Friday, December 7, 2012

Looking back, looking forward with 'Latin Aura's' Tomas Algarin

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 9:50 AM

Tomas Algarin
  • Photo courtesy of Tomas Algarin

Longtime Atlanta radio listeners may recognize the name Tomas Algarin. For 13 years, Algarin hosted the show "Latin Aura" - which, as the name suggests, focused on Latin-flavored jazz music (including tropical "salsa," Afro-Cuban and more) - for WCLK FM (91.9). While it aired, Latin Aura pumped out a percussion-fueled stream of great music and a ton of information (delivered in both English and Spanish) about the history of the artists who created the music.

But in 2006, officials at the station decided to cancel the program; and in doing so, they ended the city's only show dedicated to Latin jazz ... a show that, bottom line, I used to love. So, I decided to track down Algarin to reminisce about those good-ole "Latin Aura" days and find out what he's up to these days.

I really enjoyed listening to your show, "Latin Aura," back in the day; it was educational and featured a lot of good music.

Tomas: I felt the same way. For me, it was a sad day when they decided they wanted to do away with the program.

When the show was on, did you receive a good response from the listening public?

Oh yeah. ... My listenership to this day continues to be strong - because I wasn't ever really catering to a specific group of people. I was trying to reach as many people as possible. ... I had great support from a very eclectic group of people, from non-Spanish speakers to African-Americans to Brazilians [and] Latinos of course. I had many fans from many walks of life.

These days, Atlanta has a large and growing Latino population. What effect do you think not having a show like yours on the air has done to the spirit of cultural exchange in the city?

I think it's been very detrimental not to have a show like ["Latin Aura"] in a major city like Atlanta. First of all, almost every major jazz station in America ... always has had representative music coming from the Latino market. Because if you know about jazz, you know that Latinos have had a presence in jazz. The influence of Latin music on the work of Dizzy Gillespie in and of itself is a statement. The many creative contributions of Latino musicians to the jazz world, from Tito Puente to Machito to Chico O'Farrill to many others ... broke not only racial boundaries but also broke boundaries of the music, infusing jazz with Afro-Cuban elements that were never present before. The Hispanic population in Atlanta does have access to Latin music, but commercial stations don't play salsa and commercial stations don't play Latin jazz. ... And they don't play for the sake of educating - they play for the sake of advertising. A lot of the music that these Latin jazz artists are creating and producing goes unheard. So, the artists struggle, the art suffers and the audience is left without a channel to know anything about a genre of music that is important and entertaining.

So, what have you been up to since the show ended and is there any hope of getting it back on the air in some capacity?

[These days] I consult for the International Music Series for Georgia State University and the Rialto. Other than that I work with artists throughout the nation as, what you might call, a booking agent - I get contacted by people looking for specific artists, and I work with the artists to try and get them business. As far as the radio program goes, I was actually approached by WCLK when they hired the new program director who's there now. He knew about my work and he was familiar with my program ... he made the effort but it didn't pan out. When I look at the market in Atlanta, I don't see a lot of viable alternatives. I'm hoping to do some work with a couple of people in Atlanta. I've been in touch with [dancer/choreographer] Audi Lopez from Mezcolanza and we talked about some opportunities to maybe do a [dance-oriented] event. ... I think it would be really cool.

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