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Review: La India heats up dreary day at Busch Gardens' Viva la Musica




This morning I awoke to gray skies and a sad truth: $80 admission plus $12 for parking was pretty steep for a concert in the rain.

But this wasn't just any concert. This was La India, the Latin songbird who's been dubbed the princess of salsa. (The late Celia Cruz is still hailed as the queen.) Born Linda Viera Caballero in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, the 40-year-old entertainer was raised in New York City. The Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated artist has collabbed with some of Latin music's biggest acts: Mr. Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony; reggaeton royalty Ivy Queen; and even Ms. Cruz herself.

It's not every day that Tampa Bay gets a Spanish-language show of this caliber; we're usually passed over for Orlando. But thanks to the amusement park's fourth annual Viva la Musica series, A-list Latin acts make their way to Tampa Bay every March. Besides, my India station on Pandora just wasn't cutting it anymore. So armed with a rain jacket and umbrella, I took a windy ride from the Busch Gardens' parking lot to the park entrance, shelled out mucho dinero for a Fun Card (the concert was included with park admission) and made my way to the outdoor concert area at the back of the property.

Running late, I could already hear La India's throaty voice cutting through the air. I had to get to her. First, though, I had to wind through Busch Gardens' makeshift Latin village.

It felt so... commercial.  There were booths hocking domino sets and beef empanadas and Viva la Musica keychains. If I filled out a survey, I could get a free set of plastic maracas. I'm not quite sure which Latin country it was supposed to be. All of 'em?

But back to the mission: La India. I slipped onto a metal bench among the crowd of fans waving Puerto Rican flags and singing along to India's every ad lib. She cheerfully commanded an all-male nine-piece crew that droned out the sound of the roller coaster passing above. The trumpets and trombones screamed as she belted out hit after hip-swiveling hit, laughing and making bilingual small talk between numbers.

Couples salsa-danced on the soggy grass. Grandparents in wheelchairs knowingly clapped out each song's beat before the percussion even kicked in. Children -- and there were plenty in attendance -- released pent-up energy by rolling down a hill at the back of the concert area.

A security guard estimated the crowd at 500 or 600. "Everybody in the park is here," he said. It sure felt that way. Even better, the rain held off.

India's rich voice soared her relationship drama songs Me Enganaste ("You Cheated on Me") and Mi Mayor Venganza ("My Greatest Revenge"). Her band was solid throughout the 90-minute set, especially the lively drum solo during Mi Primera Rumba ("My First Rumba"). After the final number, the crowd demanded an encore ("Otra! Otra!"). So India treated them to one more fed-up-lover anthem, Me Canse de Ser la Otra ("I'm Tired of Being the Other Woman"), pointing her microphone toward the fans and letting them sing nearly the entire song.

As India climbed onto her tour bus, I headed out of the concert area and back through Busch Gardens' fake Latin village. Past the guayabera shirts and beef empanadas. Past the hot chorizo and Viva la Musica keychains. I couldn't get over how cheesy it all was. 

But then I stopped to take in the scene. Not the sign for Viva la Musica Cerveza (which I'm pretty sure tastes exactly like regular cerveza), but the people. For them, many natives of Latin America, this concert series was a chance to connect to the songs they missed from home, to salsa-dance on squishy grass to music that doesn't come to the bay area nearly enough. They -- not the lame souvenir stands -- made the experience authentic. So while $80 is no chump change, it's cheaper than a plane ticket. Plus the Fun Card gets them into next Sunday's Milly Quezada merengue concert.

On my way out of the park, I passed one of those corny doo-wop shows amusement parks love to put on. The 33 people in the crowd watched stone-faced as performers in sparkly purple costumes sang This Magic Moment. Where was the clapping, the dancing, the passion? Viva la Musica may not be the Buena Vista Social Club, but there are worse places to be on a dreary Sunday afternoon than salsa-dancing under a roller coaster.

-- Text and photo: Dalia Colon, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:18pm]


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