Cuban Band Orquesta Ritmo Set to Play at the Great Lakes Folk Festival
Monday, August 8, 2016


Great Lakes Folk Festival Schedule

Friday, August 12,  6:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 13, noon – 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 14, noon – 6:00 p.m.
Orquesta  Ritmo Schedule
Saturday - 9:30 p.m.
Sunday - 4:30 p.m.


EAST LANSING, MI --  The Great Lakes Folk Festival showcases the traditional cultural treasures of the nation’s Upper Midwest and a sampling of the best of traditional artists from around the country and the world.

The festival encourages cross-cultural understanding of our diverse society through the presentation of musicians, dancers, cooks, storytellers and craftspeople whose traditions are rooted in their communities.

The festival includes nearly 100 musicians or dancers in groups, who perform at least twice and sometimes as many as four times over the weekend. Also featured are traditional and other food vendors, craft vendors and many other individual artists/demonstrators. There are four performance stages (including one with a 2,400 sq. ft. dance floor), children’s hands-on activities, crafts demonstrations, and Folk Festival marketplace- featuring unique handmade crafts. In addition, there are special programs every year, which feature some aspect of traditional culture.

The festival showcases performers who learned their skills within distinct communities and remain rooted in those communities. Their exposure to performance skills is usually at an early age, learned firsthand (often within their own families) and what they perform is an integral part of their particular culture.

In this modern world, traditional musicians have easy access to other music styles beside their own and their music often incorporates new influences. They often perform for audiences outside their own community. But the core of what traditional musicians do continues to be the music that expresses the aesthetic and musicality of their community.

This festival presents artists who best maintain their allegiance to their traditional roots.

The current mission of ORQUESTA RITMO, as it was when it was originally created, is: 

“To introduce, educate, and entertain the American public in the electrifying genre of Latin Music.  The latest version of ORQUESTA RITMO currently consists of ten players.  They are some of the best from Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint.”  

The current members are:

Mike Eyia Sr., director, guitar, lead vocals, percussion and arranger

Dennis Therrien, piano, arranger

Jon Gewirtz, saxophone, flute

Walter Cano, lead trumpet

Gina Benalcazar, trombone

Perice Pope, 2nd trumpet

Jon Weber, kit / timbales

Brian Rosario, Latin percussion and vocals

James Rodriguez, congas, vocals and arranger

Terry Newman, bass

The band has been performing all over the Midwest for many years.  They have opened for a number of national and international acts, including such artists as salsa great Oscar D’Leon, recording artists Los Lobos, The Bangles at the Common Ground Festival in Lansing and Pete Escovido at the Flint Jazz Festival among others. The band has also garnered a number of accolades including a special tribute from the Michigan Legislature for promoting Cuban culture in the mid-Michigan area. Currently, the band has been performing at many festivals and private functions all over the state.

Seven Questions for the Director,  Mike Eiya 

1. When and why did you start playing?I started playing guitar at the age of 9 while I was still in Cuba.  I had a private instructor by the name of Leo Brower.  Leo is now a world-renowned avant-guard guitarist.  My folks wanted me to play the piano, but I found the guitar a bit more interesting.  In retrospect, I should have stayed with the piano, as well, as that details the way that notes relate to each other better than the guitar.  Both my sons learned to play piano before going on to their current instruments.


2. Which instruments do you play?

Mostly, I play guitar.  I am also the lead singer in Orquesta Ritmo.  I can also play bass, and I play Latin Percussion, such as congas, and bongos. 


3. What was the first tune(s) you learned?

While I was studying under Leo's tutelage, I was learning Spanish classical music.  The first tune I learned was “Malagueña”, by Ernesto Lecuona.  After that, he first American tune I learned and sang at the same time,  “ La Bamba” by Richie Valens.  There was a span of time after I left Cuba that I did not play because I had no access to instruments for about 3 years.


4. Is your family musical?

My father played guitar and sang.  He recorded a couple of records when he was young.  One of his sisters sang opera as well.  She had a tremendous voice, and I was always very impressed when I heard her sing.  Sometimes when I sing now, she comes to mind because I feel the way I sang a certain part of a song would have been the way she would phrase the same lyrics.  My mother's side of the family is not so much in the musical part.


5. Describe your family member's musical interests and abilities.

Both my sons are excellent musicians.  They are excellent pianists for starters.  I made sure they studied classical piano during high school, in spite of their protests, but they thank me now.  My oldest son Mike Jr. is also an accomplished saxophonist.  He has backed a number of big artists, such as Diana Ross, Alicia Keys, Will I Am, and many others.  

Last summer, he toured for three months with Bette Midler.  He is currently touring with a reggae band from Los Angeles, CA. called Rebelution, playing across the country for huge crowds of ten thousand people or more.

My youngest son Matteo is a fantastic drummer.  He has also played with a number of artists that have participated in  such television shows like "The Voice".  Last summer he toured with Juliete Simms, one of the runner ups from that show.  He also arranges for some of those same people.  While he's not touring, he teaches guitar, piano, bass, vocals and drums in the L.A. area.


6. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

There are too many to count.  I admire the flowing styles of many guitarists such as George Benson, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton and a number of others.  I love what Carlos Santana has done for Latin music.  I also admired what Tito Puente and Celia Cruz did for the Cuban style of music, which precedes salsa by about 40 or 50 years.  I admire the amazing style of Martin Taylor who can make one single recorder take sound like three people are playing.


7. Which famous musicians have you learned from?

I have tried to learn a little bit from all of the above.  I can also add to the list Arturo Sandoval, Lee Ritenour, Chucho Valdes and countless others.  I have a very eclectic style, which includes jazz, blues, rock and Latin amongst others.


Orquesta Ritmo will be playing Cuban style salsa at the Great Lakes Folk Festival.   They will also be giving salsa lessons.  

Days and Times:

Friday, August 12, 

6:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 13, 

noon – 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 14, 

noon – 6:00 p.m.


Orquesta  Ritmo Schedule

Saturday - 9:30 p.m.

Sunday - 4:30 p.m.


For more information about the festival log on to For information about Orquesta Ritmo go to

Editor’s Note:  Please log on to the Great Lakes Folk Festival page, the times may be subject to change.


Printed in the August 7, 2016 - August 20, 2016 edition.



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