UltimaNota at Ritmo & Sabor

Friday night Midwood was more alive than usual with Ritmo & Sabor, the annual celebration of all things Caribbean. The festival was organized by the Latin American Coalition, and Compare Foods and Captain Morgan were sponsors, so there was plenty of culture, tasty food, and endless mojitos. I caught UltimaNota’s set. The Charlotte-based band boasts members from several countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba. UltimaNota is a group that embodies the celebratory nature of music so much, you can’t help but dance.

They opened with a tropical take on Cabas’s “Mi bombon,” a song that is perfect for spinning yourself dizzy. The keys and sax were sweet like maracuyá, and it wasn’t long before people were moving. The band continued with a cumbia-infused “Duele el corazón.” The electric guitar intro was so delicious it could make Enrique Iglesias question his stylistic preferences. When the band really got things moving, people of all ages were up and dancing, even the ones who were just figuring out how to stand on their two feet.

UltimaNota played on, with drums popping and sputtering like plantains in hot oil, all the while the bass keeping that melody tight (it’s the one that guides gringas like me when there is no choice but to hit the dance floor). They stuck up “Para no verte más,” a song whose sneaker-clad ska style I have bounced to more times than I can count. UltimaNota elevated it to something supremely danceable, with guitar, sax, percussion, and keys. The sax soared as more and more couples hit the floor. With a piano-powered song, the guitar played like a young macaque in a palm grove. Dressed in white like an apostle of salsa, the lead vocalist sang his heart out. His voice was smooth and thick, like the heat that was gradually building in the room.

It wasn’t until the people in front of me started dancing that I glimpsed the magically real ingredients of the band’s son: besides a guitarist who likely knows his way around any genre you can name, the apostolic vocalist, a bearded man pushing clean and melodious vibrations out of his sax, and a woman on the keys with fingers moving at lightning speed; I glimpsed a six-string bass (an instrument of true beauty) and not one, but three percussionists. These guys don’t mess around.

The guitar sounded like classic rock, but then the dynamic depths of percussion came in and before I knew it, I was dancing bachata with someone tall, dark and handsome. I will never know how he managed to wear a blazer in the heat of the Midwood International & Cultural Center, but he had a really nice accent.

UltimaNota covered Fonseca’s “Vine a buscarte” with vocals initially breathy before getting it moving, paso a paso, with all the rhythm and flavor that was promised on the flyer that brought me to the show in the first place. Drums pounded and keys matched the footwork around me. The lyrics were delivered while bouncing up and down, the apostle’s arms stretched upwards as if to sing directly to the gods of music and dance. The guitarist played island chords in a way that made me wonder how living in the Carolinas has changed his playing, and the bass hit so hard that if someone wasn’t moving before, that was quickly remedied.

Smiles were abundant and couples danced with the fast precision and fun of an unforgettable evening. One of the things that I most love about Charlotte is that whatever Latin American delight you desire, you can find somewhere within the confines of the city. How fortunate we Charlotteans are to be able to find tacos and pupusas at all hours, to connect with kindred souls at the Latin American Coalition, and to dance the night away at events like Ritmo & Sabor.

Gwendolyn Lewis Written by: