The music of Conexión Latina is heating up the dance floors of bars, restaurants and festivals across Waterloo Region and Guelph. Conexión Latina performs what they call Afro-Latin music which includes inspiration from salsa, bachata and cumbia musical traditions.

The group’s original lineup included a couple of family members who moved out of the province in 2022. John Muñoz, the group’s congas player, said they had to rebuild Conexión Latina from scratch. 

Muñoz and accordion, bongos and cowbell player Fernando Valdes started their search by posting flyers at local universities and on Facebook groups. Muñoz said their recruitment efforts took them to musical venues outside their typical style. 

“Our bass player is the funniest recruitment story. I went to a venue in town to watch a country gig. I knew the bass player’s dad who was there, and I said, ‘I didn’t know Gabe played country. Listen, we have this project. 

I know you guys are from El Salvador. Can he audition?’ So he came and tried out, and he was perfect,” Valdes said. 

Muñoz has played in several bands, including in his native Colombiaand in Portugal while working on his Ph.d. in human-computer interaction. He moved to Waterloo in 2019 to continue his post-doctoral research at the University of Waterloo. He said one of the first things he did was connect with the growing local Latin music scene. 

“We gathered at Hepcat Swing Dance Studio. It was a cool place for meeting a lot of people that were in the dance scene, and a lot of Latinos were hanging out there,” Muñoz said. 

Muñoz got together with a few other musicians and started playing. He said it was an opportunity to return to their instruments and play the music they enjoyed. The group began playing in Waterloo Park, where they quickly started to build a fan base. 

“We noticed that whenever we played in Waterloo Park, people were always coming around and asking about the band and where we had gigs. That was kind of like the moment when we realized we should have something more formal for the band,” Muñoz said. 

The members started performing at events and family gatherings to build their sound before deciding to formalize the group. It was around this time that Valdes joined the band. Valdes, who is also originally from Colombia, said their jam sessions in Waterloo Park attracted a wide variety of listeners. 

“The main group was the social dancers, people from studios such as Underdog Dance Studio and TenC Dance Co. who wanted to dance to live music. The live sound is something that gives a different feeling when you’re dancing to the music,” he said. 

“Then we had people who simply found it interesting. People that maybe haven’t been to Latin America, or are not familiar with the music, but are big music fans—especially live music,” Valdes said. 

Conexión Latina’s sound is heavily influenced by Afro-Latin bands, including Buena Vista Social Club. They are also including more modern salsa music. Muñoz said the style resonates with Latinos and Canadians who have vacationed in Cuba and other Latin American countries. 

Conexión Latina plays regular gigs at Wineology in downtown Kitchener where they play to packed dance floors. Muñoz said they’re working on gigs outside of Waterloo Region this summer, including the Mississauga Latin Festival in July. 

“That’s our next step. We are trying to get to the festivals but will keep playing in local bars and restaurants where we have been building our community. We are confident every time we play that the community will come out. 

Valdes said he has seen the Latin community grow significantly since moving here 20 years ago. Stats Canada 2021 census data reported that 12,775 people living in Cambridge, Waterloo and Kitchener identified as Latin American

While that only represents a small percentage of the local population, Valdes said the influence is being felt across the region’s music, food, and entertainment scenes. 

“There’s definitely been growth. Last Saturday, we had an event, but funnily enough, there were four other Latin music happening,” he said. 

“It’s out there and it’s here to stay for sure,” Valdes said. 

You can learn more about the band and their upcoming shows by following them on Instagram @conexionlatinamusic