Thursday, February 27, 2014

Salsa : Latin Music of New York and Puerto Rico

This was originally released as Salsa : Latin Music of New York and Puerto Rico (1979). Part of Jeremy Marre's fantastic Beats of the Heart documentary series, it can now be found in the USA as a DVD on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere as Salsa: Latin Pop Music in the Cities. 

As with all of the Beats of the Heart documentaries that I've seen so far, Salsa is fascinating and absorbing. We see and hear vibrant music and musicians set within a wider cultural context. 

Salsa focuses mostly on the Puerto Rican scene. The film's importance has only gained steam since its first release. Consider that as of this post, there are -- according to a plethora of recent census reports and estimates -- about five million souls of Puerto Rican descent living on the mainland US, and another 3.6 million on the US island "commonwealth" of Puerto Rico proper. In other words, in the continental US alone, the Puerto Rican population in 2014 equals that of the entire USA in the year 1800. 

Lest anyone forget, Puerto Rico was seized by the USA as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898; Puerto Ricans were formally “granted” US citizenship in 1917. The idea of Puerto Rico’s independence, though, has been around since the beginning. Indeed, there is a brief segment in Salsa about the failed pro-independence plot to assassinate US President Harry S Truman in 1950.

Some of the key musicians included in Salsa are: Tito Puente (1923-2000), Charlie Palmieri (1927-1988), Celia Cruz – whose majestic name in full was Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad (1925-2003), Rubén Blades (b. in Panama, 1948), Ray Barretto (1929-2006) and Willie Colón (b. 1950), plus Felipe Luciano (b. 1947) of The Last Poets and The Young Lords.

We also get to see and hear in action special Puerto Rican guitars like the cuatro (I could have sworn they mentioned an “ocho” eight string guitar, too) and syncretized religious themes, particularly Yoruba and Spanish Catholic, i.e. Santería.

Today's Rune: Growth. 


Charles Gramlich said...

An area of music that I know virtually nothing about. Your tastes are quite a bit broader than mine, my friend.

jodi said...

Erik-learning to salsa dance is on my short list of things to do!