Bilingual artist Elsten Torres, pioneer of Latin alternative rock, performs Friday at Levitt



Two-time Grammy Award nominee Elsten Torres has always been a restless musical explorer. The native of Cuba, performing at Levitt Pavilion in Dayton on Friday, Sept. 15, is one of the pioneers of Latin alternative rock. The New York-based artist began mixing musical genres in the 1990s with Fulano De Tal and continued his adventurous ways after launching his solo career in 2006.

Torres is a bilingual, multicultural musician. “Nocturno” (2022), his 12th studio album, features Spanish lyrics with Latin instrumentation and rhythms. Other solo releases such as “At the End of Love” (2020) and “Waiting For Clouds” (2013) have intimate folk songs and acoustic pop numbers with English lyrics. His latest single, “Bendita Cuba,” which hit streaming on July 27, is an Afro-Cuban love letter to his recently departed mother and the country of his birth.

Torres, who has collaborated with Ricky Martin, Elvis Costello, Luis Fonsi, Julio Iglesias Jr. and other artists, was the subject of the 2016 documentary “La Cuba De Hoy.” He was in Dayton earlier this week when he took time to discuss his first appearance in the Gem City.



Local connection: “I’m here in Dayton already. I’m staying until next Sunday. I got here yesterday. I have family in Dayton and I’m actually seeing them today. I’m playing with mostly Cincinnati musicians for the show, so I have a big rehearsal tomorrow with the band. I’ve worked with the drummer and the percussionist before. The other ones were recommended to me. It’s going to be five of us including me, so it will be fun.”

Miami Valley debut: “I visited Dayton one time a few years back when I had a private show in Cincinnati. I took a Saturday off and hung out with family. They cooked for me, so it was a nice gathering. This is my first time performing in Dayton. I’m very excited. It’s nice working with the Levitt Pavilions. I’ve played a few others. It’s organized really well and the staff is always great. They treat you very well so I’m looking forward to it.”

Career retrospective: “I’m playing one or two songs from my latest album but I’m going to do the repertoire, my history. There’s some early stuff and some recent stuff. Obviously, I’m playing the last single, ‘Bendita Cuba,’ which will be mixed in with some Cuban songs. It’s going to be a fun show. Plus, I have a cousin who lives in town who is a singer-songwriter as well. She doesn’t do it professionally, but she’s got her own band. I’m going to invite her to sing a couple of songs with me. It will be a sweet moment.”

Watch the official music video for Elsten Torres’ “Bendita Cuba”:

Maternal homage: “I wanted to do ‘Bendita Cuba’ as a tribute to my dear mom, who passed away this year. It’s been a pretty tough year. We released the song back in March and she passed in May, so she was able to hear it. She had Alzheimer’s so she was a little bit out of it toward the end. Cuba to me was always my mom. I was born there but we left when I was 18 months old. My connection to Cuba was her. When we moved to New York, my mom created a little oasis in our New York apartment. It was basically Cuba at home. When me and my brother were home, the culture was like Cuba. Whenever we were outside it was pretty much New York, which is a big metropolitan area.”

Cultural melting pot: “I had a mix growing up. I loved the rock ‘n’ roll and everything else I grew up listening to, but my mom also played a lot of Cuban stuff she grew up with. She liked a lot of the classic Cuban artists like Celia Cruz, Benny Moré and all those people. Back then she had LPs she’d play. I also had an uncle who was a singer-songwriter. He wasn’t living with us, but he was living pretty close. He’d come over with his guitar and sing songs from Cuba and his original songs as well. I was surrounded by all of that music, and I was influenced by that.”



A colorful reminder: “I pushed aside the Cuban stuff for a few years. When you get into those teenage years you kind of become rebellious and I definitely was. Moving down to Miami in my mid-to-late 20s reconnected me with my Cuban roots. Miami has such a large Cuban community, so it was wonderful. That music is so colorful. There’s so much nuance to it and so much depth. It’s music that has so many layers. There are so many great singer-songwriters, bands and musicians to come out of Cuba and Latin America. I became a more complete artist once I let that heritage really grow in me.”

Multiple releases: “The single ‘Bendita Cuba’ will be part of an album. We’ve written three or four songs for the album, so we still need to do a few more. I’m working on three projects right now so I’m not sure when that one will be done. I have another album coming out. We’ll probably have the first single out before the end of the year. It’s going to be a little bit different. It’s going to be a bit more back to my Latin rock roots.”

Unexplored territories: “I’m always writing, recording and performing. It keeps me focused and keeps me engaged in my career. I love what I do but like anything else, if you don’t challenge yourself, it becomes monotonous after a while. I like to always challenge myself and try different styles and work with different producers. I like to try new things and that’s not only better for me, but it benefits the people that follow my music.”

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Who: Dayton Metro Library co-presents the World Music Series concert with Elsten Torres

Where: Levitt Pavilion, 134 S. Main St., Dayton

When: Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free

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