Exploring the Latino Metropolis: A Brief Urban Cultural History of US Latinos


     Salsa music is one of the most influential and popular forms of music known to society. Heard in dance clubs, on the radio, on the television and in movies, Latin beats and sounds continue to voice the pride, identity and lifestyle of the Latino culture. The rich and lively music genre holds much history to it; many Latino musicians used the traditional songs of their ancestors to modernize and create a whole new brand of music with the addition of new instruments and other influences. The musical evolution that created salsa remains a symbolic popular discourse that compels listeners everywhere to appreciate its origin. Salsa is a unique product of New York, but it does owe its existence to a mixture of cultures and traditions. Puerto Ricans living in New York created the Latin Boogaloo in the 1960’s as a response to their apathy towards traditional Latin tunes. The genre started out as a musical fusion of rock ‘n roll and traditional Latin tunes. Eventually, as its popularity grew, Willie Colón took the Boogaloo revolution a step further; his frequent trips to Puerto Rico inspired Colón to embrace his Latin roots, leading him to integrate folk influences from the island into his music. The Boogaloo was transformed into the Salsa by combining traditional Latin beats to the popular rock ‘n roll and jazz influences from New York. Nuyorican musicians like Willie Colón transformed the face of both Latin music and popular American music at the time. Shortly after, a super-group of famous musicians, the Fania Allstars, collaborated and performed together at the Cheetah Club in Manhattan. This performance was known as the birth of Salsa (The Salsa Revolution).
     It is important to appreciate the social, economic, and political milieu in which Salsa came to be; Salsa rose from the barrio. Its unruly melodies were cultivated by musicians who were never formally trained. Its founders’ roots indicate “the lack of access and resources that Puerto Rican working-class musicians in the United States, for example, faced and surely still face in today’s world. The roughness, lack of sophistication, and unpolished sound of the salsa of Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, Héctor Lavoe and others is measured, then, not as a deficiency – that is against the more bourgeois values and standards of elite music – but as an outcome of the socioeconomic marginalization of that community (Aparicio ix).” This motivated Nuyorican musicians to play music that spoke to their everyday lives. While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones stole America’s heart, those in the Latino barrios found a way to culturally represent themselves in a world where they were not represented at all.
     The combination of Cuban, Puerto Rican, rock, and jazz roots formed the Latin sound of the 70s: Salsa. Several artists had various influences on the music (i.e. Ruben Blades' lyrics, Larry Harlow's piano talents, Celia Cruz’s voice), transforming it into one of the greatest cultural and artistic movements of all time. Salsa is the product of a hybridization of multiple influences and cultures, and was brought to prominence due to the perfect blend of each said influence. The diverse culture, population and growing music industry in New York contributed to the perfect breeding ground for such a musical genre to prosper.

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