Thursday, September 15, 2011

Latino music sound turns 40

40 Years Since the Birth of Salsa: Does Anyone Really Care?

By Izzy Sanabria, Salsa Magazine

Izzy Sanabria
For the majority of Latinos struggling to provide a better life for their families, Salsa music is of little concern and certainly not at the top of their list of priorities. So what's so important and why should they care that August 26, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the event many consider to be the birth of Salsa?

Why? If for no other reason, it should provide us all with a sense of Pride. Why? Because Salsa is our greatest cultural art form being embraced today by people of all ages and nationalities around the world. I dare say that Salsa is perhaps our greatest contribution to world culture.

Salsa and the 1970s Latino: Cultural Renaissance in New York City
Starting in the late '60s and into the '70s, Latinos had a major cultural impact on New York City. It was a new generation of English speaking Puerto Rican baby boomers who created a Renaissance in all the arts and even had their own media voice (Latin NY magazine). They expressed their presence in poetry, their clothes, lifestyles and, of course, their most popular art form --- their music!

The new Latino lifestyle started emerging in the 1960s with Latin Soul music (The Boogaloo) in places like the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. In the 1970s, it was the world famous Cheetah Discotheque that became the showplace of these young Latinos, and they gathered by the tens of thousands every Sunday in Central Park. Their immense presence literally Latinized the park as well as the City itself with a new look and a new sound.

August 26 1971: The Fania All Stars perform at the Cheetah

This was no ordinary performance, it was an explosion of energy no one had ever felt or experienced before. This incredible event was captured on film and released the following year as Our Latin Thing. A few years later, it would have a greater impact than when originally released. Ironically, while many consider this night as the birth of Salsa, there is no mention of the word Salsa in the movie.

In 1973, Latin NY Magazine was launched from the Cheetah. The Fania All Stars' concert at Yankee Stadium draws 44,000 screaming fans. Later that year, I hosted a TV Show called Salsa!

1975: The Spark that Ignited the Salsa Explosion!

Its fire fanned by the Newyorican fervor, the Salsa scene was bursting at the seams. Like dynamite waiting for a spark to ignite it, Salsa was ready to explode. The spark came in the form of Latin NY's First Salsa Awards in May 1975.

This event received greater (pre and post) mass media coverage than was ever given to any Latin music event at that time and thus gave Salsa its biggest push and momentum. The coverage by mainstream media such as The New York. Times, created an incredible worldwide avalanche of interest in Salsa. What made the awards (by American media standards) a "newsworthy" event was that we publicized the event and our intense public criticism of NARAS for ignoring 17 years of repeated requests to give Latin music its own separate category in the Grammys.

Though ignored by local Spanish media, the rest of the world took notice. From Europe (Holland, Germany, France, Italy, England, etc.) and as far away as Japan, journalists and TV camera crews came to New York to comment on and document Salsa; what they perceived as a new phenomenon of high energy rhythmic Latino urban music, its dancing and its lifestyles.

Salsa dancing has created a world-wide industry that is booming. Salsa Clubs and dance studios continue to spring up to meet the demands of the 100s of thousands wanting to learn how to dance Salsa. This growing interest has also led to the growth of local Salsa bands throughout European, African and even Asian countries. They sound like and even dress-up to look like 1970s Latinos.

The question is: How did this 1970s urban NY Latino music acquire such a growing audience? "The Latin NY Salsa Explosion" is a film in progress that addresses that question and provides some answers. If you'd like to see it, contact me at and I will send you a copy.

Izzy Sanabria is a creative innovative multi-media artist and publisher of Latin NY Magazine that spearheaded and documented the Latino Cultural Renaissance during the 1970s in New York City. He currently resides in Valrico, Florida and can be contacted at For more detailed information visit: And join him on FaceBook.

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