HoLafest band Batukealo says hello from Puerto Rico

Jose R. Madera/Special the the News Sentinel
Anibal de Gracia (with trombone) leads the seven-piece Latin-fusion band Batukealo in Puerto Rico. The band will be one of the featured acts at the 2012 HoLa Festival.

Photo by Jose R. Madera

Jose R. Madera/Special the the News Sentinel Anibal de Gracia (with trombone) leads the seven-piece Latin-fusion band Batukealo in Puerto Rico. The band will be one of the featured acts at the 2012 HoLa Festival.

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The disclaimer for the 2012 HoLa Festival declares: "Bring your chairs and comfortable shoes. Lots of dancing!"

Anibal de Gracia of the band Butakealo plans to make sure the second sentence comes true.

"We are playing three times at the festival!" says de Gracia in a call from Puerto Rico.

The group will playing both on stage and in the crowd at the HoLa Festival and de Gracia plans to recreate the party atmosphere of the islands, including a traditional costumed character dancing in the crowd.

Now in its 11th year, the HoLa Festival celebrates the culture and diversity of Latin America and its immigrants in the United States. The festival includes an array of music, food and art from the islands, including de Gracia's native Puerto Rico, to Mexico and South and Central America. It's family-friendly and includes various children's activities. This year the event will be held from North Gay Street to Depot Avenue.

A musical blend is something de Gracia is used to.

"My father used to own a record shop in the late 1970s," he says. "He had cassettes and 8-tracks and I grew up listening to all kinds of music. Music from the United States, music from South America, music from the Dominican Republic and Cuba ..."

As a teenager, de Gracia studied the trombone and began playing with established Puerto Rican acts before going on his own.

In 2003, he formed Batukealo, a seven-piece, brass-fueled band that incorporated a variety of Latin styles and pop.

"We had a huge reaction from the public," says de Gracia.

With the release of the group's first album, he says that it was the first time a Puerto Rican act had attempted to the different Latin music styles together. It gave the group an edge.

"We got a lot of competition here. There's a lot of musicians and it's very tough to have success here in Puerto Rico. I've been very lucky. I'm very blessed."

The disc also helped the act make inroads into the United States and the band made appearances in Miami and New York.

In addition, de Gracia leads a larger act that features piano and bass and includes disco music.

Batukealo is currently working on a fifth record that will be released in Februrary 2013. De Gracia hopes it will help the band expand even further.

Currently, though, the band is flying in especially to perform at the HoLa Festival.

"We are looking forward to be with our Latin brothers, Cuban, Dominican, South American people. We are looking forward to being there. It is our first time. I hope it is not going to be our last one. We've been reading about this festival. I have a couple of friends in East Tennessee."

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HoLa Festival

With: Anibal de Gracia and Batukealo, Destellos Culturales, Danza Azteca Guadalupana, Vientos del Pueblo, Salsa Rueda, Local 34 and others

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: The corner of N. Gay Street and Depot Avenue

Admission: Free, but participants are asked to bring one can of beans and one bag of rice to donate to the Second Harvest Food Bank. There is a charge for some of the children's activities.

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