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Weather Airman heats up the stage as Latin percussionist

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomás Morales, 557th Weather Wing weather training developer, plays percussion with his band, Esencia Latina Band. They are the only Latin band in the Omaha area. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomás Morales, 557th Weather Wing weather training developer, plays percussion with his band, Esencia Latina Band. They are the only Latin band in the Omaha area. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomás Morales (far right,) 557th Weather Wing weather training developer, plays percussion with his band, Esencia Latina Band. The band recently won the 9th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award in the Best Ethnic category. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomás Morales (far right,) 557th Weather Wing weather training developer, plays percussion with his band, Esencia Latina Band. The band recently won the 9th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award in the Best Ethnic category. (Courtesy photo)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Known for its ability to make listeners want to get up and move, Latin music is globally recognized for its upbeat tempo and captivating sounds.

"There is something about it that is electrifying," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomás Morales, 557th Weather Wing weather training developer. "The rhythms of the percussion section, sounds of the brass, the dialogue between the piano and bass, and the harmony of the voice section, are what give Latin music its unique flavor."

Morales is a percussionist in the Omaha area's only Latin Band, Esencia Latina Band, who won the 9th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award in the Best Ethnic category.

Originally from Panama, Morales said music began making an impact in his life from a young age.

"Music was everywhere growing up," he said. "In Panama, upbeat music is heard in grocery stores, public transportation and even throughout the cities and neighborhoods."

Morales said every year the country celebrates Carnival, a four-day party filled with music.

But, his biggest inspiration was his father.

"My father always liked the saxophone and did not get the opportunity to learn it," Morales said. "I believe knowing he always wanted to play, made me be very passionate about learning. Another factor was the popularity of the El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. This band started in 1962 and currently has over 65 records. They are still together and are stronger than ever."

He began with learning the conga drums at age four.

"I always loved playing percussion," Morales said. "My formal music education began with the saxophone at age 11, and at 18, I played in my first salsa band."

In 2013, he began playing with his current band.

"Our band has 13 members and only eight come from Latin backgrounds," Morales said. "We have three singers, three percussionists, five brass, one bass and one piano. It is amazing seeing the energy that comes from band members that are new to this type of music."

The band practices for two hours every Sunday. But, Morales accredits his audience for their achievement.

"The success of the band relies on the warmth of the people that live in this part of the country," Morales said. "People in Nebraska are very open-minded and they do not hesitate to try new things. There has been a strong salsa dancing scene in Omaha for several years and there was an immediate connection from the beginning months of the band."

It isn't just the locals who enjoy their music; members of team Offutt are often found in the crowd as well.

"He is very fun to watch," said Maria Sada, 557th WW human resource specialist. "He smiles the whole time, is very animated and has high energy. Everyone dances ... parents, kids, couples, everyone was dancing.  There were people showing others how to dance to the music, just a good family time.
It is a show everyone should go to when the weather warms up ... [bring] the whole family."

Myrna Ramirez, 55th Medical Support Squadron supply technician, enjoyed the experience as well.

"His enthusiasm, rhythm and high energy is reflected by his smile and the way he plays his musical instruments and makes you feel like dancing," she said. "[The show] is a great and fun exercise without gym walls. Being a Latina, I grew up listening and dancing to salsa music.  I love to go to the shows his band puts together because it is a lot of fun and makes me remember the 'good old times.'"

Their music covers a wide variety of Latin rhythms, such as salsa, merengue, bachata and cumbia, she added. They are the "bomb" of Latin music.