Guide Adventures of a Salsa Goddess (A ROMANTIC COMEDY)

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Confronted with the loss of the big clubs, the public had to return to the modest, local clubs, where a band with more than twelve musicians was not only uncomfortable but considerably unwieldy. This cleared the way for the charanga orchestras—smaller bands that did not require as much sound equipment or space as the big bands—and a great proliferation of charangas followed. These groups managed to take on the stylistic diversity initiated by Fajardo, yet they rarely achieved the vitality and quality of his original stars.

Nineteen sixty-six saw the culmination of the crisis, and we can begin to speak of the emergence of the new sounds that led to the fullness of salsa. Before going ahead with that fundamental object and theme of this book, it would be wise to examine some of the elements, musical and otherwise, that were decisive factors in this rupture. In the Beatles arrived in New York. In less than a year, this British quartet had totally revolutionized the world of international pop music.

Incorporating black rock from the s, the Beatles developed a musical expression that superseded its models and was incredibly attractive. The importance of the Beatles in , however, went beyond the music itself. Financed by the most astute and ambitious publicity campaign ever known, the Beatles were the representatives of a new, international movement—a youth movement that formed a powerful and influential counterculture in Europe and the United States.

President Kennedy had been assassinated the year before, Lyndon Johnson was beginning to increase the U. On the opposite side of the country, in the Southeast, blacks, inspired by Malcolm X, were forming protest groups. Their willingness to make their rights known, even through violence, gave rise to the feared and admired Black Power Movement. Meanwhile, the U.

Latino community was increasing in number, an increase that in some ways would make Latinos an equally important factor in social and politi- T he 19 60s cal decision-making.

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In the Caribbean, U. During this period of instability and change, music gave way to the overwhelming influence of international pop. On the radio, the Beatles displaced guarachas, and some Latino youth abandoned Spanish in order to babble in an English that no one understood. The turbulence of this decade came at a very high cost. New York, which had replaced Havana as the center for the cultivation of all Caribbean music, found itself undergoing thousands of abrupt changes until, finally, the sounds of the past had lost all of their relevance.

If the s had been a time of splendor and bounty, the s were the complete opposite: confusion reigned and there was no place left for nostalgia. The major U. Remember that under Batista, Cuba had been the ideal paradise for U. That same spirit extended to the ballrooms where the U. People in the United States have been consistently characterized as seeing the world outside their borders the way they want to see it, not the way it really is. To them, Cuba was nothing more than a palm tree under which a most beautiful mulatta offered rum to a white, U.

Cuba was the Tropicana and casinos and that was that. To replace Cuba and its music, the United States turned to Brazil, a country that was then shifting its samba into the bossa nova, a palatable beat that allowed U. Why did it wait until Cuba was closed off? The answers are neither in the music nor in the artists that produced it. The only possible answer lies in that huge machinery that controls popular taste, a machine that functions like an octopus pointing to both paradise and hell.

Once Cuban music was banned, Caribbean musicians in New York and in the other countries of the region had no other option but to surrender to playing the mixed forms that allowed them to survive. With the world demanding pop and with the old Caribbean sound prohibited, it was as if music were thrown over a cliff and left to tumble to a slow death, as decreed by the magnates of mass culture.


Tito understood perfectly well that, given its aspirations and characteristics, his band would not continue to find the necessary backing in an environment battered by so many outside forces. For an audience that had surrendered to the invasion of European and U. Young people alternated between records of the Beatles and those of Tito, and the latter were always the better choice for Saturday night parties.

But this Tito, whose boleros provided further evidence of his extensive musical abilities, was different. He was now a figure who hardly evoked the old glory of the Palladium, those golden days of New York music in which he had been a performer of the first rank. Tito the bolero singer was able to penetrate the closed sectors of the Latin American middle class, a sector that never identified with Caribbean rhythms because of its hang-ups and ridiculous sense of sophistication.

He knew how to T he 19 60s move with the times; since the pachanga form was already dead, there was nothing else for him to do. The Alegre label, an arm of a very modest Latin recording company, had been able to publish some of the music that was still floating around New York. It primarily recorded charangas, especially those of Johnny Pacheco and one band or another that tried pitifully to jump on the bandwagon of fusing jazz and Caribbean beats.

Despite some successes, these bands never measured up to those of earlier years, when everything seemed so much easier. Now, with the breath nearly knocked out of the charanga and the big bands attacked by incessant changes, Alegre released a rather strange album by La Perfecta, a modest band directed by Eddie Palmieri and made up of two trombones, piano and bass, and tumba and bongo.

For the first time the trombones, as a distinct and self-contained section, became a key sound in the Latin world of New York. Eddie Palmieri, however, did not initiate this style; he only adapted it. In Puerto Rico, Mon Rivera, singing the bomba with comic, roguish twists full of social irony, had already established the trombones as the only fitting accompaniment to such rhythms. Even so, the Palmieri variation would come to define the sound of salsa music from then on. Eddie made the trombone sound bitter, with a peculiarly aggressive hoarseness.

Ignoring the conventional roles established by jazz bands, Palmieri used a skeletal section, a maximum of two trombones that under no circumstances echoed the sound structures built by the great orchestras of the mambo period. This difference shockingly altered the ears and expectations of music lovers. Music stopped being glamorous and became feisty. Where once there was pomp, now there was violence. Things had definitely changed. Eddie Palmieri was a musician raised in New York, specifically in the Bronx where Puerto Ricans had formed numerous enclaves. Since the big band was a useless dream by now, the initial possibilities for Palmieri were reduced to two particular formats: the son ensemble in which the distinct nuance is delivered by the trumpets, not the trombones or the flute-and-violin-based charangas.

Eddie rejected both possibilities, since both were weak imitations of past sounds rather than compelling formats for sounds of the future. Besides, the Latino community in New York was now motivated by very different interests. The entertaining spirit of the Palladium was replaced 15 T he 19 60s 16 by the social and political violence of the Young Lords, and music, in one way or another, had to reflect that change.

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There was no longer a Cuban model to be followed. The rest of Caribbean music was diluted by bland Spanish versions of the powerful U. Despite all of this, Eddie Palmieri was already playing the role of a lone pioneer by mapping out the territory. Even before the s ended, the Caribbean region and the Caribbean communities in New York were filled with trombones.

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They were also being filled with a still-nascent but urgent sound. This novel music had three chief characteristics: 1 the use of the son as the main basis for its development especially in the long and aggressive montunos ; 2 arrangements that were modest in terms of harmonies and innovations but markedly bitter and violent; and 3 the imprint of the marginalized barrio. For most of the renowned and prestigious Caribbean musicians of the s there was no such thing as salsa.

To them, it was merely old Cuban music played with some innovative touches. To the Cubans particularly, who by the second half of the s had reestablished contact with the larger Caribbean community, the onslaught of salsa was seen at the least as a gimmick and at the worst an outright attack. To them, salsa was a sham. But the ultimate insult to salsa was that many of the musicians who depended on it for their survival denied its value as an authentic cultural expression.

Some argued that salsa was only a commercial label created merely to bolster sales. Meanwhile this label, so harshly debated on all sides, was racking up sales, spawning musical performances that filled the most unlikely venues, and triggering the most diverse reactions. Clearly, something important was happening: the fantastic frenzy of salsa was invading the Caribbean, and its invasion was forceful, persuasive, and undeniable. Popular music, produced and disseminated by the record industry, always gets put into commercial boxes that never do the music justice.

Backed by advertising strategies, the industry routinely sets out to manufacture tastes, styles, or fads that, in turn, will support a steady stream of records. The industry depends on these pop trends. Popular music, in turn, depends on the industry, since the music cannot survive if it does not keep up with technological advances. But let us be honest: the one does not suppose the other. The record album is only a tool, never the ultimate object.

Therefore, even if a history of popular music were documented through record production rates, let us not confuse those record albums, which are products of the industry, with the music they contain. In other words, trends affect the industry but not the music itself, because truly popular music is always beyond categories and labels. Of course, if that same music is developed and distributed through recordings that follow the dictates of the industry, then any innovation becomes a trend, part of the hype used to increase sales.

A consumer society has to maintain demand, and this is where marketing comes in. While all pairs of shoes have the same features, if new styles were not created to justify new models, there would not be enough demand to sustain an industry that depends on mass consumption. Something similar happens with the recording industry, except that it works with artistic forms, and this fundamental difference has significant implications.

In the case of salsa, then, it is crucial to distinguish between the trends created by the industry and the more intrinsic values and meanings that the music holds. While the trends are clearly powerful, it is the music that deserves to be studied and discussed.

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Is salsa truly an evolutionary stage in the development of Caribbean popular music, or is it nothing more than an advertising gimmick? If it is true that salsa is only old Cuban music slightly altered through particular arrangements, then its artistic value is inconsequential. If salsa is nothing more than a commercial label, then it has little importance and does not constitute authentic popular music.

While this book does deal with the central role of the recording industry, it attempts to emphasize more the social and cultural values of salsa. I am convinced that there is something of intrinsic cultural importance at the core of salsa beyond the trends and the marketing. It is more than old Cuban music, more than a mere label, and much more than an expendable style of arranging music.

Salsa was born in the Latino barrios of New York where the youth began to use it as the only music capable of expressing their everyday lives.