Los Perros Cubanos perform at Evanston’s S.P.A.C.E.
Guitarist Harry Michels, percussionist Michael Rodriguez, singer and guitarist Roger Sosa, guitarist John Manos, bassist Jose Rodriguez and percussionist Sam Werk are Los Perros Cubanos.
Los Perros Cubanos
S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
8 p.m. July 24
(847) 492-8860, www.evanstonspace.com
Updated: July 17, 2012 10:01PM
There’s an old, politically incorrect joke from which the band Los Perros Cubanos derives its name.
In English, the name means the Cuban Dogs.
Roger Sosa, the band leader and only Cuban-American (first generation) member, chuckles when he tells the version of the joke he knows.
A female French poodle across the street turns the heads of an Irish dog, a German dog and a Cuban dog. The three male dogs race across the street to vie for her affection. She tells them she wants the smartest one, so the one who can best use the words liver and cheese in a sentence will win her heart.
Chuckling, Sosa affects an Irish brogue and says, “Ah, lassie, I loves me liver and I loves me cheese.” That dog is dismissed. Doing a German accent for the German dog, Sosa says, “Ach du lieber! Have you ever had the liver and cheese in Germany?” Not smart enough.
It’s a winner
“The Cuban dog looks at both and says, ‘Liver alone, boys. Cheese mine,’ ” Sosa laughs.
Basically, it comes down to winners and losers, and Los Perros Cubanos is looking and feeling like a winner these days since scoring a July 24 show at S.P.A.C.E., where several polished up-and-coming bands play (Alabama Shakes last December) as well as widely-known veterans (Judy Collins on July 12).
Los Perros Cubanos mostly covers songs from Cuba’s golden age, the 1940s and ’50s, by artists such as Guillermo Portabales, Perez Prado, Beny Moré and others, but with a little more punch.
The guitar players have a rock background, while the backline is Latin-sounding.
“The idea is we’re fusing those two things together,” Sosa says. “We call it Cuban fusion.”
Between listening to the records his parents brought to the U.S. when they immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954 and hearing Cuban music on frequent trips to Miami as a child, Sosa became familiar with the music of his heritage early on.
But, being a kid growing up in the United States, he was greatly influenced by rock ’n’ roll. He went on to play in rock cover bands, including Blue Fog, which disbanded in 2009. However, Blue Fog’s repertoire included songs by Latin bands and Latin-influenced bands, such as Buena Vista Social Club, Santana and Tito Puente.
Sosa found his singing voice was best suited for those songs. He began entertaining more seriously the notion of reaching his full potential singing Cuban songs.
“It’s too vibrato-y,” he says. “The style, I would say, is declamatory, like I’m trying to tell a story.”
Then, his Aunt Irma, who was one of his biggest fans but had always told him he should know more Cuban songs, died. That was the final push for forming Los Perros Cubanos in 2009.
“I do get a feeling I’m getting a smile when I’m playing because I try to play some of her favorite stuff,” he says. “We play old, old stuff. We cut it off at the Castro period.”
But, it’s not so old it’s outdated. Cuban music from that era appeals to young as well as old, and to non-Latino as well as Latino.
Sosa points to Mike Rodriguez, 35, and Sam Werk, 26, as two of the younger members of the band, but who bring “a lot of passion, discipline and integrity to what we do.”
And, while they’ve played mostly Latin events, such as the Festival Cubano and the Back of the Yards Fiesta, they’re getting booked more often now at general audience venues, such as S.P.A.C.E. and the Tap House Grill in Highwood. Sosa is seeing a lot of audience crossover.
“Santana is maybe two, three standard deviations away from what we do, further in the rock direction. But it’s the same basic idea,” Sosa says. “And, people like to dance.”
Audience favorites include “Como Fue,” by More, which is a slow dance song, and “El Cuarto de Tula,” by Buena Vista Social Club, a song that sends the crowd out into the night wanting more.
“Everybody gets turned loose,” Sosa says about the musicians. “It’s a throw down.”
Los Perros Cubanos might not have existed if it weren’t for good timing. Although born in Illinois in 1958, Sosa was baptized in Cuba on Dec. 31, and returned to the U.S. that afternoon. On Jan. 1, 1959, Fidel Castro had seized control of the island.
“A game of inches,” Sosa says. “You know what, though? I’d still be in music.”
Maybe just not the winning dog like he is with Los Perros Cubanos, though.