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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Is Salsa Music Dying Among “American” Latinos?


Before the word “Salsa” was coined, this old-school piece by the great maestro, Eddie Palmeri, was simply called “Latin.”

In a scene from the film El Cantante featuring singer Marc Anthony playing the role of the late, salsa music star Hector Lavoe, he was told that despite the invasion of Merengue, Bachata, and Reggaetón, Salsa music is still king. Unfortunately, when Lavoe’s concert took place, there was a sparse crowd in attendance.

I recently did a survey on two Latino forums on Facebook, and to my surprise, found that only a handful of people expressed their love for Salsa music. I’m just wondering what is going on with the Salsa music world today among American Latinos. I haven’t been out to the clubs in a while, but when I did, the venues were often made up of more non-Latinos than Latinos. Maybe this is just a California thing, but I notice that Salsa music and dance as been embraced in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.  Are non-American Latinos keeping the music alive or am I just out of touch living here on the West Coast—in Oakland of all places?

Things were a whole lot different during my younger years in New York City when Salsa music, then referred to as “Latin,” was a barrio (hood) craze. It was primarily enjoyed in heavily populated Puerto Rican communities like the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem, and New York’s Lower East Side. At least, this is how I perceived it! In those days, you could expect to hear Salsa music blaring from homes, businesses, and cars. I myself got hooked as I grew up walking distance from Spanish Harlem before that area became gentrified.

For years, as a resident of Oakland, CA, I boasted of having grown up in the Salsa music capital of the world, New York City. No more! See my post on the new Salsa music capital, Cali, Colombia). The people of Perú’s coastal region where I often visit love Salsa music so much that they have two 24-hour stations. This is better than what New York, the birthplace of Salsa music, has ever done since I could remember. Salsa in New York could only be heard on certain radio stations at certain hours. Even when I visited Havana, Cuba, I was astonished to have kept trying to tune into a station that played Son-Montuno music, the music that gave birth to Salsa with no luck.

It’s been a good number of years since leaving  New York, and naturally, there have been a lot of changes. With the heavy influx of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a lot of my Puerto Rican friends embraced Merengue and Bachata. I myself fell in love with Bachata after a Puerto Rican lady-friend taught me the basic dance steps while on a business trip in Miami. And of course, there is Reggaetón, which gained rapid popularity, and as far as I’m concerned, “sucks!” Maybe being on the West Coast has separated me from a lot of true Salseros (Salsa music lovers). Today, when I walk the streets of Latino communities in Oakland and San Francisco, all. I hear is Reggaetón, Hip Hop, Cumbia, and Ranchera.