Papo Lucca

Papo Lucca and La Sonora Poncena played New York's Lehman Center in December. (Courtesy / May 24, 2013)

Expect smoke on the dance floor when Papo Lucca and La Sonora Ponceña take the stage Saturday night at Congas Nightclub in Sunrise to play hits such as "Hay Fuego en el 23 [There's a Fire on 23rd Street]".

Released in 1970, the hot dance number is still the band's most-requested song. The title track of its second album, a cover of a 1957 Arsenio Rodriguez classic, catapulted the salsa band from Ponce, Puerto Rico, to international fame. The recording's success also established Enrique Arsenio "Papo" Lucca, 24 at the time, as one of Latin tropical music's greatest pianists, improvisers and arrangers.

Thirty albums and multiple hits later — plus Lucca's work performing and recording with the likes of Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades and Gloria Estefan — La Sonora is, at its core, still a dance band out to please its fans.

"What we'll play depends on what the public wants to hear," says Lucca, now 67, from his home in Ponce, when asked about Saturday's set list. "Thank God, most of our repertoire is well rehearsed and we're playing our songs regularly. So all people have to do is tell us what they want to hear, and they will be pleased."


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Keeping fans happy while pushing the music to new heights are key ingredients to La Sonora's long-running success. Longevity also is in the band's and Lucca's DNA. As the 15-member band prepares to turn 60 next year, it celebrated another milestone in December: the 100th birthday of its founder, and Lucca's father, Enrique "Quique" Lucca Caraballo.

The centenarian who launched La Sonora Ponceña in 1954 still leads the band on special occasions, such as his birthday concert at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in New York. Don Quique, as he's known, still works his "day job": paying Social Security benefits for each band member and keeping track of the band's contracts and tax records.

"My father is a very special person," Lucca says.

So is the son. Growing up in Ponce, Lucca began studying piano at 9, joined the band at 11 and became its musical director by 17. He graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music and became known for his innovative arrangements and lyrical piano solos that combine his musical influences: the Cuban son, the Puerto Rican bomba, plena and danza, and jazz compositions of his piano heroes Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans.

"He's the stylist who gave the salsa piano a certain cachet, like he almost took it off the streets and made it sound like art," says fellow pianist Marlow Rosado, from Miami Lakes. Rosado's 2012 Grammy-winning salsa album, "Retro," featured Lucca as a guest soloist.

"His technique is impeccable, very clean. Every finger goes exactly where he wants it to go. There are no mistakes or notes by coincidence," Rosado adds. "It's impossible to imitate him, because it's all calculated in his head."

Deborah Ramírez is the editor of El Sentinel. dpramirez@elsentinel, 954-356-4085

Papo Lucca y la Sonora Ponceña

When: Saturday

Where: Congas Nightclub, 2079 N. University Drive, Sunrise

Cost: $30 in advance

Contact: 954-749-9669 or CongasClub.com