Salsa! Havana Heat, Bronx Beat

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Salsa! Havana Heat, Bronx Beat

Hernando Calvo Ospina (1995)

Pub. London: The Latin American Bureau

First published in Belgium as Salsa: 500 Jaar Optimisme, Liefde en Ritme, this first English edition translated by Nick Castor contains a few photos in its 143 pages. Author Hernando Calvo Ospina is cited as being a Colombian journalist. The book attempts to give a general overview of what salsa is, where and how it developed and what it means to people.

Why you might buy it:

It is written in a style that attempts to put you in the scene by use of an imaginary participant in the events described rather than in a bland academic style, contains a number of nice lyrical extracts (in Spanish and English) that enhance the scene setting aspects, it’s a relatively easy, non-taxing read suitable as “light reading”, Willie Colon and Celia Cruz lend positive support via letters in the foreword.

Why you might leave it:

The chapters (and the book) are very short – it’s all over too quickly and there is no real depth, very nasty, cheap looking cover doesn’t inspire you to buy, the translation of a Spanish speaking author into Flemish (though possibly Dutch, I’m not sure of the original language) and then to English leaves you wondering if something has been lost along the way, the promised free CD upon purchase of this book has long since been unavailable. It contains a number of errors; for example in the extract below the date of the FAS Cheetah gig is wrong and the spoken parts are also incorrectly transcribed (most likely due to translation issue).

Contents:

Introduction – What is salsa?

1. A Cuban’s story – Slave drums, Spanish songs

2. Waiting for Castro – Son, Jazz and Chachacha

3. New York, New York – A Puerto Ricans story

4. Bronx rebels – From pachanga to boogaloo

5. Fania Allstars – and Our Latin Thing

6. Salsa is born!

7. Breaking with tradition – Women and salsa

8. Salsa Politica – A Colombians story

9. The Nineties – Salsa-erotica, merengue and cumbia

Footnotes

Glossary

Index

Selected extract
– Chapter 5 (first half): Fania Allstars and ‘Our Latin Thing’

Para ser rumbero tu tienes que haber llorado,

Para ser rumbero tu tienes que haber reido,

Tu tienes que haber sonado, haber vivido,

Para ser rumbero tu tienes que sentir por dentro,

Emociones dulces que agiten tus sentimientos,

Si no naciste con clave entonces no eras rumbero,

Podras cantar con sentido podras tener buena voz,

Pero ser rumbero nunca si te falta corazon,

Paro ser rumbero tienes que amar a la gente,

Y tener el alma tan clara como el sol del oriente,

Tu tienes que ser sincero y entonces seras rumbero,

El rumbero se ser humano con su risa y su dolar,

Expresando sentimientos con el golpe del tambor,

Debe ser sincero para tocar la rumba, ay Dios!

To play the rumba you need to have cried,

To play the rumba you need to have laughed,

You need to have dreamt, to have lived,

To play the rumba you need to feel inside,

Sweet emotions that awaken your feelings,

If you weren’t born with feeling you can’t be a rumba player,

You can sing with feeling, you can have a good voice,

But never be a rumba player if you have no heart,

To play the rumba you need to love people,

And to have a soul as clear as the sun in the east,

You need to be sincere, and then you’ll be a rumba player,

The rumba player is a human being with his laughter and his grief,

Expressing his feelings to the beat of the drum,

Above all you need to be sincere to play the rumba!

Para ser rumbero, version by Roberto Roena

Hello, hello, okay, everybody happy?

Yeah!!

Everybody hot?

Yeah!!

So now take of my clothes!!

Okay we need a bottle we got bottle.

Right we wanna welcome and compliment, okay,

Okay que pare Chango.

Right now I want to introduce a man who made a real hit right here in New York, in Brooklyn…Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…direct from Puerto Rico…uuuuuuuggggg….Bobby Cruz and Ricardo Ray on piano, gimme eeeeeyyyyy!!!

While we’re waiting expectantly for the orchestra to begin, we cajole them into starting with our hand clapping and chanting:

Plaplapla

Plapla

Plaplapla

Plapla

Plaplapla

Plapla

Can’t you hear the clave, what’s going on?

Cheo Feliciano gives the signal. And Ricardo sets his ten magic fingers twinkling on the keys, letting loose those volleys of sound that strike into the deepest part of our beings. Our hair stands on end, hot and cold shivers run up and down our spines. The entire orchestra strikes up. The trumpets pierce our ears with indescribable pleasure, we want to embrace the whole world. We jump for joy, whistle, dance. Why are you crying? I’ve no idea, and couldn’t care less. Listen, here comes the voice of Bobby!!

Yo vine pa’ veriguar,

Loque aqui esta sucediendo,

Que hace tiempo que no vengo,

Y no me quieren cantar.

I came to find out,

What’s going on here,

I haven’t been for some time,

And nobody wants to tell me.

And we all shouted the chorus at the top of our lungs:

Now I’m here!

Now I’m here!

Now I’m here!

Now I’m here!

Ahora vengo yo, Fania Allstars.

Then we forget everything. Why wait to go to heaven or hell if the beat of the drums is offering us such celestial devilry? My God, listen to those sounds and forgive me for being an atheist, but I have no doubts about humanity!!

The film, ‘Nuestra Cosa Latina’, (Our Latin Thing), made us feel good to be alive and proud to be Latin with hot, dancing blood in our veins. It focussed on a concert the Fania Allstars had given on 21 August 1971 in the seedy, old Cheetah club near the Bronx. Apart from the music, the film brought home to us a good few things. For the first time, it showed Latin Americans outside the United States that reality for the ‘Yores’ in the Big Apple. There was the famous Barrio and its ancient, filthy tenements, with human flesh crammed into every inch, their patched clothing hanging out to dry in the windows. The film even showed the clandestine cockfights and the santeria ceremonies. In short, it showed us all the wretchedness and isolation people had refused to believe could exist in the ‘capital of the world’. Our Latin Thing was the first documentary on the origins of our music as an expression of Latin American identity.

When Latins in South America saw the film, they were amazed at what their counterparts had done. Up until then, knowledge of Caribbean dance music in the countries south of Venezuela and Colombia had been limited to the chachacha, the mambo, the bolero and the occasional jolly guaracha in old Mexican and Cuban films. Our Latin Thing offered a whole new dimension to this music.

That night in the Cheetah Club the Fania musicians gave it all they had. We could not take our eyes off Ray Barretto on the tumbadora, or Roberto Roena on the bongos; Orestes Vilato on the timbales; ‘El Malo’ Willie Colon, Barry Rogers and Reinaldo Jorge on the trombones; or Hectro ‘Bomberito’ Zarzuela and Larry Spencer on trumpet; or on the piano, the ‘wonderful Jew’ Larry Harlow (though Ricardo Ray stood in for him whenever Bobby Cruz sang); Bobby Valentin on the electric bass, and ‘El Gordo’ Yomo Toro playing his heart out on the cuatro. What more could you ask?

Somos las Estrellas Fania,

Gente de todas las razas,

Comemos de un mismo plato,

Y usamos la misma taza.

Nos llevamos como hermanos,

Sin rencor, con alegrias,

Aqui no existen envidas,

Todos nos damos la mano.

Por eso cuando cantamos,

Lo hacemos de corazon,

Y alegramos corazones,

Con nuestra salsa y sabor,

Somos los embajadores,

De la paz y del amor.

Somos las Estrellas Fania,

Que a toditos saludamos,

Venga un abrazo sincero,

Venga un abrazo de hermano…

We are the Fania Allstars,

People from every race,

We eat from the same plate,

And drink from the same cup.

We get along like brothers,

With no resentment, only pleasure,

None of us is jealous,

We all give each other a hand.

That’s why when we sing,

We sing from the heart,

And we gladden other hearts,

With our salsa and our flavour,

We are the ambassadors,

Of peace and of love.

We are the Fania Allstars,

We say hello to you all,

Here’s our sincere embrace,

The embrace of a brother…

Hermandad Fania, Fania Allstars

So much for the instrumentalists. As for the vocalists, they were represented by no less than: Hector Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Pete ‘Conde’ Rodriguez, Bobby Cruz, Adalberto Santiago, Santos Colon and Jose ‘Cheo’ Feliciano who, to everyone’s delight, had overcome the difficult obstacles in his path and was there full of life. Laughing and leaping around as he directed this constellation of all stars was their co-founder, the flute playing musical director Johnny Pacheco, ‘another of your servants’.

The Fania Allstars gave us mind-blowing songs where instrumentalists and singers were all working together as one. That would be the key. A massive demonstration of how an integrated group could sound, even if their aims were commercial. The main objectives of the Fania people was to expand, introduce and sell this new sound without sacrificing it’s two basic ingredients: the musicians spontaneity and freedom to sing and play whatever their enthusiasm dictated, without forgetting the dancer.

In fact, well before the Cheetah show, an earlier one had taken place in 1968. Its importance had been limited, though, because it had been turned into an experimental jazz jam session. Similar Latin jam sessions had been promoted throughout the 1960’s in an attempt to discover the anxiously awaited new alternatives for Latin music. Sometimes the young musicians got together without the direct participation of the record companies; at others it was the companies themselves who brought together their musicians and added special guests. These sessions allowed the musicians the freedom to create spontaneously and to demonstrate just what their talents were. Typical of these were Alegre, Cesta, and Tico Allstars. The public for these sessions was very small, and the results did not find a huge audience because they offered little that was suited to the dance floor. Anything that cannot be danced to is unlikely to be very popular among the Latin public. Nevertheless, these Allstar sessions were a learning experience.

It was during the Cheetah show of 1971 that we witnessed the emergence of a new sound, a sound which owed something to the harmonic and rhythmic patterns of the Cuban son, but which was much more the creation of Latin musicians in New York. It was what they had been searching for throughout the 1960’s

[end of extract]

Other reviews:

Popular Music & Society (journal) by George Plasketes (1999)
In this compact chronicle, Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina sorts through the savory mix of ingredients of salsa, which follows the tango, bossa nova, and reggae as the fourth significant urban dance rhythm to emerge in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and Latin and South American regions.

“For me, Salsa is the ketchup you put on French fries, or the salt and pepper on salads,” says popular Cuban musician Tito Puente. This condiment analogy is among a litany of characterizations of salsa’s “essence” that preface Ospina’s central text. Other divergent descriptions from musicians and musiocologists include: marketing ploy, philosophy, an ethics, a whole way of life, proletariat, marginal, social communication, and sharing of food. In the words of Ruben Blades, it is “irreverent freedom.” The only point of agreement is that salsa is meant for dancing. Ospina manages this “mix” by treating the subject broadly, as a “way of music, a movement, a loose concept that is constantly changing.”

Though popularized as a musical term in the 1970s, salsa’s pulse beats steadily through the last 500 years of Caribbean history. The author traces salsa’s rhythmic roots and rich fusion of forms to slave drums, Spanish songs, African chants, Cuban son rhythms, through its commercial evolution, integration into the music machinery and emergence as Latin America’s most popular music. Ospina complements the historical perspective with sociopolitical strands that focus on Castro’s Cuba and women such as Celia Cruz who broke cultural traditions.

The author’s point of view is unusual. Ospina relates salsa’s story through imaginary bystanders and combines these narratives with popular songs of the time. Though the result is a simplified version of salsa’s history, the method provides a striking sense of place and community during the journey through the cultural melting pots of Cuba and New York. Ospino’s profound respect and affection for the music, its creators, and people outweighs any sense of stylistic gimmick in his documentation.

A glossary provides a useful, if not vital, guide to help distinguish between the many dance and music variations discussed in the text. Though lacking in some depth, this book is a beneficial introduction to salsa, its history, and multicultural mix.

Salsaville.com
An easy read, telling the history of salsa by relating various peoples’ stories.

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3 responses

25 01 2012
Elbenyahu Lugo

Is Larry Spencer The Trumpet Player still alive???? If he is have him email Eddie Jr at ebenyahu@hotmail.com or call me at 772-501-6700. My dad Eddie Lugo Sr. (Deseased) paid all the studio time in his own studio when they had the group called Somos in the 1970’s along with Tony Jiemenez (Deseased), I have the original recordings of the songs done in the studio live on a real to real tape passed down to me by my father Eddie Lugo Sr (Aka Edgardo Anel Lugo Sr).

4 06 2013
Jimmy lopez

Please contact me. Jimmy Lopez / Guitarist or Somos. I just been trying find anyone with any Pic or recordings of Somos for years. You are my 1st lead. I sent you a message to your Facebook page. Hope to hear from you.

4 06 2013
Mowreh ElbenYahuw Lugo

Brother Jimmy Lopez it was a pleasure speaking with you and I do hope we can get these recordings on CD! Shalowm

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