Categories: Interviews

Bio Ritmo puts Richmond on the Salsa Map

America is jumpin’ and jivin’ again, thanks to the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Add the Richmond, Va.-based eight-member band Bio Ritmo to the mix, but with a touch of Latin rhythms and ’90s poise.

Bio Ritmo’s debut Triloka/Mercury album, “Rumba Baby Rumba!” (released July 21), shakes a groove thing with standout party tracks like the first single, “Call Me Up (644-7215),” and a delightful cover of Mozart’s “Night Music.” But make no mistake, says singer-percussionist Jim Thomson, Bio Ritmo is not jumping on the big-band wagon.

“We don’t have a trend mentality,” Thomson said recently. “It’s more like, for all the individual members, this is what we’re looking for; it fits an ideal for our own personal visions. It’s an unbelievable blessing to find people with a like mind to do this stuff with.”

The group has toured aggressively for years and recorded two independent albums, “Que Siga La Musical” and “Salsa Galactica,” but Thomson says things changed when Havana-born Rene Herrera joined three years ago.

“He added a whole new dimension to the band that we didn’t know we had or were even capable of,” Thomson said. “He came to Richmond as a result of the refugee program and was placed there. They gave him an option of a couple cities and he said ‘why not Richmond?’

“One of the fellows who used to be in the band met Rene at a Mass in a Catholic church in Richmond. We had really been looking for somebody, and Rene had played trombone. He was invited to our rehearsal, and then he came and played a gig with us that first week in Georgia. At first, he wasn’t singing, he was just playing his trombone. Rene now has a lot of duties in this band; he’s the principal arranger, composer, singer and part of the horn section.”

Herrera, a veteran of Cuban symphonies and bands, says Bio Ritmo has a sound all its own.

“What we play is probably more closer to my roots back in Cuba,” he said. “But Bio Ritmo is different than the Cuban style, it’s not 100 percent Cuban, and I think it’s different than the New York salsa. It’s different than the Miami salsa. Bio Ritmo doesn’t sound like any other band in Cuba, Puerto Rico or New York or Richmond. To me, it really is unique. I feel like this band is part of my life; this is my family too.”

With radio and MTV getting into the swing of things, the time is ripe for Bio Ritmo, Thomson says.

“For too long, the categories have just dominated the airwaves,” he said. “That’s one of the things that kept salsa out of the mainstream. It’s very infectious music, it’s not so culturally different that people won’t get it into just because of the lyrics. I, personally, don’t speak Spanish. The music is what I hear, first and foremost. I listen to the voice as just another instrument. A lot of people will program their interests and put CDs aside that’s not in English. There’s a bias there, and it’s not healthy. It keeps something wonderful away from the ears of everybody.”

BWF (before we forget): Rumba with Bio Ritmo on the Web @ www.bioritmo.com.

Gerry Galipault

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.

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