel like dancing," she said. "[The show] is a great and fun exercise without gym walls. Being a Latina, I grew up listening and dancing to salsa music. I love to go to the shows his band puts together, because it is a lot of fun and makes me remember the 'good old times.'"