The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City

The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City

The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City

The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City


Salsa is one of the most popular types of music listened to and danced to in the United States. Until now, the single comprehensive history of the music--and the industry that grew up around it, including musicians, performances, styles, movements, and production--was available only in Spanish. This lively translation provides for English-reading and music-loving fans the chance to enjoy Csar Miguel Rondn's celebrated El libro de la salsa.

Rondn tells the engaging story of salsa's roots in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, and of its emergence and development in the 1960s as a distinct musical movement in New York. Rondn presents salsa as a truly pan-Caribbean phenomenon, emerging in the migrations and interactions, the celebrations and conflicts that marked the region. Although salsa is rooted in urban culture, Rondn explains, it is also a commercial product produced and shaped by professional musicians, record producers, and the music industry. For this first English-language edition, Rondn has added a new chapter to bring the story of salsa up to the present.


Though located on Broadway and Fifty-third Street, an area famous for music and theater, the Palladium, an immense ballroom capable of holding a thousand couples on its dance floor, was in decline by 1947. It seldom filled to capacity as fewer and fewer white couples went there to dance the fox-trot, tango, and some of the old swing, the popular swaying rhythm that was easy on the feet and ears of its audience. At that time the Palladium’s manager, a man named Moore, faced the challenge of turning the situation around and attracting dancers back to the ballroom. He contacted Federico Pagani, one of the city’s most important promoters of Caribbean music, who was then the director of his own band, the Conjunto Ritmo. Moore felt that the solution was to be found in drawing in the Latino community, even though he feared a different problem could result: the blacks also would come down to Broadway with, in his mind, all of their bad habits, knives, and unbridled impulses.

By 1947, only one black Latin orchestra—Machito and his Afro-Cubans— had made its way into those venues of Broadway populated by white and predominantly Jewish dance audiences, and it did so with comfort and prestige. This orchestra had performed for several seasons at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, and it had been able to please all audiences. In the midst of the bebop boom, Machito and his Afro-Cubans had had the luxury of merging Cuban rhythms with the harmonies and phrasings of avant-garde jazz. The result was the famous, and misnamed, “Latin jazz,” a direct creation of Mario Bauzá, musical director of the Afro-Cubans and, as he himself put it, “father of the newborn.”

Moore talked with Pagani and Bauzá. They agreed that Machito was the ideal alternative, the perfect solution for bringing the Caribbean to Broadway. But the risks were still high: the “lowlife,” no matter what, would be the dancing audience. Believing that this could jeopardize a great opportunity for Latin music, Pagani suggested proceeding carefully and taking serious precautions. Their idea was to open a club, a special club that would offer Sunday afternoon dance concerts for the Hispanic community. Mario Bauzá christened it the Blen Blen Club.

“Blen blen” was the name of a successful musical composition by Chano Pozo, an extraordinary Cuban percussionist who, while playing with Dizzie Gillespie’s band, had revolutionized the rhythmic and percussive concepts of the jazz trends of bebop. Pozo had been close friends with Bauzá ever since Miguelito Valdez had introduced the two of them in New . . .

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