Hip-Slinging in Hawaii, Salsa Dancing’s Unsuspecting Happening Hub

Feature Rolando Sanchez

When people think of Hawaii, they usually think of hula dancing, its famous luaus, or their picturesque paradise scenery that it usually has to offer. But Hawaii has always been much more than that. Throughout the years, they have welcomed a plethora of cultures and customs, even if they didn’t seem to fit its stereotypes. One of the customs they have embraced is salsa dancing. Believe it or not, salsa dancing has been prevalent within the island for nearly 30 + years already and we can thank Rolando Sanchez for that. 

Rolando Sanchez is an extremely talented man whose passion for music has paved a path for him and the latinx community everywhere, especially in Hawaii. He is a percussionist, actor, singer, songwriter, and producer. Within the pool of all those talents, Sanchez has expressed favoritism towards playing his timbales. He didn’t let any of his many roles with music go to waste either. He currently has about 11 CD’s that can be heard worldwide, which allow us to hear the vibrancy that is brought by him. That is the same type of energy that brought Hawaiians to embrace his music for decades and swing their hips vigorously to his sound. 

However, he wasn’t always a recognizable figure in Hawaii. 

His story began in Masaya, Nicaragua. As destiny would have it, he was born into an artistic family. His father was a singer, songwriter, and pianist. His mother was also a pianist and a singer. Sanchez’s artistic influence did not just stop there — his immediate family members also participated in the musical affair. It was as though he was predisposed to enter into the musical world. 

According to his information on his Facebook, he started developing himself musically as he played the drums with the children of his neighborhood. They were influenced to play music of their time, which included The Beatles. As he grew older, he started appreciating the music he listened to even more. Tito Puentes, Celia Cruz, and Billos Caracas Boys, were some of the artists that helped mold his musical foundation, even to this day. As you can tell, he had a taste for a livelier kind of rhythm. Pretty much the familiar sounds that many in our latinx culture have learned to love so dearly. Though this was undeniably a part of his life that helped him grow as a musician, it was short-lived. 

In the late 1960s, his parents decided to move to the United States to start a new life. The family got situated in San Francisco, California and absorbed everything that it had to offer. 

Rolando Sanchez was exposed to many different types of music. Latin music was having a breakthrough around the Bay area, which was perfect for him. Sanchez had already decided a while back that Latin-music was the genre that he wanted his career to wear. So, he took in all the energy in and went with it. 

While in San Francisco, he played in various bands. After he felt he had enough experience, Rolando Sanchez started his own band named Solar. Solar was a band that infused sounds of Latin Jazz and Latin Rock together. His brother, Mario, was also part of the band, so it made his first band experience that much more special. 

Solar gained popularity because they made sure to expose themselves where other reputable Latin artists of the Bay area would be around. For instance, Rolando Sanchez and his brother would play the congas and timbales in Dolores Park in the Mission District alongside Raul Rekow, Chepito Areas, Carlos Badia, and others. Solar continued to impact the notable artists of the area, which was vital to its success. Solar’s time definitely helped Rolando Sanchez tune his percussion abilities to almost perfection. 

Eventually, Solar broke up and Rolando Sanchez created another band, Sunsmoke. He formed this band with his uncle, Freddie Velasquez. By this point, Rolando Sanchez had already established a name for himself within the Bay area. His colorful vibe was getting the reaction any musician would hope for and furthered the music that awakens people’s bodies. Freddie Velasquez had quite the pronounced reputation as well — he had just arrived from his nationwide tour with the Phil Driscoll band. Both of them had the recipe to play the Latin-music everyone enjoyed, and salsa dancing was the result of their musical creation. In no time, they were touring the west coast and Canada, bring as many hips as possible to move to the beat of their rhythm. They became such a big deal that they even opened for the king of the blues himself, B.B. King! It was no secret that Rolando Sanchez was on his way to leaving his mark on the world of Latin-music. Sadly, Sunsmoke disintegrated one day, but that did nothing to slow down Rolando Sanchez. He continued building himself up.

Without much surprise, Rolando Sanchez became part of two more bands in San Francisco. He came back with a band named Messiah, which incorporated funk, gospel, disco, and rock all in one. Messiah was very much accepted in Japan, where they toured for about four months. After Messiah’s run, came another band he formed named the Rolando Sanchez Band. The Rolando Sanchez Band came to be as one of his more influential bands. In this band, he was able to record and release his first single cassette, which included two original songs by him. One of the singles, “She’s the Lady,” recorded a music video and aired on local stations to be shown on the screens of people’s homes all over the nation. This was significant moment for Rolando Sanchez because he became part of the beginning of MTV. Even though he had plenty of success with The Rolando Sanchez Band, he felt the need for change. 

In 1984, he made a trip to visit his sister in Hawaii and the rest is history.

He entered Hawaii with the intent to start the salsa trend. Although, if we are to think about it, he had already started this trend while he was living in San Francisco. Either way, he allowed himself to be vulnerable and gave in to everything he had to offer in regard to music. 

Having had established a name for himself, he was able to get a huge break for his first gig. His first show took place in Honolulu and he joined Mr. Audy Kimura for it. It just so happened that Mr. Kimura was one of the hottest artists of the time that year. They played their show at the Waikiki Shell to celebrate Hawaii’s 25th year of statehood. Soon after that iconic performance, he formed his first mainstream salsa band in Hawaii, Malasada Electrica, partnering with Adela Chu. It was yet again another Latin band and Hawaiians were all about it. 

That lasted for a few years, but it was only a few years after where his imprint in Hawaii was solidified.

Rolando Sanchez founded Salsa Hawaii in 1988 and it still continues to go strong to this day. Salsa Hawaii became a prevalent part of Hawaiians nightlife. They started playing in nightclubs in hotels such as at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Soon after, they hit the entire Waikiki area and more people kept showing up to their shows. There was barely any elbow room left in the spaces that Salsa Hawaii played.

Salsa Hawaii’s influence didn’t go unnoticed. After Rolando Sanchez had steered the band to record their first album, Ahora, received a contract from Cosmo Records. This CD let Rolando and Salsa Hawaii to itemize their success. 

The effort and talent that exudes for this album led them to win Best Latin Recording and Best Latin Vocalist at the Hawaii Music Awards. Think of Hawaii Music Awards as Hawaii’s and his CDs were nominated to The Na Hoku Hano Hano Awards a version of the Grammys. So, this was an incredible win for Rolando Sanchez and the band. 

Rolando Sanchez and Salsa Hawaii received many other accolades after this. They went ahead to collect 2012 Big Island Music Award (BIMA), Pele Award of Excellence, State of Hawaii Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Award, ASCAP Songwriter Award and much more. 

Ever since then, Rolando Sanchez’s influence on the latinx community in Hawaii hasn’t diminished. One can say that it’s even wrapped around the island tighter than ever. 

Rolando Sanchez

Currently, Rolando Sanchez uses his voice as a producer to now promote Latin-driven events, like the honorable Hawaii International Latin Music Festival. Aside from that, he urges people to bring Latin-flavored music near them by listening to his radio segment, “La Onda Latina,” or the Latin Wave. This radio special can be streamed worldwide every Sunday afternoon.

It is apparent that Hawaiians loved their salsa and with good reason. For years now, Hawaii has been gaining a growing population of Hispanics. Apparently, the latinx population in Hawaii has grown by 80 percent since the year 2000.

We all know that only means Hawaiians should be encouraged to embrace the flavor of our community, just like we should teach them the way to a spicier life that complements their already lovely ways.

All this talk about salsa has made me want to get up and dance all night. Anyone joining me?