A sonidero is like a traveling block party–a private enterprise of DJs, MCs and sound guys with their own equipment who will turn up the volume for a fee in your local barrio or colonia. Several sonideros from Mexico were at Disco Rodeo on a recent Friday night, and 96.9FM La Ley’s van was parked outside when we arrived. Security was stringent: We were frisked with a metal detector on our way in, and all the beer, even Corona, was in cans. Families had brought their young children–I even saw a baby carrier–making it feel more like a fiesta familiar than a nightclub. Groups of young people were hanging out, and couples, some of them married, were out on dates. A cowboy, complete with white hat and wearing that shirt you see at truckstops with the flames on it, was dancing with his best girl, who wore cowboy boots with a frothy polka-dot mini-skirt. They looked as innocent as kids at a quincenera, and were the most dressed-up people I saw all night. There doesn’t appear to be a dress code–my companion and I both wore pants, and he wore heavy boots and a motorcycle jacket with his jeans–all strictly no-no’s at Saturday night salsa venues. It felt good to break the rules.

The music was 99 percent cumbia sonidera, with one bachata, probably by request. Cumbia sonidera has a more relaxed tempo than salsa, and some animated step variations and turn patterns that can keep it interesting. In between every cumbia, the DJs cleared the dance floor with a snippet of techno, like the cracker at a wine tasting. This is when the sonideros gave shout-outs, handed up to them on beer napkins. Tolucca, a state near Mexico City, was in the house and representing big-time.

There are virtually no chairs at Disco Rodeo, so wear comfortable shoes and keep dancing to avoid foot fatigue. Men, expect to pay twice what women pay to get in, $20/$10 the night we went. Listen to La Ley to get info about when sonideros are in town; word is a monthly sonidero night with cumbia dance contest is in the works.

Politics of Fun
Ethnomusicologist Robin Moore, a National Humanities Center fellow, lived in Cuba during the ’90s studying the popular dance music known as timba. This galapagos cousin of salsa has largely been ignored in U.S. Latin markets, with bands like Los Van Van, Bamboleo and Azucar Negra hitting big only in isolated pockets, and also in Europe and abroad–wherever recent Cuban exiles are prevalent. Using taped music samples, Moore will explain how timba differs from salsa, and how Afro-Cuban Santeria and the politics of Cuba’s “Special Period” have impacted the music since the end of the Cold War. “Timba Dance Music and the Politics of Fun in Socialist Cuba” is free and open to the public at 4 p.m. Friday, March 25 in 101 Biddle Music Building on Duke’s East Campus (near Markham, west of Baldwin Auditorium).

El Chicano
Conguero Poncho Sanchez is one of few Chicanos known as a heavy in Latin jazz, which is largely the invention and domain of Caribbean musicians. Raised in Texas and L.A., he came up working with Cal Tjader, a pioneer in West Coast Latin jazz. Sanchez doses his Latin sound heavily with funk and soul, in keeping with an L.A. consciousness. Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band appears at Davidson College’s Duke Family Performance Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 9. An open-air after party, free with concert ticket, features Miami salsa band Tiempo Libre. Order advance tickets by phone through the Davidson College box office at 704-894-2135 or online at www.davidson.edu/tickets.

Record Buzz
Bio Ritmo has recorded an EP and is shopping it to record labels; ojala que llega pronto. Stay updated at their Web site, www.bioritmo.com . Meanwhile, Samecumba is finishing up their first album now, a self-release due out in the next month or two. Tap their local gigs and news via www.samecumba.net .

Latin Jazz at Exploris
April will be Latin music month at Exploris as the Smithsonian exhibit Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta, which spun off an eponymous book and compilation CD, lands in Raleigh. Local scholars and musicians will be on hand all month for performances and events, some participatory. Among the highlights: Carnavalito plays at the opening reception at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2, and David Garcia’s Charanga Carolina performs at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23. See www.exploris.org for a complete schedule.

More Live Music
April 4: Grupo Fantasma at Temple Ball (Cumbia/Latin Rock from Austin)

April 9: Teresa Fernandez, voice, and Silvano Caseres, piano, at Exploris, “Songs of Cuba and Puerto Rico”

April 21-24: Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca at Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival ( www.shakorihills.org)

May 15: Solazo at the LEAF Festival (www.theleaf.com)