In a previous issue, I explored how the African-American tradition deserves credit for inventing all major forms of music created in America, such as hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, blues, house, techno, and of course, rock ’n’ roll.
What I didn’t have space to address was how Hispanic and Latin music fit into the equation. So in this column, I’m going to explore how the same evolutionary music process that took place in North America, specifically in the United States, also occurred in Central and South America.
Well, here’s how that generally worked: African people were involuntarily brought to the “New World.” Since most came from Western Africa, where the drum was the foundation of their music, their African culture mixed with whichever local culture and region in which they landed. New forms of culture and music sprouted from the interactions.
This is how we got hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, and rock. But the same thing that happened in the U.S. also happened in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Jamaica, and so on.
But instead of funk, it was cumbia in Columbia. Instead of R&B, it was reggae in Jamaica. Instead of disco, it was samba in Brazil.
In fact, here’s a somewhat more complete list of Latin American forms of music with an African basis: bachata, batucada, cha-cha-cha, conga, funk carioca, mambo, tango, pachanga, reggaeton, rumba, son, tropicalia, and zouk…just to name a few.
Some folks may think of the music that came from the U.S. and Latin America as separate entities divided by geography and ethnicity. But the two are more connected than you’d think.
For example, one genre name that wasn’t in the list is salsa. Most folks think of salsa as a uniquely Latin American music form and assume it was created somewhere with warm, sunny beaches where pina coladas are served. But in fact, salsa was invented in the United States.
Between mass migrations of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants to New York City (especially in the 1950s when half a million Puerto Ricans came to NYC), New York had a thriving Latin music scene that centered mostly around the legendary Palladium nightclub. But between the myriad of music genres, there lacked a cohesive glue that brought it all together.
“People were getting confused with the mambo, cha cha chá, and guaracha—so what we did was, we took the music and put it under one roof and we called it ‘salsa,’” said Johnny Pacheco.
Pacheco was one of the founding partners of Fania Records, which was a label created in 1964 “to produce, promote, and market the music of Latinos in New York,” according to PBS’s Latin Music USA documentary series.
Fania also released a lesser-known genre called boogaloo. Perhaps the best known boogaloo song is Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang,” which has a Latin-tinged staccato piano, Afro-Latin drums, and African American-inspired call-and-response lyrics.
“Between the years of ’66 and ’69, boogaloo became the sound of young blacks in New York,” wrote music journalist Maulud Sadiq Allah in Medium. “The 30 years of Cuban music and Black American music had finally merged and took on a life of its own.”
Perhaps during no other time in history has the convergence of Afro-Latinos and African-Americans been so creatively infused than through boogaloo.
Fania brought salsa and boogaloo to a commercial market, which funneled the Latin fervor in NYC into a marketable movement that was enough to sell out Yankee stadium for a Fania concert in 1973.
“The early 1970s was a political coming-of-age of Latinos across the country,” said Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast. “Fania was the soundtrack for the empowerment for many of these communities, because it was brash, it was vibrant, it was new. It embraced the Afro identity of Latin America. And it made me—a young Chicano teenager in California, just discovering music—want to be part of this exciting new sound and movement.”
So while Fania catapulted the music with origins in Puerto Rico and Cuba, “salsa, and all the genres that informed it, is an African-based music,” according to Sadiq Allah.
What’s the point of sharing all of this in the back of Encounter Magazine?
Well, when we consider that nearly all major forms of music were created in the Americas as a result of the slave trade, is our society fully aware of the origins of its beloved music? And if not, what might change if everyone were made aware? My hope is that it makes you listen to music differently, and question any sense of ownership you have to a particular history of music.
Just something to ponder the next time you hear your favorite song.
This column is Brent’s last for now. His full life of fathering and trying to save the planet are his priorities. But rest assured, when he has something to say about Omaha’s art scene, we will give him the forum to speak. In the meantime, we will feature guest columnists from all walks of the arts and culture scene. We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas with us and look for an exciting new columnist in our upcoming November/December issue.