The premier salsa band from Colombia, Grupo Niche was formed in 1980 by Jairo Varela (director, producer, songwriter, arranger, güiro and vocals) and included Nicolas Cristanelo (piano), Alexis Lozano (trombone), Alí "Tarry" Garcés (sax and flute), Francisco García (bass), Luis Pacheco (congas), as well as vocalists Héctor Viveros and Jorge Bassam.
The group's first album: Al Pasito was released in 1980, and put their native Colombia on the map of the salsa world. The group's second album, Querer es Poder was released the following year and despite numerous changes in personnel over the subsequent years, the band enjoyed great success in fulfilling their promise and the dream of their leader, Varela.
There is no doubt that the heart and soul of the band was in its gifted leader Varela. Born on December 9th, 1949 in Quibdó, Colombia, he showed a great interest in music and was given a guitar by his mother when he was eight years old to encourage his interest. In that same year Varela joined his first band. One of his first compositions, "Atrato Viajero" later appeared on Trateño, the third album produced by Grupo Niche.
Grupo Niche later released No Hay Quinto Malo in 1984, which featured their signature song: "Cali Pachanguero". But perhaps their best recording was their next release: Se Pasó! which was produced the following year on the New York Latin Records label.
In 1986, the band included Puerto Rican vocalist Tito Gómez, who was previously with the famous Puerto Rican salsa band: Sonora Ponceña, and Ray Berretto, released Me Huele A Matrimonio. Yet another Puerto Rican, to work with the group was pianist Israel Tanenbaum, who later left to join a Niche spin-off band: Orquesta Guayacán. Grupo Niche con Cuerdas, with a more sophisticated sound and orchestration, was also released that year.
The next year: 1987, saw the release of their highly acclaimed two disc album: Historia Musical with some of the groups best hits from earlier releases. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by severe problems among the band members and most left Grupo Niche to form yet another spin-off. This time the new band was called "Orquesta Internacional Los Niches".
Varela, Gómez and Monge continued with Grupo Niche and added new members, which helped the band release several albums over the next few years. Among these were Israel "Cachao" López (bass) from Cuba and Diego Galé from Colombia, who later left to form his own salsa band: Grupo Galé.
In the decade that followed, the style of Grupo Niche was changed and depended on romantic lyrics. This new 1990's sound was first tried in release of Tapando el Hueco and coincided roughly, with the salsa romantica movement that started in Puerto Rico. That album was followed by Cielo De Tambores and later Llegando Al 100% in 1991.
The band next released a two-disc album, 12 Años in 1993 consisting mostly of previously released songs but that were rearranged. Varela and company invested the time and effort to make the album much more than the usual re-release of old hits. That same year, they released Un Alto En El Camino and Etnia two years later, which departed from their more recent works in its rhythmic patterns. The title song, Etnia has a driving rhythm without departing from the salsa genre.
While several other albums appeared later in that decade, the continued change of personnel made it difficult to say it was the same group that started with such promise almost 20 years earlier. The group even switched from Varela original songs to the works of others, such as the Propuesta album released in 2000, which featured Cuban songs by Sonora Matancera and Beny Moré.
Despite that, the group was selling well and had earned ten gold and five platinum records and the gold prize at the annual Barranquilla Carnival, in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997. There is little doubt that the group made a significant contribution in artistic terms as well and their impact was felt throughout the salsa scene far beyond their native Colombia. ~ Music of Puerto Rico