Local Current Blog

‘You changed my life’: Tropical Zone Orchestra serve salsa at the Minnesota State Fair and beyond

Photos by Maia Jacobson/MPR

Despite having grown up in Minnesota, I only started going to the State Fair three years ago. The Fair is full of music — but it can be hard to even get Minnesotans to clap along to a song, much less get up and dance. When it came to Tropical Zone Orchestra’s performance on Friday, though, the crowd let go and danced throughout their whole set.

Tropical Zone Orchestra are a traditional-style salsa and merengue band based in the Twin Cities. They’ve got 13 people on one stage — including five horns, three singers, three percussionists, a bassist, and a keyboardist. The group were started 12 years ago by Pedro Fonseca.

“I was trying to help some American guys to get the swing of the horn in the Latin, salsa environment,” Fonseca said. “After a while, they said ‘Well, I think we’re ready to get a group together.'”

The way Fonseca describes it, their approach to salsa music is meant to get to people on their feet.

“There are some bands that are more on the Cuban side of Latin music and some are more on the Colombian side,” Fonseca said. “We are from Puerto Rico mainly, so we have the Puerto Rican salsa. The salsa for the dancers.”

Not every Minnesotan is an expert in salsa dancing, but that didn’t stop the people at the International Bazaar from getting up and moving, whether with a partner or solo. Fonseca said that for one man his desire to dance salsa continued outside of the Fair.

“One of the shows we were at, someone approached me and the guy said he never heard salsa before and he came to the set five years ago when we were here. And he was so amazed that he decided to take classes. I found him later at a private show and he was dancing and he said, ‘You changed my life.'”

You can find Tropical Zone Orchestra on Facebook to learn about their future performances.