In The Spotlight - Chino Pons

As the lights dim on the dapper assembly in the Roxy Hotel lobby on a Saturday night, beams of gold and crimson spread onto the stage to ignite the agile body of Chino Pons. The syncopation of bongo drums pairs with the virtuosity of Spanish guitar to charge the space with an air that is singularly Cuban. After a few measures Chino grasps a pair of shakers and smiles with his eyes as he croons traditional lyrics, garnished with ironic puns and sensual desire.

The humor and poetry of Cuba is as signature as its music, with subtle attitudes and turns of phrase that can merge the tragic, the risqué and the sublime all within the same sentence. While Chino’s charismatic expression glides through the spectrum of his lyrics, he punctuates them with deft little thrusts of his shoulders and rolls of his hips as his patent leather oxfords tap the stage with wild precision.

As the set begins the lounge is permeated with a seductive ambiance, setting the tone for an evening of dinner or cocktails. The band could really be called an orchestra with its wide array of percussion instruments, classical guitar, and standing bass – all combined seamlessly under Chino’s conductorship. By the end of the evening the floors are vibrant with dancing and ardent singers raising their glasses.

As a Cuban-American I was very moved by Chino Pons and his band– I can’t understand how anyone wouldn’t be – and was lucky to get to ask him a few questions about his career and lineage.

Between sets Chino sits at a small table near the stage beside his elegant lady, silently sipping champagne to recharge for the next go. “I love playing at The Roxy Hotel,” he tells me. “And when I’m here, I only drink champagne.

Chino hails from the San Miguel del Padron district of Havana and moved to New York in 1999. First to the Bronx, then a brief stint in Queens, but now a proud resident of Manhattan. He began his American musical career by performing on the square at Astor Place for tips with a few of his friends – one of whom, David Colding of Harlem, is still the bassist for his gigs at The Roxy. Pons is in love with New York but feels a special kinship to Chinatown, as Chino’s dad was half Chinese lending to the origins of his stage name.

New York is the only city in America similar to the nightlife of Havana of yesterday,” he explains, referring to time when Havana was famous for teeming nightclubs, hotels, and high class bars all centered around a culture of music and style. His performances are rife with nostalgia for this era and he praises The Roxy for being the perfect setting to suit his ideal. “The best things about The Roxy are its beauty, its audiences, and the sound system which is definitely our favorite in New York!

His music is rich with festivity, passion, and – as every gentleman knows – is best taken in with a glass of champagne.

Words by M.Pellerano