SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It all starts with a little piano, the tapping of bongo drums, and the strums of a bass guitar.
Then the party really starts.
Gino Castillo and his band the Cuban Cowboys performed in the Hostess City Wednesday night as a part of the 38th Annual Savannah Jazz Festival.
The band is tasked with filling every venue they play in with the sounds of Latin-jazz and salsa music, something Castillo has wanted to do since he was five years old.
Born in Cuba but raised in Ecuador, he grew up in a home full of music. His mom and aunt would dance to salsa in the house and his grandmother would listen to Cuban bombero singers.
A local Latin-rock group from Ecuador, however, would make a lasting impact on him as a child.
“I was maybe four or five years old, and I remember that moment when I watched them and I said, ‘I want to be them,'” said Castillo.
The next day he told his mom his dream and she enrolled him in a conservatory to learn music.
After finishing school, he moved to New York City and began performing professionally in 2000. It was not until he moved to the South, however, that he really learned about, what he calls, the real culture of America.
“New York City is like the capital of the world,” said Castillo. “[So] I had to learn and embrace the culture from this side of the United States to understand [the country].”
Castillo takes what he has learned not just from the South, but also from other parts of the world and tries to incorporate it into his performances.
He encourages everyone to learn about different cultures and places because he says doing so helps one better understand the colorful world we live in.
Performing salsa music is his way of introducing the culture of Latin America to communities in South Carolina and Georgia.
“I want people to go home and talk about the band, feeling that they got something spiritually,” said Castillo. “If one person tonight goes back home and they now like Latino music, we made it.”
Although salsa music is a common dance found throughout Latin America, it originated in Cuba. Castillo says salsa acts like the glue among over two dozen diverse Latin countries.
“Most of us, we speak Spanish,” says Castillo. “But we have no idea about other cultures from our countries. So we are different countries. So salsa is one of the ways that we kind of like put all of the countries together.”
Adding the Latin-jazz beats into their performances just adds a whole new layer to the meaning of the music they play.
“Because we are called kind of like a salsa-jazz band, we have that side that we say things with the lyrics, but also with the performance,” said Castillo.
Whether he is teaching young musicians, performing at a concert or playing at one of their weekly venues, he says he is always learning something new which makes it all worthwhile.
“Sometimes people said, being a musician, if you’re not really successful, you’re never going to make a lot of money,” said Castillo, “And I said, ‘No but I am rich because I do what I love.'”
Check out more Hispanic Heritage Month stories here.