POSTED: 9 JANUARY 2006 - 8:30am HST

The Rhumba Kings: Kauai,1939

a photograph of the band labled "Silva & his Rhumba Kings". Uncle Louie front row, second fom left

by Linda Pascatore 8 January 2006

Uncle Louis Almodova Jr and his band played Rhumba, samba, and bulero music.

Our friend, Uncle Louis, has always been great source of local history, lore and culture. We recently discovered that besides his careers as cane plantation foreman at the McBride Mill, a tour guide and a baseball player, Uncle Louie was also in a local Kauai band back in the late 1930’s.

The Rhumba Kings played samba and bolero, which is a kind of foxtrot, as well as Rhumba music. Uncle Louie was 19 at the time, and all the band members were young and working day jobs. They had managed to buy an amplifier, and had homemade uniforms.

Uncle Louis played accompanying tenor guitar when he wasn’t dancing with the girls--he was quite the ladies man. His friends the Rivera brothers were band members. Silva Rivera was the band leader, and played the maracas, Daniel played bongos, and Nick played guitar. Jacob Pacheco also played guitar, with Joseph Robley on tenor guitar and Ceasar Robley playing lead tenor.

They often played the Aloha Theatre in Hanapepe Town and the Roxy in Kapaa. The Episcopal Church Hall in Eleele was another venue. The band was even popular enough to earn a gig in Oahu at the Pulama Gym. They were broadcast live on KGU radio in Honolulu.

A sad incident caused the band to break up. They had another gig in Oahu one night and were on their way to Nawiliwili Harbor to catch the boat. However, the road was closed because of an automobile accident involving some relatives of the band members. The band never made it to the gig in Oahu, and broke up after that.

We can imagine the dance halls full of swooning girls swaying to the salsa beat of this band of handsome fellas, and wish we were there! Thanks Uncle Louie, for sharing this rich piece of old time Kauai before the war, when the Rhumba was King.



POSTED: 17 October 2004 - 5:30pm HST

Lunch with Uncle Louis

by Juan Wilson 17 October 2004 revised 18 October 2004

Today, Sunday, we took uncle Louis Almodova Jr down to Salt Pond Beach Park. You probably know he’s known as the Mayor of Salt Pond. The beach was sunny, not crowded. There were a few birthday parties going on at the pavilions and someone had blown up an inflatable waterslide for the kids.

We parked near Jake’s lunchwagon. It was noon and we ordered gunduri rice and pasteles with cokes. Frances, who owns Jake’s, was there and offered us her folding chairs in the shade under nearby palm trees. We sat and ate and talked.

After lunch Uncle Louie told us a story about being in his twenties, before he was married. Then he was in a band called Silver and the Rhumba Kings. This was back around the time of WW II. Louie played what he called a tenor guitar. It was a steel guitar with four strings. Typically there were four or five members in the band. They featured a lead guitar and had a conga player.

The Rhumba Kings played all over Kauai. Louis told us about playing at the Roxy Theater in Kapaa and the Aloha Theater in Hanapepe. places like the Aloha were movie theaters that had a stage. Because of the seating and the slanted floor people couldn’t dance. Louie always liked dancing and liked places where he could watch the girls move while the Rhumba Kings played.

The band played on Oahu too. They would take a ship over to Honolulu at nine, after the sun went down. It only cost $5 if you didn’t get a cabin. It was an all night party. The ship would take until morning to get to the harbor in Honolulu, then they would have to line up and wait to get to a berth.

The Rhumba Kings were going to be in Lihue one night. Friends and family were traveling from the west side and were approaching what used to be called Knudsen’s Gap, between the Tree Tunnel road and Halfway Bridge. Somehow they met an oncoming car and had a head on collision that killed three of six passengers in the other car. The fans of the Rhumba Kings were injured and shaken up but no one was killed.

In those days they didn’t mark the spot of fatal accidents with white crosses and flowers like they do now. None the less the memory of the event had its effect on all concerned. Silver and the Rhumba Kings disbanded shortly after the accident.

Louis' tale reminded me of one about my parents and the King of Rhumba, Xavier Cugat. My father was from the Republic of Panama and my mother was from Panama, New York. They met in the 1940’s when they were going to college in Berkley California. After they began dating they attended a Latin music concert in San Francisco; Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra.

My parents were outstanding dancers and loved the Rhumba. They were also an inter-racial couple in California in the 1940's so they stood out on the dance floor.

More than a decade later my parents and my sister and I lived in Levittown, New York. We had taken a trip into New York City for some shopping and dinner at a favorite restaurant. We were walking back from the restaurant along Seventh Avenue when we passed a club that was featuring Xavier Cugat and Abby Lane. We stood and looked at the bright marquee.

Suddenly, someone called out from the alley next to the club. We turned and looked. A number of men were standing at the stage door. The voice called again. It was Xavier Cugat and some band members having a smoke between sets.

Cugat gestured to my parents to come over. He asked them if they had ever danced in front of his orchestra. They told him about the show in San Francisco years earlier. He remembered them dancing from a decade earlier. My mother reminded me of this story shortly before she died. It was something she never forgot either.

Sitting under the palm tree, Uncle Louis told us he always liked dancing more than playing an instrument. From his reputation around town, and other stories he has told us, I figure he must have been quite a dancer himself.

Frances mentioned how tough a reputation certain places had on Kauai back when the Kings of Rhumba were playing music. She mentioned that Waimea Valley used be called Smokey Valley and had a tough guy reputation. Lawai Valley had the nickname Wall Street because of its tough guys.

Uncle Louis added that out in Kekaha there were a number of big Hawaiian guys who were single and lived in an area called The Bull Pen because of their reputation.

There were often fights between guys from one part of the island in another part. Uncle Louie said it was never a problem for him. He was always friendly with everyone.

See also:
Island Breath: Uncle Louis - The Caretaker of Salt Pond
Island Breath: Uncle Louis remembers the Eleele School Song
Island Breath: Unlce Louie Tales - The Rumba Kings
Island Breath; Uncle Louie Tells the Menehune Fishpond story
Island Breath: Uncle Louis tells the Two Dragons of Lawai story
Island Breath: Hanapepe Mochi Pounding

Island Breath: Uncle Louis Tales - Last Football game & the D7 Bulldozer
Island Breath: Uncle Louis - The mayor of Salt Pond

Ea O Ka Aina: Salt Dedication to Uncle Louis


hit tracker