Recently I saw the PBS special “Latin Music USA!” It was a great series on the origins and influences of the diverse styles of Latin Music in the United States. The episodes covering New York City had me reminiscing about my time living there in the late 90s. When I moved there for graduate school, it was an awesome culture shock for this California girl. To be dropped into Washington Heights (Quisqueya Heights) was a mind bending experience. I started a sonic journey into the music of Nueva York fueled by a desire to learn more about my own Latin heritage as well as love of culture and of my Caribbean brothers and sisters.
I love to dance so I hit up everywhere from Copacabana and Latin Quarters to the down home clubs in the Boogie Down Bronx and Brooklyn. I saw some amazing bands play live including El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico and Marc Anthony. He hadn’t yet hit the mainstream audiences, but was selling out clubs performing salsa music. Anyhow, I can’t even begin to do justice to the enormity of the music which has come out of New York; all I can do is try to capture a slice of the New York I experienced, the one that lives in my memory.
So I had “Calle Luna Calle Sol” by Willie Colon song & Hector Lavoe but that video was removed from youtube. So here is another from that dynamic salsa duo from the mid 70s. This style of salsa dura chronicled street life and social problems found in the inner cities as well as just plain stories about the beautiful dances and music of the land of our people like this one “La Murga De Panana”:
“Lejos De Ti” by Angel Canales talks about how much he loves New York, but will never forget his beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I recall listening to this song during the Puerto Rican Day Parade broadcast on 97.9 La Mega. What a mix of music! I actually taped (remember that?!) the radio that whole day. This version is poignant as his audience sings the entire first verse which leads Angel to get emotional.
Venezuelan bass player and sonero Oscar D’Leon’s “Lloraras” is a classic about heartbreak and karma. To this day, this song will get me on the dance floor:
Living in Quisqueya (the native name of the island of Dominican Republic) Heights, merengue was ubiquitous as well as bachata. Grupo Mania was huge during the mid to late 90s. Here is “Ojitos Bellos:”
This song by Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez and Johnny Pacheco really represents the style of salsa I fell in love with in New York. Most likely I’ll do another post digging even deeper into the clave, salsa dura, Fania All-Stars, and boogaloo/Latin Soul. But for now, enjoy “Sonero”:
My boyfriend at the time put this next song on a mixtape he made me. I learned more from living life to the fullest in New York than I did in grad school. With all the romance, music, and dancing there wasn’t much time left for my studies! The lovely Lauryn Hill with “The Sweetest Thing:”
I also listened to some hard-core hip hop while living in one of the toughest cities in the country. Here is Smif N Wessun with their Jamaican influenced “Sound Bwoy Bureil”:
New York City. Washington Heights. Manhattan. San Gennaro Festival. Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Cafe Wha? The Red Train. The Roxy. Copacabana. Habichuelas. Tostones. Pasteles. Boriqua. First real love. Youth & innocence left on the subway lines.
From A Lower Eastside Poem:
Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
to dream my lungs out till
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.
So let me sing my song tonight
let me feel out of sight
and let all eyes be dry
when they scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.
I don’t wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
I don’t wanna rest in long island cemetery
I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
gambling fighting & unnatural dying
& new birth crying
so please when I die . . .
don’t take me far away
keep me near by
take my ashes and scatter them thru out
the Lower East Side . . .
~ Miguel Piñero (1946-1988), co-founder the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe