Luzna becoming Island’s top Latin dance band

The Luzna Orchestra CD released at The Big Time Out last year, the recording is a high-energy dose of pure Latino salsa.

THE LUZNA ORCHESTRA is (from left) Britt Bowman

THE LUZNA ORCHESTRA is (from left) Britt Bowman

I couldn’t resist. After only three notes, I was dancing. I let the lively, infectious rhythms transport me to a land where it was warm, the music was great and I didn’t have a care in the world.

And what made me forget my paper-strewn office and the snow on the ground outside? The Luzna Orchestra CD. Released at The Big Time Out last year, the recording is a high-energy dose of pure Latino salsa.

And, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing better than listening to the CD is hearing the band live. Luzna Orchestra’s next gig is at North Island College’s Art Event on March 5. From 7 to 11 p.m., they’ll perform their unique blend of salsa, Son, Cumbia, salsa-jazz, Mexican bolero and more.

In addition to music, the evening also features a display of work by students in the NIC Fine Arts program. The all-ages show is free, but donations in support of the college’s art program are welcome.

Formed in the Comox Valley in 2008, Luzna Orchestra is fast gaining a reputation as Vancouver Island’s premiere Latin dance band.

It all began the year before, when Brittany Bowman travelled to Mexico City with a backpack, a fretless Roadstar bass, and the hope of immersing herself in Latin music. A friend picked Bowman up at the airport with another friend, Oscar Robles, tagging along.

“I didn’t travel far outside the city that trip,” admits Bowman. “Oscar had a Cuban tres, a pear-shaped guitar with three sets of two strings, and we started playing together. We performed some Latin music with Manglar, a world-beat band Oscar pioneered in 1999. His mentor, Candido Hernandez, participated as a percussionist.”

It wasn’t long before making music together led to marriage. Forming a Latin orchestra was a dream they both shared. Bowman and Robles invited some musicians to join them, but despite a lot of enthusiasm, the project never really got going.

In 2008, the couple moved to Canada and decided to try making their dream a reality again. “We still think it’s funny that it was easier to get a Latin orchestra going on Vancouver Island than in Mexico City, where we learned so much,” says Bowman.

Luzna’s first practice was as a trio was with Bowman’s stepfather Jim “Juancito” Papp, a long-established West Coast musician, on vocals and guitar. Over time, the band expanded to also include Michael “Miguelito” Johnson, Dave Dalton, Michelle Keir, Kelly Thomas and Tony Morrison.

As well as vocals, the band’s big salsa sound employs an array of instruments including conga, bongo, timbales, cowbells, fretless bass, guitars, keyboard, Cuban tres, saxophones, flute and trumpet.

To name the band, Bowman and Robles combined two Spanish words, luz (light) and luna (moon) to create Luzna or Moonlight Orchestra.

“We later discovered the word luzna already exists and has various meanings in several different European languages,” notes Bowman. “There is also a town in the Czech Republic named Luzna. We thought that was coincidental, as the Czech Republic is famous for having its own Latin music and dance scene.”

And unknown to Luzna, under the direction of Kelly Caldwell and Fred Thomas, a Cuban-style salsa dance craze was just about to overtake the Comox Valley.

“Kelly and Fred have been so supportive, sometimes they’d even cancel a dance class and tell everyone to go to our show,” says Bowman. “Thanks to them, we now have a very loyal following of salsa dancers.”

At the moment, most band members have day jobs, but the plan is to take the dream as far as they can. An invitation to tour Taiwan had to be turned down due to timing, but a Mexican-Canadian tour is in the works for 2012.

There’s also a possibility that Candido Hernandez and h