From Santana to Los Tigres Del Norte, San Francisco’s Carnaval has hosted some of the greatest names in Latin music over its 46-year trajectory. Memories abound of people jam-packed on Harrison Street, grooving to the beats of iconic and resident artists — a cultural highlight for locals and tourists alike.

This year’s lineup offers a diverse spectrum of sounds: Noel Torres brings his conjunto norteño sounds from Mexico, Sinaloa; Pirilu y La Tribu, hailing from Puerto Rico, will immerse the audience in street-style Salsa Dura fused with hip-hop and urban rhythms; Banda Blanca from Honduras brings a party-flavored blend of merengue and punta; and Cuban pop star Franco Javier Iglesias, known for his 1986 Latin pop hit “Toda La Vida,” completes the headliner roster.

Among the star-studded lineup are resident Bay Area artists, whose talents can sometimes steal the show from the headliners. Here’s a list of five local must-see bands in this year’s festival.

Agua Pura

Sunday, May 26 @ 3pm | 17th St. & Harrison Stage

This potent salsa band, led by conguera and cantante Rebecca Rodriguez, has been captivating dancers at spots like Bissap Baobab, Mr. Tipple’s, The New Parish and various Bay Area festivals. A first-generation Colombian American, Rodriguez grew up in Monrovia in Los Angeles County, where she played piano as a child before joining her high school’s drumline. While attending San Francisco State University, she joined the Afro-Cuban Ensemble under the direction of Dr. John Calloway. Now, Agua Pura is a can’t-miss band with a talented cast of superb musicians playing Salsa Dura with excellent musicality and originality. 

Jesus Diaz will perform during this year’s Carnaval in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, May 26. Photo: Jesse “Chuy” Varela

Jesus Diaz Y Su QBA

Sunday, May 26 @ 5pm | 22nd St. & Harrison Stage

Renowned as one of the pre-eminent percussionists in the United States, Cuban-born Jesús Diaz arrived in the Bay Area in 1980. Since then, he has collaborated and performed with superstars such as Stevie Wonder, The Dave Matthews Band (DMB), Carlos Santana, Andy Narrell and many others. With his group, QBA, Diaz ushered in a modern Cuban era in the Bay Area, featuring original compositions influenced by the Songo movement of bands like Los Van Van and NG La Banda. With his unique compositional skill and dynamic performances as both a drummer and singer, Diaz puts the crowds in a spin, as his previous appearances at Carnaval can attest to.  

Momotombo SF will perform during this year’s Carnaval in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, May 26. Photo: Jesse “Chuy” Varela

Momotombo SF

Saturday, May 25 @ 3pm | 17th St. & Harrison Stage

Led by timbalero Leo Rosales, Momotombo SF pays homage to Malo, the iconic 1970s Mission District Latin Rock band known for the mega-hit, “Suavecito.” Rosales, an original member of Malo, is joined by bassist David Margen (a Santana alumni) and guitar great, Gabriel Manzo, creating a band of bandstand warriors who rip and burn Latin rock classics and leave fans with the euphoria of The Latin Boogaloo. 

SambaDá will perform during this year’s Carnaval in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, May 26. Photo: Jesse “Chuy” Varela


Sunday, May 26, @ 5:00pm | 17th St. @ Harrison Stage

Guitarist Papiba Godinho and singer/dancer Dandha da Hora lead the superb Santa Cruz Samba band renowned for its high energy fusion of Brazilian beats and electrified textures. From Salvador, Bahia, Dandha and Papiba infuse Afro-Brazilian traditions into SambaDá’s performances, uplifting audiences with high energy songs that evoke the spirit of the Brazilian Carnaval. With solid cohesive musicianship and seasoned veterans at the helm, SambaDá delivers a visually and sonically rich experience.

Sentimiento y Manana will perform during this year’s Carnaval in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, May 26. Photo: Jesse “Chuy” Varela

Sentimiento Y Manana (Ma-Nah-Nah)

Saturday, May 25 @ 2pm | 17th St. & Harrison Stage

Led by percussionist and vocalist Pedro Stable, this gifted Cuban folkloric band plays traditional music known as Changüí, originating from the Guantanamo region of the island nation. As one of the last vestiges of Cuban Son to get urbanized, its popularity surged in the 1950s with artists like Elio Reve y su Charangon. The acoustic textures of the Cuban Tres guitar, bongos, marimbula, claves, and voices singing both original and traditional songs create an authentic and blissful experience.