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A Latin Explosion At Hostos

By Deardra Shuler

Melody Capote, Director of External Affairs for the Caribbean Cultural Center, is one of the dynamic individuals behind The Caribbean Cultural Center who in collaboration with Hostos Center for The Arts & Culture aided in presenting The 3rd Annual Latin Music Collector’s Fair.  The Fair was held at Hostos College on 149th Street and the Grand Concourse this past Saturday, October 21st. Those that remember and appreciate the music of the old guard were there to listen to the spicy Latin sounds and buy the records and CDs of the great Afro Caribbean/Latino artists of the 1970s.  There were books about the greats and posters and tee shirts commemorating the Salsa music of that era.  The Spanish Harlem Orchestra conducted by Oscar Hernandez with Ray De La Paz played the 1970 salsa classics.

The event was also an educational one that tracked the history of the African slave into Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic etc., and recorded the music that came from the mixture that resulted from their slave voyage as it played out through rhythm and dance via the rhumbas of African, French/English and Spanish origin. Later the music moved into Mexico City and eventually to New York.  It was New York City that coined the term “Salsa,” although it did not create the dance.  The word was meant to suggest that this brand of music had flavor.  Salsa became the popular nickname referring to the diversity of Afro/Caribbean/Latino influenced music: Son, Guaracha, Rhumba, Mambo, Cha cha cha, Sanzon, Guajira, Charanga, Bomba, Merengue, Cumbia, etc.  Although many kept their individuality, some of the sounds blended together and became what Izzy “Mr. Salsa” Sanabria called The Salsa Explosion in New York.

Some of the DJs who played the Latin beats were represented at the Fair.  Those in attendance were DJ Broadway, Alejandro Zuarth (Mexico) Claudio Marucci from Italy; Richie Brinez from Colombia; Omar Walker from Panama; Roberto Padilla of Puerto Rico and Enrique Romero from Spain. News writer Felipe Luciano, Felipito Palacios and Juan Moreno were there as well.  A film entitled “Our Latin Thing” featured the music of Ray Barretto, Luiz Cruz, Jr., Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente, and many others.

A panel discussion on the history of Salsa and the origins of the 70’s Salsa Explosion in New York was conducted by Andrea Brachfield, Sonny Bravo, Izzy Sanabria, Ralph Mercado and moderator Aurora Flores.  There was also a panel that highlighted the booming Hispanic night club scene of the era.

A posthumous tribute was paid to Latin musicians such as Ray Barretto, Ray Romero, Hilton Ruiz, Miguel Anga, Monguito Quain, Alberto Romero, Israel Canter, Heny Alvarez, Jesus Caunedo, Pio Leyva, India de Oriente, Chuito Narvaez, Hector Rivera, Nonon Mondejar, Jose Carbo, Richarm Eques, and Tommy Olivencia; all who died this year.

The slave trade brought people from West and Central Africa which was the home of the Yoruba, Efik and Bantu nations, to places like Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola which is now the Dominican Republican and Haiti bringing them in contact with diverse African, European and indigenous people.  These Africans eventually assured the survival of their African culture by weaving music and dance into the fabric of their daily lives in the New World.  The mambo, with its African influence can also be traced to a 17th century English country dance which became known as the contradanza in Spain.  By the 18th century, the contradanza had made its way to Cuba where it was called danza and became the national dance. By the 19th century, with the arrival of planters and slaves who later fled to Haiti, a spicy syncopation developed that was called the cinquillo.  The Native African folk rumba, an extremely fast dance, melded into the contradanza and then Son was born.  Eventually by the end of the 19th century, a freer more spontaneous dance replaced contradanza.  This music was simply called danzon. Danzon became the dance of wealthy Cubans while Son was popular among the middle class.  With further imagination and creative innovation Danzon soon changed and gave birth to the Mambo.  Later the Latinos mixed with the African American jazz influence of New York, developed what was primarily thought of as the dance of the street, Salsa.  Salsa caught fire and made its way into Colombia, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

The background and history of Salsa music and its naissance from within the Afro/Caribbean/ Latino, population is known worldwide. Salsa began centuries ago during the period of slavery and colonialism in the island of the Spanish Caribbean.  Its history is also tied to the growth of a thriving Latino community in 20th century NYC.  The importance of this music and dance is slowly dying and thus it is important that the Latino and African American communities remember the contributions of the old guard who assured that an important part of their music and dance culture thrived.  Thus, the Afro/Caribbean/Latino rhythms must serve as an adhesive to cement these cultures so the music lives and the cultures meld as one voice.


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