It's not just the red and green sauce on the table at your neighborhood Mexican restaurant. Salsa is also a music style and a dance form, both with firm roots in Cuba, brought to North America mostly by Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants who came to New York City in the '60s and '70s.
In Humboldt County the band Ponche! is synonymous with salsa and AfroCuban music in general. Founded nine years ago in the wake of the traditional AfroCuban folkloric band Kachimbo, Ponche! has spread out a bit in middle age.
"People live in a lot of different areas," said trombonist Jimmy Durchslag, one of the founding members. "It's been that way for a while." Where it used to just be northern and southern Humboldt, now there are members in Sebastopol and the SF Bay Area. "And our trumpet player Jim Dooley lives in Willits."
As always the band's focus is modern popular Cuban music. "Salsa is the basic style, but we play a lot of timba," said Durchslag -- timba being the newest Cuban form of salsa favored by bands like Los Van Van and Irakere. Due to the embargo on all things Cuban, timba developed somewhat independent from North American salsa styles. It's always been a favorite for Ponche! as they try to stay as current as possible.
"We're working on a number of new tunes," said Durchslag, "but they've been difficult to incorporate into the lineup. We rehearse, but it's hard to get everyone together because we're so spread out."
They do have a rehearsal planned for Saturday afternoon -- in preparation for their show that night at the Arcata Playhouse.
As always when this band plays, you can expect the floor to fill with flashy salsa dancers -- there's a dedicated group of them locally. But don't be intimidated: Those with no experience can come to the Playhouse early for salsa dance lessons with Debbie Weist (7-8 p.m.), who teaches ballroom dance in Eureka and Crescent City as Dance with Debbie.
Doors open for the Ponche! salsa dance concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Arcata Playhouse (at 1251 9th St.). Live music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at The Works and Wildwood Music or online at www.brownpapertickets.com. For additional information call the Playhouse at 822-1575 or go to www.arcataplayhouse.org.