Meet Woman You Should Know Aurora Flores. The self-described “badass Latin from Manhattan”, is a true Renaissance woman. She is an accomplished musician, composer, song and print writer, producer, activist, and an agent of Latin culture, music and art. Aurora is also a cancer survivor. Ten years ago, in pursuit of a deferred lifelong dream, she formed Zon del Barrio and has since earned her stripes as a successful female bandleader in the testosterone laden world of Latin music.
Aurora founded Zon del Barrio in 2003 with her husband David Fernandez, a musical director, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and vocalist. Performing everything from foot stomping, funk based Salsa, Plena, Merengue, Bomba, Boogalu, and Latin Jazz, to blending classic with contemporary sounds, their band quickly emerged as one of the few orchestras to express the varied genres of Latin music from the African Diaspora and the urban streets of New York. As the group’s vibrant leader, Aurora oversees a mix of veteran and young musicians ranging in age from 18 to 70.
Despite pursuing other career paths, music has always been a part of Aurora’s world in some way or another. Raised in a musical family where her grandfather played Plena and Aguilnaldos (Latin folk genre of Christmas music) on the accordion, her father wrote songs, her mother sang, and her brother played percussion, Aurora got her start as a classical musician playing violin, guitar and bass, while singing in school and church choruses. She recorded her first album at age 15 with the Manhattan Borough Wide Orchestra as head of the bass section.
With such a strong foundation in music, Aurora went on to become the first Latina editor of Latin New York Magazine in 1974 and later become the first female music correspondent for Billboard Magazine (1976 to 1978). She then attended the Columbia School of Journalism before breaking into mainstream journalism, writing and reporting news for television, radio and print.
During these years, she sang in the bands of Cortijo & Maelo y sus Cachimbos along with a few local groups. But music was still not the full time career she always dreamed it would be.
When the time came to start a family, Aurora knew she needed to find a more “normal” 9-5 job. She also knew that would mean postponing her dream of a musical career. So she opted to go into corporate PR, eventually opening her own public relations agency in 1987, Aurora Communications, Inc.
With the same passion she puts behind everything she does, Aurora grew her company into a powerhouse business. The financial rewards that came from her entrepreneurial success, not only allowed her to raise her son comfortably, it enabled her to get her mother out of the projects and to support other members of her family. But the money, as important as it was, never gave her purpose. She longed for something more.
A diagnosis of cancer diverted the course of Aurora’s life and career, once again, taking her on a dark road. But her subsequent, victorious battle over the disease brought much light that cast perspective on her life. It was the impetus that moved her to retire from the stress of the corporate world and refocus her life on her true passion… music and doing something that would allow her to showcase it to the world. She found that something in Zon del Barrio.
Celebrating her band’s 10th anniversary this year, Aurora and Zon del Barrio just received the incredible distinction of being named the official band of the 2013 National Puerto Rican Day Parade (NPRDP), which is this Sunday, June 9 in New York City. It’s a fitting honor as this is the very same event at which Zon del Barrio made its debut a decade ago. The NPRDP is an exciting cultural celebration held every June in New York City since 1958. It honors the nearly 4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico and over 4 million people of Puerto Rican birth or heritage residing in the United States. Zon del Barrio will be performing at the parade’s kick-off gala tomorrow night.
With thousands of articles to her name, Aurora still continues to write for various mainstream newspapers and magazines while teaching a Latin music history course and lecturing on the roots of the music. Also a cultural consultant, she has written bilingual tunes for the hit children’s show, Dora the Explorer, and conducts tours of New York City’s East Harlem, focusing on the culture, politics and socio-economics of the area and the people. Aurora is currently working on a book based on her experiences in the Latino New York world.