Salsa Talks

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Salsa Talks: A Musical Heritage Uncovered

Mary Kent (2005)

Digital Domain publishing

Produced by Colombian born photojournalist Mary Kent, this award winning book is one of the few to actually have its own website: salsatalks.com

In order to accommodate the 300 plus photographs within its 415 pages, this book, which is twice the width of a standard text, weighs in at over 4 pounds. It’s the result of over 15 years of interviews, concerts and meetings with an all-star cast of participants. Basically, Salsa Talks captures the inspirations and motivations behind the careers of an impressive array of salsa-related personalities.

Why you might buy it:

There’s a good selection of people here and every single one of them has something interesting to say – many of them pull no punches when giving their views either, and in that regard this book offers a refreshing insight into what these people may actually be like as individuals. This book doesn’t attempt to tell you anything as an absolute truth but instead allows those that have made and shaped the music to tell you their views. For example, the question, “What is salsa?”, is answered by a variety of people, who all offer a different perspective from one another. Some of those in the book are, sadly, no longer with us. The accompanying photographs are excellent and the presentation of the material as a whole is extremely pleasing to the eye.

Why you might leave it:

It’s 4.3 lbs (i.e. very heavy, certainly not suitable for reading in “the smallest room in the house” unless you enjoy losing the power in your legs) and doesn’t sit on the bookshelf very well due to its width. That said, this is a genuine “coffee table book” and so maybe that’s where you’d like to keep yours? Even with so many people featuring, there may well be a good number who you feel should have been included; I’d like to have seen the likes of Hector Rivera and Graciela Perez included and perhaps more representation of artists from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama – but that’s being very picky as there were always going to be many more not featured than do, and I wouldn’t drop any from the books line up either.

Contents:

– Acknowledgement
– Foreword
– Intro
– What is Salsa?
– Bandleaders, Musicians, Arrangers, Singers/Soneros, Producers, Promoters,    Experts:
Chapter 1:Tite Curet Alonso
Chapter 2: Mario Bauza
Chapter 3: Ruben Blades
Chapter 4: Richie Bonilla
Chapter 5: Celia Cruz
Chapter 6: Joe Cuba
Chapter 7: Oscar D’Leon
Chapter 8: Jose Alberto “El Canario”
Chapter 9: Cheo Feliciano
Chapter 10: Henry Fiol
Chapter 11: Andy Gonzalez
Chapter 12: Juan de Marcos Gonzalez
Chapter 13: Larry Harlow
Chapter 14: Giovani Hidalgo
Chapter 15: India
Chapter 16: Chucho Valdes
Chapter 17: Israel “Cachao” Lopez
Chapter 18: Alexis Lozano
Chapter 19: Papo Lucca
Chapter 20: Marc Anthony
Chapter 21: Eddy Zervigon
Chapter 22: Canelita Medina
Chapter 23: Ralph Mercado
Chapter 24: Ismael Miranda
Chapter 25: Andy Montanez
Chapter 26: Luis “Perico” Ortiz
Chapter 27: Johnny Pacheco
Chapter 28: Tito Puente
Chapter 29: Louie Ramirez
Chapter 30: Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz
Chapter 31: Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez
Chapter 32: Victor Manuelle
Chapter 33: Jerry Masucci
Chapter 34: Eddie Palmieri
Chapter 35: Al Santiago
Chapter 36: Gilberto Santa Rosa
Chapter 37: Marty Sheller
Chapter 38: Carlos “Patato” Valdes
Chapter 39: Bobby Valentin
Chapter 40: Roberto Roena
Chapter 41: Musicians Hall of Fame
Chapter 42: Salsagraphers
– Irv Greenbaum
– Jack Hooke
– Rene Lopez
– Max Salazar
– Izzy Sanabria
– Robert Farris Thompson
– Salsa is Born: Three Concerts
– Glossary
– Bibliography
– Index

Selected extracts (from):

Chapter 2: Mario Bauza

I left the Cab Calloway Orchestra to form the Machito Orchestra. The musical innovation of the Machito Orchestra was in the instrumentation and arrangements. In the 1950’s, we were doing Cuban music. I wanted to start an orchestra that wouldn’t lose the flavour of our music, but with the sound of the American orchestra. That is what I did. I organized the big band sound of American jazz, with five saxophones and lots of brass. However, the bottom, the roots of the band was in Cuban rhythms.

Chapter 7: Oscar D’Leon

My first jobs with La Dimension Latina were at Tacarigua de Mamporal during Easter. We played all week long and we earned 15 bolivares each. Nobody knew the group. On my first trip to Panama, Richie Ray was there. He was already an evangelist. After Richie Ray left, all the promotion for my arrival proclaimed, “The Salsa God departed, now the Salsa Devil has arrived!” Ever since, they call me the “Salsa Devil”.

Chapter 10: Henry Fiol

The thing that distinguishes my sound from other conjuntos, from Saoco, is that my sound is more rustic, more country. I fall in the category of salsa, but I’m not really salsa. I’m playing son. I’m trying to continue the tradition of the son and to create new things. I’m a composer and I’m not interested in doing remakes of the old Cuban tunes. I’ve done a couple for the fun of it. What I try to do is compose and create songs within the structure of the conjunto and the guajiro sound, to keep the tradition of the son alive. I’m more a sonero than a salsero. And I’m using the word sonero not to mean singer. I mean sonero: like zapatero: zapato. Somebody who sings or plays the son.

Chapter 17: Israel “Cachao” Lopez

The bands in New York that play our music have innovated. Based on what we did, they made innovations that do not detract anything from the music itself. On the contrary, they enrich and strengthen it. A musician comes up with an idea, he executes it and another one follows him and creates something from that. But with the variation, it doesn’t stop being Cuban music.

Chapter 20: Marc Anthony

Ralph Mercado sent me about 200 CDs, the history of salsa from Benny More to everybody you can imagine. He sent me these CDs with a message to, “learn the music,” and I refused. Not while I was recording the album. I said, “No, I’m going to sing this my way and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” I was afraid that if I heard hours and hours of salsa music, that at some point I’d start mimicking. I wanted it to be fresh. I just sang. I said, “Look, Sergio will do the tracks and I’ll sing with my style of interpretation.”

Chapter 29: Louie Ramirez

I had a hit with Ruben Blades, Paula C, and I wanted to go out on the road and have some fun with the Fania All Stars. They wanted to keep me in the studio producing, so Jerry was telling the promoters I was afraid to fly.

Chapter 31: Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez

The first bands that went to Africa came from Cuban soil. Since we were playing Cuban music, we were very popular. Even though I wasn’t popular in New York, I was popular in Africa. I saw African musicians play folkloric music. Seven drums played together, what a beautiful sound. When I came back, we made the Sonora conjunto and I signed with Johnny. I left Johnny in 1965 because Monguito, another sonero, came from Cuba and there was friction. He was supposed to be a big hot shot, but he couldn’t get along with anybody. Pacheco liked him because he sounded like the singer Miguelito Cuni. He would get the arrangement, and then record it exactly like Miguelito Cuni sang it with the same inspirations. To me, that’s copying. But he hit a few numbers and then I guess he got too big for his britches and he left Pacheco.

Chapter 35: Al Santiago

Willie and Hector were both hanging round my store. Hector had gotten a couple of tuxedos and had hooked up with Tito Puente through a guardian angel named Francis. So he would sing a couple of numbers with Tito without getting paid. He just did it for the exposure. Francis and I were good friends and that’s how I met Lavoe. Anyway, Willie was working in my store. He was very bright and we’d go into the store when it was closed and I’d have him put stock away while I prepared my orders for the nest day.

Chapter 39: Bobby Valentin

I worked as a trumpet player with Tito Rodriguez for about a year in 1963. I learned discipline, how to direct, how to nicely tell a musician, “Play like this, be on time, dress neatly.” I applied what I learned. People say he was a dictator, but yiu have to be that way in order to be somebody in the future.

Chapter 42: Salsagraphers – Izzy Sanabria

How to get noticed:
I was the Master of Ceremonies at the Cheetah, where the whole salsa thing started. I did the radio commercial for it and it got filled wall to wall. It was so hot in that place that the costumes I wore shrunk completely from the heat. As MC, I wore velvet, yellow satin and red suits. That’s why I became noticed. By the time we did one concert at Madison Square Garden, Jerry Masucci got everybody suits like mine, so I went and bought a white linen suit with a white shirt and a white tie. I stayed one step ahead of the Fania All Stars. It caused resentment towards me when I got one page to myself in Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine.

[end of extracts]

Other Reviews:

Descarga.com by Bruce Polin (2005)
Editor’s Pick: The first thing you’ll notice about Salsa Talks! is its size and heft. It’s a big 11-1/4 inches wide, and, at over four pounds, you’ll think twice about popping it into your backpack. Over ten years in the making, Salsa Talks is clearly the new “bible” of urban Latin dance music and its colorful story. This comprehensive and beautifully printed book has hundreds of detailed photographs and personal stories by many of the legendary figures that are part of salsa’s history: Mario Bauzá, Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Joe Cuba, Oscar D’Leon, Andy González, Larry Harlow, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Papo Lucca, Ralph Mercado, Louie Ramirez, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Johnny Pacheco, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Bobby Valentin, Roberto Roena… these are just a few of the luminaries that share their amazing stories. Mary Kent turns out to be not only a first rate photographer, but an astute listener who gets her subjects to open up with candor. The story of salsa unfolds with clarity and color in her subjects own words.

Smartly edited by Aurora Flores, and designed with great flair by José Pacheco and Jeanne Euker. This is one of those rare books where the design is as good as its content (or vice versa) — it has a pleasurable easy to read format. Very well done, indeed.

Whether you are a student of salsa or consider yourself an expert, your collection is simply incomplete without this wonderful book. It is a must-have. Very Highly Recommended.

Amazon.com by Marks Time (2005)
I saw this book for the first time on the living room table of a friend’s house. I couldn’t wait to get my own copy. If you’ve ever danced salsa, listened to it, or studied its origins, you’ll want to own your own copy, too. The book delivers portraits of over 40 outstanding people who were instrumental in making salsa what it is today. Musicians, promoters, managers, writers and others are featured in interviews, very high quality photographs and essays. Some have passed away, others no longer perform. So it is this work that keeps the memory of them alive. The publication is very timely as salsa today is at a crossroads. The creation of this permanent record of salsa’s history will enable those who follow the great artists of the 70’s and 80’s to maintain a connection to the culture. This book is also an excellent historical resource with articles from writers, music historians and musicologists. Very Highly Recommended

Amazon.com by Midwest Book Review (2005)
Salsa Talks!: A Musical Heritage Uncovered by Latin music expert and enthusiast Mary Kent is a veritable “who’s who” focusing on the men and women associated with the Afro-Caribbean music called “Salsa” which is rooted in the Cuban culture and revamped in the barrios of New York City. Here are noted band leaders, musicians, arrangers, singers, producers, promoters, and Salsa experts ranging from songwriter, journalist and musicologist Tite Curet Alonzo; to pianist, composer, arranger, founder of the Cuban group Irakere Chucho Valdes; to band leader, Apollo Sound, percussionist, dancer, Fania All Star Roberto Roena. Profusely illustrated throughout, Salsa Talks! is a 416-page hardcover coffee table book that is enhanced with a three level index, an extensive biography, a glossary, and Mary Kent’s own picks for a Salsa musicians “Hall of Fame”. A strongly recommended addition for academic and community library American Music History collections, all Salsa music enthusiasts will want to simply browse through the pages of Salsa Talks!: A Musical Heritage.

Also: 10 readers views, from ‘those in the know’, at salsatalks.com

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