Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


NICHE, Grupo

Salsa band based in Cali, Colombia. Leader, mus. dir., prod./arr. Jairo Varela (b 9 Dec. '49, Quibdo, Choco, Colombia) shares lead vocals, sings in chorus, plays g]auu[iro (scraper) and writes songs. Disc jockey Tomek wrote, 'Niche is Jairo Varela ... even his errors of judgment are intriguing.' He shared arr. chores with Alexis Lozano early '80s, then band's sole trombonist; later LPs almost entirely arr. by Varela (he is musically untutored, his concepts transcribed by others). Lineup mid-'80s incl. pairs of trumpets and trombones, sax/flute, tres, piano, bass, timbales, conga, bongo, g]auu[iro, maracas, two lead singers and three-strong chorus; Varela dropped sax/flute '87 and tres '88; often added third 'bone and trumpet '88--96. Their exciting brand of salsa sometimes incl. infl. of soca on pleasingly under-produced early LPs, giving them the feel of live performance; the late '80s and '90s versions of Niche became increasingly sophisticated. LPs incl. debut Tiempos de Ayer '81 on Disco Daro, Querer Es Poder and Preparate Grupo Niche Vol. 2 '81--2 on Codiscos, made in Colombia. After Niche '83 (aka Directo Desde New York ) on Niche, made in NYC, lead singer Alvaro del Castillo left to record with his own band; Lozano also left, forming Orquesta Guayac n in Bogot  with singer Ricardo 'Richie' Vald‚s. Niche's No Hay Quinto Malo '84 on Codiscos, made in Colombia, was regarded by some as their best; Se Paso! '85 (Triunfo on Codiscos) was made in NYC; Moncho Santana, who sang on '84--5 albums, departed to record with Grupo Star and Manuel Bravo's Orquesta Palenque before making solo albums incl. Aqui Estoy!, From Cali With Love, Sabor And Sentimiento '90--93. Tito Gomez (b '48, Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico; worked previously with Sonora Ponce¤a, La Terrifica, Ray Barretto, Tito Valentin, La Amistad, Rubby Haddock and solo) joined Niche as co-lead singer on Me Huele A Matrimonio '86 on Zeida Codiscos in Colombia. Grupo Niche con Cuerdas ('with strings') '86 on Fais n had more production and orchestration; it worked very well, incl. two new tracks and new versions (perhaps remixes) of songs from Matrimonio, done in Puerto Rico. Ex- Dimension Latina mus. dir., arr. and trombonist C‚sar Monge 'Albondiga' was recruited to transcribe and perform on two-disc album of remakes of earlier hits, Historia Musical '87 on Combo; after which most of the personnel left Varela to become Orquesta Internacional Los Niches, making their UK debut '88 with Santana providing lead vocals.

Los Niches' albums incl. Tocando Madera, Salsa Por Siempre, Originalmente, Algo Diferente, Aniversario, Salsa De Hit '88--95. Gomez and Monge remained with the virtually new Niche on the inventive Tapando El Hueco '88 on Clave, made in Miami; the prolific session musician Morist Jim‚nez, who played trombone on the '88 album, did all three 'bone parts and co- dir. with Varela on Sutil y Contundente '89, their first on CBS (subsequently Sony). Niche (feat. Jim‚nez and Gomez) made their UK debut Oct. '89; Gomez departed to resume his solo career, releasing Un Nuevo Horizonte '91, which reached the Billboard tropical/salsa top ten, Agradecimiento '93 and Recogiendo Frutos '95, all on MP. Guayac n founder member Richie Vald‚s joined the trio of lead vocalists on the magnificently wistful and orchestrally elegant Cielo De Tambores '90, made in Varela's own Niche Professional Studios in Cali. Vald‚s left to pursue a solo career, leaving Javier V squez and Charlie Cardona as co-lead singers on Llegando Al 100% '91, which saw the return of Alberto Barros (b 30 Nov. '57, Barranquilla, Colombia) on trombone; Barros performed and assisted with transcription chores on Niche's '85 and '86 LPs, dir. Los Titanes '82--93, dir. Grupo Star's '87 and '89 albums, sessioned widely and made his solo debut with El Titan de la Salsa '95. Niche celebrated its twelfth anniversary with the two-disc 12 A¤os '93; with two new tunes and 14 redeveloped Varela classics it had the feel of integral work rather than a compilation. Personnel on Un Alto En El Camino '93 incl. ex-La Critica and Oscar D'Leon bassist Daniel Silva on bass and singing coro; Barros played 'bone parts, supplied arrangements and assisted with studio direction. Varela added Willie Garcia, who sang on most tracks, to his team of lead vocalists (Cardona, V squez and Carlos Guerrero) on Huellas Del Pasado '95. Niche returned to perform in London July '95, but disappointingly without the important authenticating presence of Varela. The rhythmically diverse Etnia '95 saw Cardona replaced by Alvaro Granobles, and the third successive appearance of Jos‚ Aguirre, who in addition to playing trumpet (all three parts on Huellas Del Pasado, first and third parts on Etnia) received various credits as co-arr. and mus. direction. Former and current Niche members sessioned on Herencia Africana '96 by Paris-based singer/composer Yuri Buenaventura (b June '67, Buenaventura, Colombia).