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For Latinos, Karamba is more than a dance hall.

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When Argentine band Vilma Palma kicks into “La Pachanga” this Friday at Club Karamba, expect a frenzied reception from the Latino crowd.


“La Pachanga” was Vilma Palma’s first and greatest hit, launching them from obscurity as a Latino rock-influenced band in the Argentine port town of Rosario to producers behind the soundtrack of teenage house parties, bars and nightclubs throughout South America in the early 1990s.


That Vilma Palma are headlining in Utah for the first time underscores how rock en español (rock in Spanish) continues to make inroads into the domestic United States market on the back of the ever-expanding Latino population, while at the same time helping clubs like Salt Lake City’s Karamba become key fixtures in the local Latino community.


Lead singer and Vilma Palma co-founder, 46-year-old Mario Gomez, is the first to admit he’s stateside to play his band’s greatest hits. “People want to hear the hits and you have to make the people happy,” he says in a Spanish phone interview.


His motivation helps explain the impassioned way Vilma Palma fans sing along to the seven-strong ensemble’s Latino pop-rock classics, including “Te Quiero Tanto” (I Love You So Much), “Fernet con Coca” (Fernet with Coca-Cola) and “Me Vuelvo Loco por Vos” (I’m Crazy for You). Whether Gomez is playing in Bolivia, Peru or downtown Seattle, another first on the band’s ninth U.S. tour, the crowds want to belt out “La Pachanga” with him and perhaps recapture a little of their youth.


Vilma Palma isn’t the first rock en español stalwart to play Karamba. Other high profile South American bands who have played there since it opened in April 2005 include La Ley from Chile, Columbia’s Grupo Niche, Costa Rica’s Pimiento Negra and Pastor Lopez from Venezuela.


Argentine bands, however, have long been a key driving force in rock en español, marked increasingly since the 1970s by social and political commentary from bands such as Sui Generis and Dividos. But an energetic set of simple love songs and jokey lyrics are more Vilma Palma’s line than agitprop. That said, their original name, Vilma Palma y los Vampiros, was a rallying cry of sorts, albeit an obscure one. It was taken from graffiti on a factory wall in Argentina, declaiming the female owner and her sons as vampires for stealing money from their employees.


Part of Vilma Palma’s enduring success is their ability to deliver well-crafted yet simple riffs and undemanding lyrics that cross national boundaries in South America, a success mirrored in its own way by Karamba in the Latino community in Salt Lake City. Owner/manager Duvan Botero says the club is like a portal to changes in Utah’s Latino community. “It’s a business that allows you to see the new people showing up in town,” he says. “When they arrive in the city, they look for restaurants and music they’re familiar with.”


Before Botero opened Mambo'his first Salt Lake City club'in 1993, the only Hispanic music available, he says, was at Latino nights at downtown bars on slow midweek nights. Mambo featured an adult section and one for minors. “That was a big mistake,” he says. “You have to be king of something. I got rid of the kids.”


With Karamba, he says he has the No. 1 Latino club in Utah. Along with rock en español, he showcases bands performing reggaeton, salsa, meringue, Columbian cumbia and bachata from the Dominican Republic. Anglos, he says, make up 15 percent of his crowd, some drawn by the free salsa classes the club offers on Saturday nights.


This time around, he’s got the formula right, he says. While Mambo, which didn’t feature live acts, was pulling in $25,000 a month in gross revenue, Karamba’s climbed 200 percent to $75,000.


What draw Vilma Palma will have Friday night remains to be seen. Gomez, meanwhile, has other things on his mind. The group recently recorded their 10th album, the title of which eludes him.


He has one in mind that arguably sums up the decision many Vilma Palma audience members once had to make: leaving behind family, friends and a social life for which songs like “La Pachanga” were anthems, for the bright lights of the U.S. of A. Todo por un sueno: Everything for a dream.


nClub Karamba
n1051 E. 2100 South
nFriday, July 6
n9 p.m.

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