Soul and Salsa
Posted Mar 13 2006
For the past three years, Francisco “DJ Cisco” Espino and Jonathan “DJ Chico” Noah-Navarro have been playing some of the best salsa, merengue, bachata, and Latin house in the country, making their home at the Parabox Café on Michigan Avenue near Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Latin music nights are a dime a dozen in metro Detroit; establishments from Café Mahogany to lipsticks have all jumped on the bandwagon at one time or another. By far, Saturdays at the Parabox is the most popular spot on the Latin scene. But while it has earned national acclaim, little mention is made about two of the most important elements of its success: the DJs.
When asked what makes the Parabox stand out from other clubs, Espino and Noah-Navarro attribute its success to the hard work of Maria Guzman and her sisters, who, under the name New Latin Generation, host the weekly event. But with a little bit of prodding, they’re quick to acknowledge their unique contribution. “We’ve had some turbulence along the way and there was a period when we didn’t work at the Parabox,” says Espino. “The numbers went down and people kept telling us that they missed us. They say it when we’re out of town. Other DJs might do better a better job relative to where they’re from, but these people are used to us. You kind of create your own crowd.”
In reality, the success of martin and Lopez reflects the changing demographics of our country. Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, with the majority of its population being youthful. As these young people mature, their needs, interests, and contributions will have increased influence in our society.
Espino and Noah-Navarro are aware they can influence how Latinos are perceived in Detroit.
Says Noah-Navarro, “Everybody thinks that we’re all Mexican.” Yet the duo’s sound is anything but the accordion-heavy style of norteño music, typically associated with Mexico.
The common characteristic of the music they play is that it is all Caribbean-based, and thus, strongly rooted in Africa. The food, language, religion and music in Caribbean countries have a much more visible African influence than most Central American South American countries because of their more prominent role in the African slave trade. From a diasporic standpoint, it might seem natural that African-Americans, whose ancestors are the same as their Spanish-speaking brethren in Cuba and Puerto Rico, would gravitate to the percussion-heavy sounds of salsa and merengue. But nights at the Parabox are not dominated by any one group, a fact that Espino and Noah-Navarro are quite proud of.
“Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the world,” says Noah-Navarro. “At the Parabox, you get an unbelievable cross section. There are times when you are integrated, but very few times when the integration isn’t forced…where it just happens naturally. (At the Parabox) people come together by choice, having a good time, and actually interact.”
Noah-Navarro says their backgrounds also play a key factor in their success, since both come from cities with strong Latin influence. Born in Venezuela, Noah-Navarro lived there until 10, when he moved to Miami, while New York native Espino was raised by first-generation Dominican parents.
“(The music) is kind of ingrained in your head you pretty much know what people react to and want to move to,” Noah-Navarro adds.