Composer, pianist, and Salsa aficionado, Marcus Hernandez was born with an affinity for Latin music that can surely be traced to the very molecules of his DNA. Growing up in the boroughs of New York City, he was heavily influenced by two local Latin greats: the Grammy Award-winning pianist Eddie Palmieri and Puerto Rican Salsa legend Papo Lucca. Their distinct styles cultivated his love for Salsa which led him to learning and mastering the piano at a young age. In his early years as a musician, Marcus studied under Oscar Hernandez and Gilberto Colon, and more recently with Arturo Ortiz, who was the musical director for the Ricky Martin Band.
Hernandez himself emerged on the New York City Latin scene during the late 70’s when the Salsa movement was at an all-time high. A major highlight of his New York career was forming the Salsa group Fuego ’77. The band recorded its first album of the same name, Fuego ’77, under the Alegre label, a subsidiary of the famous Fania Records, and Hernandez composed and arranged eight of the ten songs on the album. Fuego ‘77 became an in-demand supporting act opening for mega Salsa artists, such as: Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, and Hector LaVoe. The band’s resume included performances at all the top Manhattan Salsa venues including The Corso, Ipanema, Casa Blanca, Casino 14, and the iconic Copacabana.
As his career flourished into the 1980’s, Hernandez continued performing and working with various popular Latin artists, such as: Adalberto Santiago and Rafael de Jesus. After taking a break from performing to focus on a business career, Hernandez moved to Florida in 2005, and found a tropical, steamy paradise ripe for the simmering sounds of Salsa. His new surroundings provided inspiration for his current project, Orchestra Fuego, which has become one of the most sought out Salsa groups in all of Florida. After more than forty years on the Salsa scene, Marcus Hernandez is more enthusiastic than ever about composing his own original music and sharing his lively and refreshing arrangements of classic Salsa songs with audiences worldwide.
After hearing a small Salsa group perform at my college in NYC I was mesmerized by this music. I started to buy LP's of great Salsa artists of that time like: Eddie Palmieri, Papo Lucca of La Sonora Poncena, Willie Rosario, and several others. I inquired on taking piano lessons, found a good instructor in NYC, and I practiced several hours a day. I started performing with some local artist, then moved onto some big artists like: Adalberto Santiago and Rafael De Jesus, then started my own band called Fuego '77.
I formed Orchestra Fuego Productions LLC in 2014 with a vision and desire to bring back Salsa music, especially in my area of Tampa, Florida where Salsa music was just about non-existent. I wanted to create a group that performed original music. Six years later we are Florida's number one Salsa band.
I have learned that management skills are essential for the growth of the group. You have to wear many hats when you are the band leader; from musician to creator, promoter, and manager. These skills have helped me to inspire my group and to share my vision.
I have been very fortunate to be able to hire some really outstanding musicians. Not only very talented, but very humble people and a pleasure to work with.
My definition of a masterful performance is when the audience is just grooving to your music. We got to perform at the famous Orlando House of Blues in front of 4,000 fans and when we finished our set, the crowd chanted "One more"! Now that to me is when all the hard work we put into rehearsals pay off. And it doesn't matter whether you did an "A" performance, it's how you draw the fans into your performance.
When I see the dance floor packed with dancers, means to me I have given my audience something they really enjoy, which leaves a lasting impression. We are not just a bunch of great musicians that perform on stage, we provide a visually alluring performance, that includes some dancing from our three amazing singers in the front.
I love creating new music. I usually start off with either a current situation going on at the moment, like the pandemic or maybe an emotion of love. When the pandemic first hit, we lost over 25 events; we were on the way to the Japan Latin Jazz Festival. All our tours got canceled; NY, Puerto Rico, LA, etc., all canceled. So, I said to myself what was I going to do during this downtime and came up with the idea of recording my 5th production. Many of my musicians have small home studios, so I called several composers, purchased songs, and started the process of arranging the songs. I sent the tracks to my musicians which recorded their parts from their home studios to avoid contact during the pandemic and presto, 5th production done, and by far our best work yet.
We have had two great performances, first at the Orlando House of Blues which I mentioned earlier, in front of 4,000 fans, and just recently on May 8, 2021 at the Orlando Amphitheater in front of 16,000 fans! That was our biggest performance ever and what a great experience that was.
I recall performing for a big organization in Orlando, Florida and had a couple of subs for that day and the bass player got lost on a couple of tunes and in Salsa music, the percussion and bass are the heartbeats of Salsa. I have often instructed my guys that if a song is coming out bad, to smile and keep going. One, don't ever stop playing your instrument and don't start looking around at the other musicians as if something is wrong. Fans pick-up on this. I remind my guys that we know how the song goes, but the fans don't.
This is important for all groups to know. Show must go on and do it with a smile. Every band has its bad days, even the greats have off days. I make some mental notes and then write them out when I get a chance to go over the mistakes. Then go over these errors at our next rehearsal.
This is a tremendous honor for us to have won the LIT Talent Awards. You work hard to bring the best music one can, but when you win an award, it just solidifies all the hard work we put into what we do.
I also want to thank our management team of Tony Delavora and Maria Caban of Daville Entertainment for taking such good care of the band and bringing us to the next level of performances.
Tony Delavora produced our award winning music video Piensa Con El Corazon. Orchestra Fuego would not have reached its peak without this awesome team. And a special thanks to my wife Sylvia Hernandez, PhD who also manages the band along with Tony and Maria. They give me the freedom to be a performer and not wear multiple hats trying to do everything myself. I’m extremely grateful for my management team.
As an independent Band, it's hard to compete with the record labels, but for me I just stay focused on what we need to do as a whole.
What a great honor to win this prestigious award.
This award certainly created some big attention for us. The song we won the award with was Piensa Con El Corazon, and is now our number one song and has created quite a buzz in the music industry. We are the most sought out Salsa band in all of Florida.
We promote this accolade on all our social media sites, which has caught the attention of some record labels. Stay tuned!
There are some really talented Salsa artists all over the world. Everyone trying to position themselves for a number one title. We are extremely blessed to be one of the best Salsa groups. We have a terrific group and management team, which is important for getting the word out there. You just have to stay true to your vision and good things happen.
Stay the course; keep true to your vision and PRACTICE! I know many groups that just try and hire top professionals and try to sight read all the music, to me that's a bad idea, cause even if they read 90% of the material accurately, you're getting on like robots. Nothing like knowing the song so you can be relaxed as you perform and then the guys are free to move on stage rather than stay stuck behind the music stand.
Post often on your social media sites and continue to make changes as necessary to bring out the best in your group. At rehearsal, I usually take time in our breaks to ask questions like, does anyone have any issues or would they like to see something changed? That makes the guys feel like they are part of the organization rather than just hired musicians.
My inspiration came from listening to Eddie Palmieri, he was just an awesome pianist; loved his style. Later, it was Papo Lucca, pianist and leader of La Sonora Poncena. I then took lessons from some great pianist like Oscar Hernandez (four time Grammy winner), Arturo Ortiz, pianist for Ricky Martin and Gilberto Colon a very accomplished pianist. These guys really taught me how to swing on the piano. Grateful to have been in the presence of these great musicians.
I recently was introduced to a great performer in Miami Lucy Grau, known as the "Disco Queen of Miami". She has taken many of Donna Summers' songs and made them into Salsa music. That really caught my attention. I reached out to her while I was producing my 5th album and asked her if she would like to be a part of it and she agreed. The song we won the award for featured Lucy Grau and our very own lead singer Miguel Guerrero. She is a terrific performer and has a great stage presence. We are in the beginning stages of filming yet another music video with Lucy Grau.
Lucy Grau is one my favorite artists. Very easy to work with. We are filming another music video with Lucy in September 2021. We are also finishing up a song with the great Diego Gale, a huge artist from Colombia and we will be filming a music video with him later this year. Another awesome humble person.
Would love to collaborate with Victor Manuelle and Marc Anthony one day.
Lucy Grau, Edwin "El Calvito" Reyes, and Edwin Lebron. These are some local artists with great talents.
Stay true to your vision! I seen many artists just try and go with what's popular, with little to no results. You have to stay true to your vision and have a passion for what you do. Stay the course and good things will happen. We are an example of this by winning this great award.
We are working on two music videos; one with Lucy Grau and the other with Diego Gale. We are also working on some new songs, and will be released sometime early 2022.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Musicians fighting against themselves and lots of throat cutting. I would like to see something like we had way back in the days, like a musicians union where all musicians get the same rate of pay; locally at least. When a band becomes famous that's a whole other matter, but many local musicians just cut out others by taking a lot less pay.
A big undertaking, but some sort of local musicians' chapter can be formed to address these issues.
Thank you for the blessing of being part of the LIT Talent Awards and for the great honor of winning this prestigious accolade.
Marcus Hernandez is a composer, pianist, and salsa aficionado.