Cudmore: Bandleader Alex Torres has had global impact

Focus on History

Latin bandleader Alex Torres has had a major impact on the cultural life of Amsterdam and the world.

His parents, originally from the southern part of Puerto Rico, moved to the South Bronx. His Mom fostered Alex’s love of music listening to radio stations which featured Spanish music such as Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

When Alex was a teenager the family relocated to Amsterdam. Anthropologist Susan Dauria, who did research in Amsterdam for her doctoral dissertation, said that Latinos were first attracted to Amsterdam because jobs could be found there. A second reason was “tranqilidad.”


Torres said in a 2000 television interview that his parents came to Amsterdam because it is quiet. “They had relatives here and figured it was a better place to raise the rest of the family.”


At age 14, Torres had a hard time adjusting to small town life, which had no radio station or even a music store featuring Latin music.


“I’ve always been a person to carry my own weight wherever I go,” Torres said. “And I was a puny, scrawny kid in school. Like in every other scenario, you have a hard time adjusting. (I) missed running to the corner store and getting Spanish food for lunch. My love of art it no longer existed. The positive thing of that is I formed a band.”


The band he started in 1980 at first was named Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos, Alex Torres and the Latin Kings. The musical group is now called Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra.


Michael Cinquanti in his book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays” said that although many Latinos were living in Amsterdam, not many of them were accomplished musicians.


So after teaching himself to play bass guitar, Torres became a music teacher for his early band mates, even reaching out to some of his Anglo friends. The band attracted a local then a regional following.


Torres was one of the founders of Centro Civico, Amsterdam’s Latino community organization. He co-hosted a local radio show, Hablemos, with Centro Civico director Ladan Alomar.


Cinquanti wrote, “They hit the big time officially in 1999 when the group’s fourth album entitled Entre Amigo was a Grammy award semifinalist.”


;Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra play an original blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms such as salsa, merengue, cha-cha, bomba, plena and Latin jazz.


They have performed for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and also played at New York gubernatorial inaugurations for George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer.


The orchestra provided music for the soundtrack of the WMHT-TV documentary “Historic Views of the Carpet City: Amsterdam, N.Y.” in 2000. Torres was interviewed for the documentary at the music store and community gathering spot he had opened on East Main Street, El Palacio Musicale.


Torres outlined his objections to the phrase melting pot, “I prefer a salad bowl. And I mean everyone loves salad, right? And you have lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, yet they’re all individual pieces, but they all go very well. And you can taste them all separately.”


Asked to describe the Latino part of the salad, Torres smiled and replied, “Jalapenos, hot peppers, anything that’s colorful and fragrant.”


;Torres closed his Amsterdam music store and now his 12-piece orchestra is based in Scotia.


Their songs have been featured in motion pictures, TV and video games. The orchestra performed the music for the PBS weekly program “Made in New York.” In 2015 they toured the People’s Republic of China.


Cinquanti wrote, “The young man who brought the Latin beat to Amsterdam is now bringing it all over the world.”


Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

Categories: -News-, Opinion, Schenectady County

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