Monday, October 18

They start a crusade in the Bronx to save one of the main Latin expressions born in New York: Salsa


The salsa, a musical genre that is ‘cooked’ in the streets of New York City in the 60s and that has its origin in a mixture of rhythms brought by the Caribbean immigration, could take on a new air in the hands of new generations of musicians and promoters who refuse to let the legacy of legends like Héctor Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and many more, are erased forever.

Just a couple of weeks ago the musician Willy Rodríguez, 39 years old and born in Upper Manhattan and of Dominican descent, presented, together with a large team, on the streets of the Bronx, the project of the International Salsa Museum (ISM).

“This is an initiative that will rescue history, but also the validity of one of the most important artistic and cultural expressions that were born in the Big Apple, with latin stamp. But deep down, more than a static place, it is a great educational project”, Commented Rodríguez, ISM co-founder.

The young musician graduated from La Guardia High School and who has been the musical director of the band Tito Puente Junior, explains that preliminary ideas suggest that this cultural epicenter be completed in five years, at the Kingsbridge Armory in Kingsbridge Heights on Reservoir Avenue in the Bronx, a street recently called Celia Cruz, in honor of the iconic Cuban sauce boat.

“We want this project to have the meaning of offering musical training and tools for entrepreneurship to the communities. Beyond exhibiting objects, elements and tangible material that connect us with history, of the legends that merged these wonderful rhythms and also created this musical movement in the streets of New York ”Rodriguez said.

More than a “temple” full of memories, those who conceive this project are devising a space where the genre regains life, dynamism is injected and open arms to young people who want contribute, know and train.

The comprehensive music program would offer students six year old students henceforth the opportunity to develop a clear understanding of the history of this genre, along with music theory, production, band management, music direction, composition, and the music business.

Since last June, the process of fundraising through donations for this project managed by this non-profit organization, which aims to “shape the next generation of Latino music and artists.”

Willie Rodríguez assures that it is an ambitious “non-profit” initiative. (Photo: F. Martínez)

With the support of great legends

The ISM Board of Directors, made up of the social worker ‘Lilly’ Reyes and the businessman Manny Tavares, they already have the support of relatives of well-known stars of this musical genre who have already passed away. And Salsa figures that are already a living legend.

“We are at risk. If we do not rescue this musical expression it could die completely and with it part of our Latin legacy in the Big Apple. Some of the founders of this movement who are fortunately alive, such as Puerto Ricans Willie Rosario and Rafael Ithier, are over 90 years old. We hope they can see their tribute in life “, Rodríguez said.

To the dream of this museum, which also wants to underline the name of The Bronx as the Salsa County, have already joined José Madera, experimentalist for Tito Puente; Omer Padrillo, founder of the Celia Cruz Foundation; Tito Puente Jr, son of Rey del Timbal; the Mambo King Eddie Torres Sr. and Eddie Torres Jr., lead choreographer of the film ‘In The Heights’.

In addition, other figures linked to the genre such as Damarys Market, daughter of the famous salsa producer and part of the Dominican singer’s team José Alberto ‘The Canary’, are already on the list of the directory of advisers.

“In addition to the fundraising process for this salsa temple in New York, we want to tell all salsa fans to have objects linked to history of this movement and would like to donate them, which will also be welcome ”, explained the ISM co-founder.

The Board of Directors and the advisors of this new project will not wait for the museum’s physical infrastructure to be ready to start its operations. outreach and training activities.

They will soon start an agenda of activities that allow us to open our arms to new ideas, but also so that the streets of the Big Apple begin to sound again timpani, bongo, bell, guiro, accompanied with the sonority of the trombones.

Vicente Barreiro for 55 years has been in charge of the Casa Latina in El Barrio. (Photo: Fernando Martínez)

“The sauce will not die”

Although it was not called salsa, this Latin rhythm had a strong presence in New York throughout the 20th century and especially after the Second World War.

Salsa as a genre had in the Big Apple a real laboratory, where he took influences from jazz, mixed Caribbean and African rhythms, incorporated trombones and other instruments. And especially he developed in his lyrics references to love, but also to social injustices, discrimination or poverty.

The Spanish immigrant Vicente Barreiro, since the early 1960s, when the salsa movement was throbbing in the streets of Upper and Lower Manhattan and “took” with force neighborhoods in The Bronx, I already owned the ‘Casa Latina ‘, a music store specializing in this genre.

This mythical store is located on Lexington Avenue and 116th Street in The neighborhood, trying to survive with enthusiasm the changes in the music industry.

“We have been here for 55 years. And I have the pleasure of saying that the great men and women of Latin music in New York came to visit us and promote their albums. It is still a reference site for those from all over the world who come to find titles from our artists ”, Barreiro commented.

The merchant surrounded by vinyl, cd’s, latin instruments, posters, signatures and dedications of salsa ‘monsters’ such as Tito Puente and titles by Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, La Fania, El Gran Combo, La Orquesta de la Luz and also of new generations of singers, recognizes that young people now prefer other rhythms. But he predicts that “The sauce will never die.”

“We are trying to recover somehow. The pandemic affected many industries that were already failing. But there are still people who they come to get discontinued music, titles of the most famous. Less and less of this type of music is recorded. I tell you, that despite the digital age, there is a new fervor for vinyl records. And here we have them. Good music is eternal ”, says Barreiro.

Pedro Gómez, a salsa fanatic: “Salsa cannot die”. (Photo: F. Martínez)

“It is time to save our culture”

Between the 70s and 80s, when in salsa events figures with torrents of voice and popularity filled the crowds of the Big Apple and sold thousands of copies of their productions, precisely in El Barrio and in The Bronx, In just one block, you could find three and four music stores dedicated to this genre. Most have obviously disappeared.

But they have also been erased from the map of the city of the skyscrapers, the small spaces where orchestras could animate with downloads of percussion and interpreters with the dowry for improvisation New York nights.

The musician Puerto Rican Pedro Gómez, who from a very young age pays almost ‘cult’ to salsa and plays timbales, maracas and wave in orchestras, it is a witness to that decline. And he states that if salsa dies completely, it would also be the end point of part of the Hispanic cultural heritage in New York.

“Unfortunately there are no places to play. And now with COVID-19 less. Our new artists they have to travel to the Caribbean and South America. I think it’s time to save Salsa, which is our Latin culture expressed in songs and rhythms. I refuse to let him die, that is why I praise some initiatives such as the to create a museum “, highlights Gómez.

How to contribute to the Museo de la Salsa?


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