Salsiology: Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City

Dr. Vernon W. Boggs (1992)

Pub. Greenwood Press

The first sizeable text in English that detailed the development Afro-Cuban music in NYC, specifically the emergence of salsa, this 387 page book set the ‘gold standard’ for all that followed. Many more books are now available in this area but this remains, arguably, the best. The writing, provided in chapters mainly by Boggs but also by other leading authorities, is supplemented with around 50 photographs, interviews and musical notation extracts. Not just a key book in Latin music, but one that features heavily in the reading lists of many academic disciplines.

Vernon Boggs died in 1994, you can read about him here.

Why you might buy it:

There is so much in here to recommend – the writing is, for the most part, engaging and unlike some edited books each element really does feel like it’s part of a whole, thought through book. That said, chapters can be read or re-visited in isolation and stand perfectly well on their own. There are numerous personal insights from people who participated in the development of this music in New York, many of which you will not find elsewhere, despite some peoples unfaltering belief that “you can google it” – try it, in this case you can’t. This is a serious, grown up book that does not try and bamboozle the reader with academic pretensions.

Why you might leave it:

Mainly because of the price, you will be fortunate to find a copy these days for less than £50/$100. Some might find, that despite it being eminently readable, it is “too academic” at times.




From Whence Comes the Music

· The Roots by John Storm Roberts

· What Makes Rhumba? by William Gottlieb

· The Form and Formation of the Rumba in Cuba by Larry Crook

· Ponce, the Danza, and the National Question: Notes Toward a Sociology of Puerto Rican Music by A.G. Quintero-Rivera

· Bumbum and the Beginnings of La Plena by Juan Flores

· Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward An Anthropology of Salsa by Jorge Duany

Sketches of Pioneers and Players

· Founding Fathers and Changes in Cuban Music called Salsa by Vernon W. Boggs

· Latin Ladies and Afro-Hispanic Music: On the Periphery but not Forgotten by Vernon W. Boggs

Popularization of Afro-Cuban Music in New York

· The Palladium Ballroom and Other Venues: Showcases for Latin Music in N.Y.C. by Vernon W. Boggs

· Dick “Ricardo” Sugar: Salsero de Salseros by Vernon W. Boggs

· Ernie Ensley, Palladium Mambero by Vernon W. Boggs

· Symphony Sid. D.J.: According to Jack Hooke by Vernon W. Boggs

· Salsa Meets Jazz at the Village Gate by Vernon W. Boggs

· Visions and Views of a Salsa Promster, Izzy “Mr. Salsa” Sanabria: Popularizing Music by Vernon W. Boggs

· Al Santiago: Alegre Superstar by Vernon W. Boggs

· The Cheetah: A Pictorial Essay by Vernon W. Boggs

The Transculturational Process

· Afro-American Latinized Rhythms by Max Salazar

· Salsa’s to New York Like an Apple’s to Sauce! by Vernon W. Boggs

· Johnny “Mr. Boogaloo Blues” Colon by Vernon W. Boggs

· A “bottom man” speaks out: Andy Gonzalez, Bassist by Larry Birnbaum

· Back-to-Africa The “reverse” transculturation of Salsa/Cuban Popular Music by Al Angeloro

Salsiological Issues Today

· Secrets of Salsa Rhythm: Piano with Hot Sauce by Robert L. Doerschuk

· Papo Pepin: Mr. Tumbao by Vernon W. Boggs

· The Profile of a Bronx Salsero: Salsa’s Still Alive! by Vernon W. Boggs and Rolf Meyersohn

· Salsa Music: The Latent Function of Slavery and Racialism by Vernon W. Boggs

Epilogue: The Author as Salsero

· The Odyssey of Desperately Seeking Clave: Researching Afro-Hispanic Music by Vernon W. Boggs


Musical Score: Gonna Salsalido by David Zinn

Selected Bibliography

Selected extracts (from):


Salsiology addresses one specific type of Afro-Hispanic music – Cuban popular music/salsa – from a participant-observer’s point of view. This view starts from an ongoing search to answer the following questions:

1. What is the historical framework from which salsa evolved?
2. Who were some of the key musical personalities who shaped the music?
3. What places and people were largely responsible for “institutionalizing” Cuban popular music in New York City?
4. Is Fernando Ortiz’s concept of “transculturation” a valid tool for understanding the eventual popularity of afro-Hispanic music in New York City?
5. What are some of the tangential, but closely correlated, issues and consequences of this musical “transculturation” today?

(Chapter 4: Ponce, the Danza, and the National Question: Notes Toward a Sociology of Puerto Rican Music by A.G. Quintero-Rivera):

Many foreigners are astonished, and some Puerto Ricans bothered, by the fact that our National Anthem is a danza, “La Boriquenia”. In most countries the official anthems are marches, military music par excellence. But in Puerto Rico, anything military has always been foreign and, on occasion, the opposite of what the country has wanted to be. It is also significant that, although today the danzas constitute a small portion of the enourmously rich musical production of the country, the composition that for many has become the new anthem of contemporary Puerto Rico is also a danza, “Verde Luz” by Antonio Caban Vale, “el Topo”. How and why has the danza acquired such significance in our musical production?

(Chapter 7: Founding Fathers and Changes in Cuban Music called Salsa by Vernon W. Boggs):

Like the forties and fifties, the music took on the name of the dances it inspired. Rarely did the public refer to it as Cuban popular music; the public preferred to call it mambo and cha-cha. In the 1960’s the structure of some bands were changed to that of a charanga which prominently featured flutes and violins that were not standard features of a conjunto. This change inspired a dance called the “Pachanga” which was often used to describe the music. In many respects this relegated the pure sound to the background and helped to lay the groundwork for the commercial exploitation of Cuban popular music. Riding the crest of pachanga’s newly-found popularity were the Palmieri brothers, Johnny Pacheco and Ray Barretto. Following on the heels of this change was the “boogaloo” and the Fania All Stars who would really alter the music.

(Chapter 11: Ernie Ensley, Palladium Mambero by Vernon W. Boggs):

VB: How many days of the week and what days of the week was the Palladium open?

EE: The Palladium was open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday night was like a celebrity night. All the movie stars, Broadway stars and everybody would come up. They had the fellow by the name of Killer Joe Piro who would give dancing lessons from 8 to 9 and teach you the basic steps of the mambo and cha-cha. Then the music would start at 9 o’clock on the dot. I would go up there, and get in line too and see what steps he was showing. Then I started to go on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then, in order to dance in the shows on Wednesdays, about the late ‘50’s or say about ’56, I think I started dancing professionally at the Palladium. In fact, I did the last show at the Palladium which was on a Wednesday night. Machito played that last night.

(Chapter 21: Back-to-Africa The “reverse” transculturation of Salsa/Cuban Popular Music by Al Angeloro):

A careful listening to Ghanaian “High-life” music leaves the listener with a distinct impression that Ghanaian musicians have incorporated elements of the calypso of Trinidad into the rhythmic base. Even the Camoroonian “Makossa” shows definite traces of calypso, Cuban guajira and Puerto Rican jibaro patterns. This Cuban/Carribean influence has also affected the indigenous music of other African nations like Angola, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal. Here, it must be remembered though, that the radio in Africa was not the sole source of this reverse transculturation process. There were other factors, such as the growth of the airline industry, the immigration of Cubans and Africans to places like Paris in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the spread of “salsa” throughout the world.

(Chapter 26: The Odyssey of Desperately Seeking Clave: Researching Afro-Hispanic Music by Vernon W. Boggs):

When I was about ten years old living in Pleasantville, New Jersey, my aunt, Dorothy Eleanor Boggs, asked me what I wanted for my forthcoming birthday; I said that I wanted a record called Anabacoa. She promised to buy it if I could spell the name. I do not know if I spelled it correctly but I got the record in any event…I reflect upon that early experience for several reasons: (1) I could not speak Spanish at that time; (2) I don’t know how I heard about it, since at home, I only heard Gospel music and (3) I don’t know why I was attracted to it……snip…….Even though I was too young to go inside [the Palladium], I got in. I remember the lighting and the music ‘blew me away.’ I was really and truly ‘home.’ This was it. I had been looking for this music for years and now I had found it! I will never forget that experience…….snip……..My quest for knowledge about clave has given me an opportunity to learn about history and ethnomusicology. I am still not clear about why or how I became attached to the music nor when I first heard about Anabacoa…but I assure you that I have learned a lot about the music as well as how to speak Spanish.

[end of extracts]

Other Reviews:

American Journal of Sociology by Paul D. Lopes (1993)

This book is an excellent resource for a history of Afro-Hispanic music in New York City, the Caribbean, and Latin America. It provides a number of examples of how cultural forms are created and disseminated across national, ethnic, racial, and class boundaries. Sociologists interested in the study of popular music should find this book useful and enjoyable to read.

New York Times (contemporary)

A collection of essays and interviews by various writers, all compiled by Vernon Boggs, a salsa scholar and fan, the book traces the development of salsa with a bias toward making it clear that the music developed in the United States. Mr Boggs interviews everybody from a salsa booking agent, Ralph Marcado, to the pianist and composer Johnny Colon; there are chapters called `Back to Africa: The `Reverse’ Transculturation of Salsa/Cuban Popular Music,’ and chapters on how to play salsa. `The major focus of the book is to point out how salsa came about,’ said Mr. Boggs. `There is so much interpretation about it, and I wanted to lay it to rest, to explain how the music came from New York. The lyrics of the music are in Spanish and unfortunately for Americans, when you speak any other language, then it’s foreign; xenophobia exists. Salsa is American music, from New York. it’s like a house: you can see it has a foreign foundation, from Cuba, but its structure is New York. It’s as American as apple pie.


4 responses

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