The salsa music of Orquesta Mayor works like a magnet. Slowly but surely, the rhythms of their music pulled more and more people to the sidewalk by the River’s Edge Stage at Charlotte’s Confluence festival.
“People ask me for salsa, salsa, salsa,” band leader and trumpet player Helder Serralde said last August during the festival. He founded Orquesta Mayor in 2006 after immigrating from Mexico. Since then, the band has become one of the busiest and best-established groups in Charlotte’s Latin music community, constantly performing at both public and private events throughout the region. From Peru to Colombia to Puerto Rico, its members hail from all corners of Latin America and the USA, each adding their own musical “flavor” to the group’s collective sound. This sound is as diverse as the band itself, pulling from cumbia, merengue, bachata, and more.
“Salsa,” someone once told me, “couldn’t have been born anywhere else but here.” A beat in one direction, a tune in the other, fading, fusing, and flowing through the cracks in the rubble. “Where else could all those immigrants have met to make it?”
- Excerpt from "Sing Queen City Pain" by Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas for Oxford American's North Carolina Music Issue
As Orquesta Mayor continues to draw bigger crowds and more attention, so does the Latin music scene in Charlotte as a whole. Serralde was even interviewed alongside fellow Latin group Chócala in the Oxford American’s North Carolina music issue. It makes sense that salsa, a style born from an amalgamation of immigrant music in 1960s New York, would thrive with Charlotte’s increasingly global population. The music also seems to have a healing effect.
“I think that Latin music helps to get the people to unite,” Serralde says, “and not only [Hispanic] people…the American people. We feel them unify.”
Story by Laura Casteel
If you’ve walked through downtown Durham on a Monday evening this summer, you might have heard the beating of drums.
The community drumming group Oxente (pronounced oh-SHEN-chee) formed in early 2019. Their outdoor rehearsals in Durham Central Park are open to the public, as is the group itself—anyone can join Oxente, regardless of musical background, and members describe it as feeling like a family. They perform samba reggae, an Afro-Brazilian genre inspired by the American civil rights movement and the music of Bob Marley. The intricate rhythm patterns are created by four types of drums:
“When they play all the rhythms together, it’s incredibly beautiful,” says Caique Vidal, a multi-instrumentalist and educator who leads Oxente in addition to his band, Batuque.
“I see in Durham, especially in the community I’m around, a desire to learn, a desire to fight for better, for change, and a desire to include all…Oxente is part of that.”
Vidal grew up in the historic center of Salvador, a city in the Brazilian state of Bahia and the birthplace of samba reggae. Today, he strives to bring the openness and accessibility of his musical upbringing to North Carolina, by investing in local talent and encouraging the use of public spaces for the arts. In early September 2019, Oxente hosted Durham’s first-ever Brazilian Day festival in the Central Park district, which featured a variety of local artists.
Vidal believes that Oxente’s commitment to inclusivity, education, and authenticity embodies the spirit of its home city. “Durham is a perfect place for Oxente to thrive,” he says. “I see in Durham, especially in the community I’m around, a desire to learn, a desire to fight for better, for change, and a desire to include all…Oxente is part of that.”
From Arthur Smith to the Avett Brothers, the greater Charlotte metro area has long been a cradle of good music, and more specifically, great songwriters. David Childers is one of them. A renaissance man, Childers is a songwriter, painter, poet and former attorney. The Mt. Holly, N.C. native grew up watching the legendary Arthur Smith show – the first nationally syndicated country music television show – which he cites as a major influence on his love of music. He started playing guitar as a teenager and began releasing music in the mid-90s. Most recently, Childers has toured and worked with Kyle Petty and his newest record, Run Skeleton Run, features Scott Avett and Avett Brother bassist Bob Crawford as an executive producer. Meet David Childers.
Diali Keba Cissokho describes performing with his band, Kaira Ba, like cooking delicious food: “The sound check is the smell, and the eating is when we play.”
Born in Mbour, Senegal, Cissokho hails from a long line of Manding griots, or jalis. In West Africa, griots have served as historians, praise singers, advisors, and storytellers, carrying generations of tradition and culture. It was Cissokho’s family who inspired him to take up the kora, a twenty-one-stringed African instrument made from gourd, cow skin, and fishing line. His grandfather was famed korist Lalo Keba Drame, who toured internationally in the 1960s. Some describe the instrument’s sound as a mix of harp and banjo, a delicate balance of sweetness and twang.
Love led Cissokho to immigrate to the United States in 2010 after meeting his wife Hilary, a native of Pittsboro, N.C., where the couple currently live with their son. After landing in the Piedmont, he formed Kaira Ba with several local musicians. His wife introduced him to fellow Pittsboro native and guitarist John Westmoreland, along with drummer Austin McCall of Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys. McCall then invited percussionist Will Ridenour and bassist Jonathan Henderson, and together they created Kaira Ba's unique sound. Combining the traditions of West Africa with a Southern American seasoning, the band includes influences from rock and roll to salsa. Cissokho has also formed a musical friendship with mandolin virtuoso and North Carolina Heritage Award Recipient Tony Williamson, who recently joined Kaira Ba for a performance at the Ceiner Botanical Garden in Kernersville.
Cissokho has fully embraced his new home state, and hopes to bring positivity, equality, and community to North Carolina through music. Judging by the spontaneous dancing and cheering that happens at Kaira Ba shows, he seems to be meeting his goal.
Activism and music go hand and hand for Laila Nur, a founding member of The Muslims, a black/brown/queer punk band from Durham, North Carolina. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Laila Nur moved south after her family was priced out of the big city. Discrimination and gentrification are realities Laila understands as a queer, black, Muslim woman with working class roots. In the tradition of punk music, Laila and The Muslims channel anger, joy, and hope through the music they make about the place and time in which they live. She reflects on her feelings about North Carolina and our music in this new Come Hear NC story.
Kyle Petty likes to say, “We grew up in rural North Carolina where there were dairy farms and there were tobacco farms – we just happened to grow race cars.”
In recent years though, Kyle – the son of NASCAR legend Richard Petty and native of Randolph County – has proven there is another export crop from the area – songwriters.
This spring, Come Hear NC captured Kyle Petty performing with fellow North Carolina singer-songwriter David Childers at the Magnolia Roots Music Lounge in Wake Forest, N.C. The show took place a few days before he set off on the annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride, a cross country motorcycle trip raising money for Victory Junction, a children’s organization founded in honor of Kyle’s late son, Adam Petty. The audience was eclectic, with many folks wearing hats, t-shirts, or jackets adorned with Petty’s past racing numbers and sponsors. Once the music started, however, it was quickly apparent that Kyle Petty is as passionate and driven in his songwriting as he is about NASCAR. Borrowing equally from the Crash Craddock eight-tracks he listened to with his father and from James Taylor, who he discovered on his own, Petty extols North Carolina’s nurturing arts community for taking him in and helping him flourish. Though his racing days are behind him, we are happy to have him sharing his stories through song.
A preacher’s son and Gulf War veteran born in Fayetteville, Jonathan Byrd’s family history in North Carolina stretches back seven generations. His style ranges from old time to rockabilly, and his lyrics and poems weave colorful landscapes home to working-class heroes, eccentrics, and freedom-seekers, all rooted in the spirit of his native state, particularly on his 2010 album "Cackalack." As well as the title track, the record features songs such as "Wild Ponies," honoring the wild horses of the Outer Banks. “Velma,” a murder ballad Byrd wrote about the last woman to be executed in North Carolina, has been covered by Sam Bush, Jack Lawrence, and others.
Now based in Carrboro, he performs weekly at The Kraken with his band, Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys, as part of the Shake Sugaree Americana Residency. Named for the song by Libba Cotten, the residency began in 2018 as a way to help the band get back on its feet following the death of their cellist, Paul Ford, but has since developed a cult following, drawing huge crowds to the tiny, tin-roof roadhouse off Highway 54. The three-hour show features a different guest artist every week, introducing listeners to a variety of local, national, and international musicians, including Joe Newberry and Raleigh-based singer/songwriter Rod Abernethy.
The other Pickup Cowboys have strong North Carolina connections as well. Multi-instrumentalist Johnny Waken and drummer Austin McCall have both performed with Paperhand Puppet Intervention, and McCall also performs with Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba.
When he’s not at The Kraken, Jonathan Byrd tours across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and continues to write poetry. His most recent collection, “You’ve Changed,” was published in 2017 and met with rave reviews.
“Music has always been a thing in North Carolina,” Byrd says in our interview at The Haw River Ballroom. “It’s valued in our culture, but it’s not just one kind of music; it’s all kinds of music, and I think that’s really the strength of the statewide scene.”
You can probably name a few, like James Taylor’s “Going to Carolina” or Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up.” These are the songs that compel folks to embrace or dance with the nearest person who is also bursting with state pride. It’s fair to say that in 2017, G Yamazawa’s “North Cack” ascended to the pantheon of North Carolina anthems.
The song, accompanied by a viral music video directed by fellow Durhamite Kid Ethnic, electrified the internet and compelled the rapper and poetry slam champion G Yamazawa to a national stage.
There’s something special and downright appropriate that our latest state anthem was written by a first-generation American. G Yamazawa grew-up in a family that immigrated to North Carolina from Japan, and in our latest artist profile, he invites us into his universe of North Carolina music.
Born in 1929, Algia Mae Hinton was a blues musician and buck dancer from Johnston County, North Carolina. Raised in a musical family that worked tobacco, Algia Mae Hinton grew up performing music with her community at what many would now think of as house parties. She was one of several excellent Piedmont blues musicians discovered during a movement to document folk artists across North Carolina in the 1970s. She went on to take her music to schools and performance halls around the world, and is remembered for her loving spirit, artistry, and signature move of buck dancing while playing guitar behind her head. She died on February 8, 2018.
This video features footage from the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Mike Seeger's film "Talking Feet," and Music Maker Relief Foundation. It also features a photo taken by Roger Manley.
The Magnolia Klezmer Band has performed throughout the Triangle and Triad areas of North Carolina for twenty-three years. Their unique sound comes from the mingling of players with different musical backgrounds: Klezmer, Balkan, jazz, brass band, polka, and classical, and their story proves the power of music to create community.
Klezmer music is a celebratory genre - often performed at weddings - that can be traced to the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe.
"It introduces a whole subculture to a population down here who is unfamilar to it completely," says Elliott Mills, musical director and percussionist in says Magnolia Klezmer band. "So in that sense it brings people together."