Sound Surfing / Celebrating Latin music culture at NICE Festival

What began as a project to bring awareness of Latin music into schools and educational forums has blossomed into a vibrant and active music ensemble called Orquesta Afinke. The eight-piece band now headlines at big-time festivals like New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas and the Norwalk Seaport Association Oyster Festival. And this weekend, it appears at Norwalk’s third annual NICE Festival, taking the main stage at 4 p.m. Saturday.

NICE, which stands for the Norwalk International Cultural Exchange, has designed the festival to celebrate global heritage and culture. It’s free and takes place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., rain or shine, at Oyster Shell Park, North Water Street in Norwalk. For more information, visit

Orquesta Afinke is making its third appearance at the festival, and the band’s co-founder, director and trumpeter Tito Planas explained how the band defines success.

“Our mission is to bring Latin music to all stages in order for others, especially our youth, to be inspired, learn, and appreciate our great cultural heritage through our music,” he said.

The group is composed of veteran musicians, including pianist Rafael Rosado, who lives in Norwalk and has toured across much of South America and Europe as the piano player for Hermanos Moreno. Other members include co-director Samuel Diaz, Jr. on percussion, Herman “Jerry” Perez on trombone, Louis Carrasquillo on percussion, Ramon Flores on lead vocals, Samuel Diaz III on percussion, and Victor Planas on bass and background vocals.

The majority of the band members, who are originally from Puerto Rico, now live in Stratford, and all members have extensive Latin music credentials.

“Most of us have performed and even traveled abroad with many well-known artists in Latin music like Celia Cruz, Jose Alberto, Luisito Rosario, and many others,” said Planas.

“We became close friends by being the back-up band for many notables. Percussionist and co-director Sam Diaz, Jr. and I put a band together for a performance at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport in 2009,” he said. “From there, many other performances came about, until now when we average 45 performances a year.”

Planas explained how the band’s set list captures a musical heritage.

“Latin music as a whole is a blend of many genres,” said Planas. “It has the influence of the Afro-Cuban music, jazz, as well as influences from the many countries where it is played. Our music features many rhythms, from traditional salsa, piano and bass lines from the jazz and Latin Jazz era, and even brass lines from the traditional salsa and ‘big band’ music. This blend makes it ever changing.”

Orquesta Afinke focuses mainly on the Latin Caribbean music genres, such as salsa, merengue, bolero, plena, bomba, cumbia and Latin jazz.

“We perform music from many of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Cuba, among many others,” Planas said.

Planas grew up in Puerto Rico, studied at the Escuela Libre de Musica de Ponce, and graduated from the University of Bridgeport. He is currently the director of mathematics for the Bridgeport Public Schools and charged with all mathematics including curriculum for grades pre-K to 12.

“Many of the guys are teachers not only in music but also other areas,” Planas said. “For example Sam Diaz, Jr. and his son Sam Diaz III are both black belts in karate. They have a school in Stratford called Stratford Shotokan Karate. In addition, both of them present percussion classes and workshops for youth and adults. Sam Jr. has taught percussion in several public schools. As a group, we’ve done many workshops in schools and colleges, where we highlight the various genres we play as well as teach audiences about the differences in order for them to appreciate these better. We teach about the main rhythms and instrumentation.”

The band has also performed in Norwalk several times.

“We love the warmth of the people from Norwalk. This is like our second home. There is great diversity in this city that appreciates our band’s music,” said Planas.

Mike Horyczun’s Sound Surfing column appears every Saturday in The Hour. Mike can be reached at



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