Reports of salsa’s death have been exaggerated and premature
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Earlier this year, I wrote a column about how Colombia’s artists have contributed to changing the international image of this South American nation via music, song, and dance.
From Carlos Vives to Fonseca, Juanes to Andrés Cepeda, with plenty more in between, Colombian artists have made their country a musical powerhouse and, in the process, helped erase some of the stigma attached to the country’s recent past.
But there was a group of performers whom I just mentioned somewhat indirectly amidst names of colleagues like Cabas, Bomba Estéreo, and Totó La Momposina. That group is Grupo Niche (pictured above), and the music they gave their own swing to, along with other singers, is… salsa.
Though the group was formed in Bogotá in 1978, it was two years later in Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, where they began their ascent, and with it, helped turn the capital of the Valle del Cauca department into a hotbed of the tropical rhythm that emerged years before out of the mostly Puerto Rican barrios of New York City.
Its heyday, of course, was the end of the 1960s through the mid-70s. First, with orchestras like those of Puerto Rican New Yorkers who had made names for themselves since the 1940s, like Tito Rodríguez and Tito Puente or Cortijo y su Combo and its legendary sonero Ismael Rivera, and with contributions by Cubans such as Machito (Frank Grillo) and Arsenio Rodríguez, to name a few. Then came the creative apex that was Fania Records, and icons that are forever etched in the history of Latin music: Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, and again, Tito Puente.
A new generation of performers emerged in the 80s and 90s, infusing a romantic element into salsa that pushed aside the socially conscious and political motifs explored by artists of the genre in years past, as was the case of Panamanian Rubén Blades’s mordant Chica Plástica, for example. Still, a new batch of stars surged in the figures of Puerto Ricans Tito Rojas, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Tito Nieves, and Víctor Manuelle, among others, and found acceptance in spite of the criticisms.
Whether because of generational fatigue, lack of lyrical creativity, the dismantling of the orchestras, the closing of New York City’s Latin dancehalls, the rise of urban music, or all of the above, salsa languished for most of the 2000s, at least with Hispanics in the U.S. In Latin America, especially in Colombia, however, the story unfolded quite differently over several decades.
In the 1940s, the music of Puerto Rican Daniel Santos, Cuban orchestra La Sonora Matancera, and of other big names of the era, including Mexican performers, was welcomed in Cali. Their sounds were adopted and fused into the local rhythms. This continued with the rise of salsa, but instead of simply copying what the Puerto Ricans were doing, Colombian artists made their own contributions, such as, in some cases, speeding up the music in order to dance it more frenetically.
Salsa with a Cali stamp grew in popularity, attracting Colombians as well as foreigners. Today, there are over 100 salsa schools in the city, competitions, the Summer Salsa Festival each July, and even a new movie, Ciudad Delirio, which uses as background the delirium felt by the people of Cali, or caleños, towards the music and the dance.
Will salsa experience a return to its glory days? Probably not, unless a charismatic new performer breaks through and attracts the younger generations hooked on rap and rock and bachata. But no fear. In Miami, the Cuban version known as casino is still danced. In New York, salsa is forever part of its fabric. And even Los Angeles has its own style.
Music tastes ebb and flow. Some dances become relics, like the Charleston, or ballroom staples, like the foxtrot. The resiliency of salsa is one not to be underestimated, much like Latin music in general. That is something that I’ve come to witness and appreciate over the two decades I’ve been covering it, and over the year I spent writing this column.
Like any song that must come to an end, it’s the same for The Right Track. The opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of our music industry has taken me on a fascinating, unexpected, and usually surprising journey. To those of you who took it with me, I thank you. Until next time, keep on dancing!
In Cuba, some performers are singing a different tune
Think music is simply disposable pop culture fluff? Think again.
History has shown that something peculiar can happen when a song or a musical genre clicks with a certain demographic group. Especially young people. Then the elders start paying attention, for all the right, or wrong, reasons.
In Cuba, a rather remarkable incident took place earlier this month.
The setting was a concert staged by the communist government in support of the release of a group of Cuban spies incarcerated on American soil. The show, airing on Cuban television, took place in front of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. It would’ve been the typical exercise in dated propaganda and rhetoric except for one reason.
A musician by the name of Roberto Carcassés (picture above) demanded, via a song towards the end of the program, that he and his fellow countrymen be given the right to express themselves freely, as well as the right to vote directly for the Cuban president.
With this kind of heresy, one would have expected a swarm of Cuban thugs to beat up the 41-year-old frontman of the band Interactivo and of the Roberto Carcassés Trío, then whisk him away, where perhaps he would’ve suffered an “accidente.”
The official response, however, was more nuanced.
For a short while, the Ministerio de Cultura prohibited Carcassés from performing, but after discussing the issue with apparatchiks of that governmental cultural entity, and once other major league singers such as Silvio Rodríguez came to his defense, sanctions were revoked.
Not all of his colleagues stood up for him, though. Some, obviously on the wrong side of history, blasted the son of jazz player Bobby Carcassés. But this is not the first time that a young musician, performer, or singer living on the island pushes the envelope in the Castro brothers’ fiefdom. Others, such as troubadour Pablo Milanés, punk rocker Gorki Águila, and above all, the rise of homegrown reggaetoneros and rappers (like Los Aldeanos), have made the establishment frown or sweat.
Cuban president Raúl Castro apparently understands this; along with his economic reforms, he also seems to be willing to let the youth release some steam. Because if Castro loses the young people of Cuba, and the message clamoring for liberty and human rights that dissidents have not been able to instill entirely across the island spreads through the virus of music, he and his brother will be dancing on their graves sooner than expected.
In another instance of the unbearably ridiculous twists and turns of this communist regime, The Beatles, and rock and roll, were once prohibited in Cuba. But, wait, is… is that a statue of John Lennon in a park in Havana??? Yes it is. It has been since the year 2000.
Cuba has not been the only Latin American country where music and singers have threatened the status quo or been used to prop it up.
In the Dominican Republic, and up to the end of his rule in 1961, when he was killed, dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo used merengue to spite the elites who hated that rhythm and to win favor among the masses.
When rightwing dictatorships bulldozed their way throughout South America in the 1970s, it was the turn of a lot of leftist artists to flee into exile, their songs deemed “subversive.” In Argentina, for example, Mercedes Sosa, Charly García, León Gieco, among others, fled. The generals also took out their zealotry on tango music and dance, considering it corrupt and filthy, and tried to “cleanse” it.
Artists like Los Olimareños and Daniel Viglietti in Uruguay had to leave. But in Chile, folk singer and social activist Víctor Jara didn’t escape, and he paid with his life, murdered at the hands of general Augusto Pinochet’s henchmen.
During the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, one funny (though certainly not to him) use of music was when the Army blasted rock music into the Vatican Embassy, where general Manuel Antonio Noriega sought refuge, trying to drive him crazy with the sounds. The music of choice? Van Halen’s Panama. What, they couldn’t get El General and his Tu Pum Pum? Noriega, by the way, gave himself up.
Consternation and contempt erupted among Puerto Rico’s ruling class with the onslaught of reggaetón in the early 2000s, with a governor then trying to co-opt the sound to win favor with the island’s youth and use Calle 13 in a campaign against gun violence. Did it work? Not really. Even music has its limits.
That song you’re dancing to? Or humming? Its origins may surprise you
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
There was a time, in what now seems like ancient history but in reality it was the not-so-distant 90s, when American media went loco with the so-called phenomenon of the “Latin music crossover explosion.”
Suddenly, it was all about Ricky Martin, or J.Lo, Enrique Iglesias, even Gloria Estefan, who had ridden that wave years before. Then, as usually happens with every boom, the bust came, and the furor died down.
Interest surfaced a few years later with Shakira going bilingual, Christina Aguilera paying homage to her Hispanic roots, and Anglo artists singing in Spanish here and there.
The truth is, however, that none of this is new. Decades before, America had had various love affairs with all things Hispanic, and in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, it is worth remembering some of them.
Music and dance were the great forces that not only came from south of the border to capture Americans’ hearts and feet, but from America’s own Latino communities. As far back as the 19th century, as various elements coalesced to evolve into what would became jazz, Cuban music would play a pivotal role, as Afro American and Afro Cuban rhythms began intertwining.
In the 1930s, Black jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington began playing their own versions of that classic El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor), by Cuban Don Aspiazu. In the early 1940s, more Cubans, this time Machito and Mario Bauza, among others, played Afro Cuban jazz, which would evolve into Latin jazz with the help of Puerto Rican musicians from New York City.
Spaniard Xavier Cugat (future husband of singer, guitar player, and comedian Charo) would inject the Latin swing into big bands. Cuban Dámaso Pérez Prado popularized the mambo, while another Cuban rhythm, cha-cha-chá, had nightclubs particularly in the Northeast brimming with dancers incorporating these hot rhythms into their routines. Dance instructor and businessman Arthur Murray took advantage of the passion for Latin music and saw his dance studios boom across the U.S. with ballroom dancing that included tango and many other popular bailes.
In 1948, Dizzy Gillespie made jazz history when he recorded with Cuban conga master Chano Pozo Cubano Be, Cubano Bop in France. Thus began Gillespie’s Afro Cuban sound, labeled, you guessed it, Cubop music.
Hollywood noticed too, and plenty of films were made with Latin-influenced scores and dance routines: The 1933 musical Flying Down to Rio, with Mexican Dolores del Río; 1940’s Down Argentine Way, with Brazilian bombshell (though originally from Portugal), Carmen Miranda (pictured above); Week-end in Havana (1941), with Miranda again and with Cuban César Romero; Gilda, from 1946, with Rita Hayworth (Margarita Cansino, of Spanish ancestry); and Puerto Rican dancer and comedic actress Olga San Juan popping up even in non-Latin roles throughout her peak in the 1940s.
In the 1950s, exotica/lounge/space/cocktail music swayed heavily to Latin sounds and performers like Mexican bandleader, pianist, and composer Juan García Esquivel, or Esquivel, considered the maestro of that type of rhythm, and of Peruvian Yma Sumac, she of the jungle sounds and astounding vocal range. Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s Babalú became popular thanks to fellow Cuban Desi Arnaz (of TV’s I Love Lucy fame), and rock ’n’ roll would’ve been much poorer if not for the influence of Mexican American Ritchie Valens, whose life was cut tragically short in 1959.
The 60s gave us one of the most enduring American musicals ever, West Side Story, about Puerto Ricans in the barrio, and in 1968, a Puerto Rican, José Feliciano, made his rendition of the American national anthem both unforgettable and controversial.
Some of the best TV themes, from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to Mission: Impossible, and scores of movie soundtracks, entered our consciousness thanks to Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin.
Salsa reached its most glorious moments in the 1970s with the Fania label and its stable of stars, from Cuban icon Celia Cruz to Puerto Rican legend Tito Puente and many, many more, while disco music flourished with essential contributions from marginalized communities like Blacks, gays, and, sí, Latins. Puerto Rican boy band Menudo had the world screaming like pre-pubescent girls around that time too.
Vikki Carr and Linda Ronstadt rediscovered their Mexican heritage in the 1980s. In the 90s, salsa exploded in Japan in the early years, and at the end of that decade, we faced the Latin crossover boom.
Today, in spite of urban music, salsa is still king in certain markets (like Colombia), tango renews itself in popularity across the world (there is even Finnish tango!), flamenco and new flamenco have never lost their broad appeal, and Dominican bachata is being sung in English too. Who knows what the next, great big sonido will be?
The artist, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is in financial distress, pens her memoirs to earn cash
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
A name from the not-so-distant past has suddenly popped up everywhere: as a trending topic on the Internet; in a lengthy interview in The New York Times; in a People magazine profile; and in other outlets.
Linda Ronstadt (pictured above) is in the news once again.
But she isn’t celebrating the release of a new album or promoting an upcoming tour. This American singer of Mexican ancestry announced that she has Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms have become so severe that she can no longer perform.
Ronstadt’s is another cautionary showbiz tale. Not every singer tops the Forbes list of the highest-paid performers, like Madonna just did after having pocketed some $125 million between June 2012 and June 2013. For every superstar with enough money to end hunger on this planet, there are plenty of artists who have been forgotten, have fallen onto difficult times, or have simply given up.
Seems hard to believe this would be the case with Ronstadt, the winner of quite an array of awards, including 11 Grammys, an Emmy, and an ALMA. She was nominated for a Tony and a Golden Globe as well. She performed with stars like Frank Zappa, Rosemary Clooney, Philip Glass, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash, among many others.
As part of her ample discography (over 100 albums), she also found success in the late 1980s singing mariachi songs in albums such as Canciones de mi padre.
The problem here is that Ronstadt never wrote her hits, which is where the royalty money is, and most likely she blew her savings over the years (she has admitted to having suffered from a drug addiction). Sad and ironic for someone who was once the top female singer of the 1970s, and at one point the highest paid rock performer.
In that recent candid interview with The New York Times, the Arizona-born star admitted that she needed the money and though she hesitated for a while, decided to write her memoirs. The result is the book Simple Dreams – A Musical Memoir, released this month by Simon & Schuster. In all, a reminder that dreams can come true, but the can also end in unexpected ways.
Someone else whose dreams probably didn’t materialize the way she hoped is young pop starlet Selena Gómez. The Texas-born singer, with Mexican heritage, apparently thought it was a good idea to try her hand at acting (and most likely all those around agreed with her. She should fire them).
So the ex of Canadian singing brat Justin Bieber just made her film debut alongside Ethan Hawke (what was he thinking?) in Getaway.
To get away from this bomb is what all critics have recommended so far, and the audiences did just that. Reviews all around were toxic. In old Hollywood, Gómez would’ve been deemed “box office poison,” harming her stardom for quite some time.
But in this day and age, in which apparently every artistic trespass, sin, and aberration is forgiven – if not forgotten – Gómez will most likely continue bopping along.
Stars headed your way
Touring the states is One of Colombia’s most talented artists. Singer/composer/producer Andrés Cepeda has been around for a while but has never, inexplicably, achieved the superstardom of some of compatriots like Shakira, Juanes, or Carlos Vives.
Lo mejor que hay en mi vida tour 2013 (The Best There Is In My Life Tour 2013) has already been to Europe and Latin America, then moved on to New York City on August 31.
Upcoming performances of Cepeda that you can still catch: the 12th of September in Houston’s House of Blues, the 13th in Orlando’s House of Blues, and finally, on the 14th, at The Fillmore in Miami Beach.
Also on the 14th in Miami: Puerto Rican diva Ednita Nazario, at the Miami Dade County Auditorium, ending her Desnuda tour in the city that has become her second home. Next up for her: a new album in the works.
A lascivious way of dancing makes tongues wag, and it is embraced by Latino and Black youth
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
So Miley Cyrus managed the unthinkable: to divert attention from an impending attack on Syria by the U.S. government.
Instead, the nation’s focus turned to her performance at Sunday’s 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, a program that has ingrained in its DNA the notion that it must shock to remain cool, hip and in step with the coveted young consumers sought after by advertisers.
In an award show in which almost no Black artists won a thing (except for Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu in the category Best Art Direction, or Jay-Z with Justin Timberlake in Best Direction), and Latinos also left practically empty-handed (Bruno Mars won Best Male Video and Best Choreography, while Selena Gómez took home the Best Pop Video prize), it was Cyrus’ lewd moves that caused an uproar.
You see, the 20-year-old Cyrus, looking like a grown-up version of Rosemary’s Baby with hairdo courtesy of Björk, came on stage sticking out her tongue as if she were the spawn of Kiss’ Gene Simmons. She then jiggled her stuff in what is known in street slang as “twerking.”
Now, don't be confused by the terminology. This is hardly anything new. It is pretty much what in Spanish has been called perreo for more than a decade. We have seen countless reggaetón performances that rely on it to entice the crowds.
Cyrus tried to coax fellow singer Robin Thicke onstage to participate in the raunchiness that accompanied a medley of the songs We Can’t Stop, Blurred Lines, and Give It 2 U, with 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar jumping in later on. The twitterverse, the blogosphere, the whole mundo seemed to explode.
With plenty of psychobabble, feminists then cried out both in favor (in HuffPost as in other venues, some condemned the “slut-shaming” and the double standards of gender sexuality) and against. Several female African American bloggers spoke of racism and/or of coopting Black culture (memo to these ladies: all the dancers with Cyrus were African American, and no one, as far as I know, put a gun to their heads to do what they did, plus, what she coopted, is it really something to be proud of?); Thicke’s mother told the press she wished she could “unsee” what she had seen (cue the violins here); Justin Timberlake came out in Cyrus’ defense (roll eyes); and MTV got what it wanted: tons of press coverage and, pardon the expression, kick-ass ratings.
Waaay too much credit has been given to Cyrus’ act. Much, much more than she deserves, I’d say. ABC News even ran a report about “the science of twerking” (for real), and others have discussed this as the new workout. Whatever. In the end, this… Was. All. An. Act.
Staged, prepared, executed, and approved by the minds at MTV and by Cyrus’ team. Everyone knew what she would be doing. Still, even a writer at New York magazine fell into the trap, calling her number a “minstrel show.”
You want to see a real minstrel show? Tune in to any of the low-budget “comedic” TV shows so popular in Latin culture in which the performers dress up as women to, well, make fun of women; act swishy to insult gays; pepper their jokes with double entendres at every moment; and even don blackface, yes, blackface. Where are the voices of dissent here? Few and far between. Why? Because, 1) many audiences go for this garbage, 2) the TV executives love the ratings. Same thing with the VMAs.
The problem is bigger than Cyrus and her inane antics. In part it has to do with the endemic and irrational obsession of urban culture, both Black and Latino, with the female posterior and its views on women. Something rarely anyone wants to talk about, in or out of those groups.
Check out Flo Rida’s latest video, Can’t Believe It, with Cuban American rapper Pitbull. It is demeaning not just to Black and White women, but to women in general. Punto. And speaking of Pitbull, one of his first hits in the Spanish-language market was called Culo. Where was the outrage from Latina activists here? Can they not criticize him because he is Hispanic?
This year, there was another trashy video obsessed with “booty,” as expressed in DJ Diplo’s Butter’s Theme, featuring Gent & Jawns. By the way: Diplo is Caucasian, so no one here is off the hook. Any simple search of songs and videos on the subject will open up a whole trunk of this stuff, going back years, in both English and in Spanish.
Yes, twerking, just like its Latin cousin perreo, is vulgar, is lewd, and it is hugely popular. Artists exploit these dance forms, the women dance to them, and the crowds holler for them.
If people attending the show on Sunday were so offended by Cyrus’ performance, however, why didn’t they just walk out? Why didn’t they talk to the press and condemn MTV?
Sure, Rihanna gave Cyrus the look of death, while the former Disney tot jumped up and down in a flesh-colored bikini with a big foam hand, and scores of black performers danced dressed up as teddy bears. Some artists tweeted their “shock” but, are we really going to believe that come next year they won’t be there? That they will boycott the network? Please. Sex and crassness sell, no matter the color of the skin or one’s background. They always have. They always will.
There are new documentary projects, but we still need more
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
It seems almost a given that documentaries are forever being made on American and British music. Rockumentaries are nothing new, and nada to be dismissed. They have become part of this country’s musical history, hailing back to 1967, with what is considered a landmark music feature on Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back. Since then, even Oscar winners such as Hollywood director Martin Scorsese have left their mark on them.
In our Spanish-music industry, however, we seem to come up short. I don’t know what accounts for this. Lack of funds? Little interest on the part of Hispanics? Scant profitability for production companies?
This is not to say that we haven’t had documentales on our música.
Miami’s Joe Cardona has been fighting the fight for years, putting out Celia the Queen in 2009, among other musical and non-musical projects. For the Cuban American filmmaker, whom I’ve interviewed over the years, it’s always been a labor of love and a struggle. But he keeps on going.
Luckily, there are people that, like Cardona, and fellow Cuban American actor/musician/producer Andy García (Cachao… Como su ritmo no hay dos, Cachao: Uno más, the TV movie For Love of Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story), Spanish directors and producers Fernando Trueba (Calle 54, the animated flick Chico & Rita), and Carlos Saura (Fados, Flamenco, Flamenco), to name a few, are interested in preserving and promoting the rich and varied musical legacy of Latin music in this country and throughout the world.
This year has brought some good news in that department:
- March brought the release of Cubamerican, a feature-length documentary by first-time director and screenwriter José Enrique Pardo that, although it focuses on what the Cuban revolution did to Cuban society in general and how it affected the family, also pays homage to the rich musical legacy of the Caribbean island with a soundtrack of contemporary sounds composed by also percussionist Carlos José Álvarez, a South Florida native and the son of Cuban immigrants.
- One of Latin America’s biggest and most beloved folk singers, Mercedes Sosa (pictured above), died in 2009, but in a way, she’s come back to life in director/screenwriter Rodrigo Vila’s documentary Mercedes Sosa: La voz de Latinoamérica (Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America). Conceived by her son, Fabián Matus, the film made its debut in the singer’s native country, Argentina, in June, and is expected to travel to other countries. Hopefully it will make it to the U.S. as well so those who don’t know her can be aware of her contributions to Latin music (even to Argentine rock!).
- And on the horizon: the mostly unknown story of one of the best soneros, or improvisational salsa singers, that few today remember, Puerto Rican Chamaco Ramírez (Ramón Luis Ramírez Toro), whose talent was cut short after being gunned down at the age of 41 in The Bronx, New York. His story is the basis of a documentary-in-the-making titled Alive and Kicking: La historia de Chamaco Ramírez.
As we lose performers, musicians, composers – another jazz, Latin and Caribbean music master, New York-born Puerto Rican drummer and percussionist Steve Berrios, passed away at the end of July – a lot of that history goes to the grave with them, and we are all poorer for it.
More documentaries are needed to rescue and present to new generations all that Latinos have contributed to the world’s music scene. Maybe instead of spending so much money on telenovelas, or time, energy, and publicity on inane reality shows, our networks could focus a bit more on the people that really made a difference and made us dance, sing, and feel alive.
The controversial leader regulates what music gets airtime in his country.
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Name the last time you heard a singer from Ecuador on the airwaves (besides Christina Aguilera, whose dad is from that South American nation, or 80s rapper Gerardo’s hit song Rico Suave). For that matter, when was the last time an Ecuadorean heard a singer from Ecuador on that country’s radio?
Well, Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa is intent on changing that.
Last June, Ecuador’s National Assembly passed (and the president ratified) a media bill called the Ley Orgánica de Comunicación (The Organic Communications Law). Supporters say it will diversify the information landscape, protect children, indigenous communities, and other groups from media exploitation, and rescue the beleaguered Ecuadorean music industry, decimated by commercial tunes from other countries (i.e., mostly the United States) and thus incapable of competing against multinationals.
Critics predict it will shut down private broadcasters à la Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, strangle freedom of speech by regulating forums on the Internet, TV and print media, and force radio stations to play a percentage of national music to the detriment of foreign music.
The left-leaning Correa has not been shy about waging a war on media outlets and individuals that he deems corrupt. In Argentina, a similar attack has been launched by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the country’s president, particularly against the conglomerate Grupo Clarín. The tune in all of these moves is very similar: a so-called “democratization” of information, even if that means muzzling the opposition. So there’s ample reason to be nervous about the intents of this type of legislation.
But let’s assume for a moment that Correa doesn’t want to play DJ in chief. If, and that is a big if, the law’s good parts (and there are some), and specifically the one that relates to music, do regenerate the industry and create a burgeoning scene of talent, local performers could benefit.
Singers like Danilo Parra (pictured above) and Juan Fernando Velasco would have a better chance to compete on the air, and since radio programmers now have to fill their shows with lots of homegrown talent – at least 50 percent of all content has to be national – there would be opportunities for record labels to pop up, studios to open their doors to local performers, and with time, perhaps there could even be an infrastructure that would allow for Ecuadorean artists to travel and be recognized abroad, as has been the case with Colombia, a musical powerhouse. All this of course comes nicely wrapped in a package of nationalism that, as Correa does so well, quickly veers off into populism. And that’s where the danger in this resides.
Several years ago, acclaimed singer and composer Gian Marco moved back to his native Peru after launching his international career from Miami. He told me in an interview that not only did he want to be close to his family and raise his children there, but also that he wanted to help develop the Peruvian music industry. And that he has done, teaching, recording, performing.
As that country’s economy has continued to grow during the governments of the last three presidents, poverty has been substantially reduced, and many parts of the capital city of Lima have been refurbished. Restaurants, clubs, pubs, and other venues where artists can perform have opened in these now trendy areas.
Which approach then is better, Ecuador’s or Peru’s? Time will tell, but Peru has not had to resort to such strict measures to ensure that its talent gets recognition.
Helping make Latin music cool way back when
Recognition of another kind deserves a singer unknown by many young music lovers today and by radio stations, and mostly forgotten by the industry as a whole, Eydie Gorme (pictured below), who passed away on August 10 at age 84.
What’s interesting about this Sephardic Jewish American performer from the Bronx (born Edith Gormezano, of Turkish and Spanish parents), who grew up speaking Spanish, and found success as part of the famous duet Steve & Eydie and as a solo artist, is that much of that success was Latin oriented, Spanish-language oriented. So sí, way before anybody talked about today’s Anglo artists singing in Spanish, Gorme, like a few others before her, had done it.
Gorme’s biggest hit in the English-speaking market was the 1963 non-Brazilian sounding (in spite of its title) Blame it on the bossa nova, but she also hit it big in Spanish in 1964 with Amor, which she recorded with the famous Mexican trio Los Panchos. Her éxito was so big, that she even outsold her output in English. Let’s see someone today try that.
Latin music went to the dogs these past few months
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
It wasn’t just Hollywood’s blockbusters bombing left and right this summer.
Commercial Latin music continued its creative decline into near bankruptcy while its counterparts in the English-language market saw success and variety (if not necessarily quality).
In Spanish-language music across the States, though, what did we have? Not much.
No canción del verano, or the summer song that really had everyone excited.
No new artist to become enormously popular.
No trend that could herald the next big thing in our música.
No mega tour that enthralled audiences from coast to coast.
Instead, we lived through a season of duds and scandals and the shocking death of a radio personality, all rocking the Latin entertainment industry.
- The sudden illness, coma, and death (reports blamed a bacterial infection) on Wednesday, August 7, of one of Miami’s most durable and popular radio personalities, Ecuadorean Betty Pino, stunned the city’s artistic and radio-listening community. Pino (pictured above), affectionately known as the “Queen of radio,” from Univision’s Amor 107.5 FM station, was instrumental in helping launch the careers of such Latin icons as Julio Iglesias, Raphael, and Dyango in the U.S.
- Puerto Rican Bronx diva J. Lo performing, yet again, for a despot; this time, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, of Turkmenistan, and then feigning ignorance. (Plus now we are being bombarded with news that she may be returning to TV’s exhausted American Idol. Yawn.)
- Christina Aguilera, half-Ecuadorean, moving from a fun and ubiquitous hit like Cuban American rapper Pitbull’s Feel This Moment to a dreadful telenovela theme, a new cover of 1975’s Hoy tengo ganas de ti, with Mexican crooner Alejandro Fernández. What is it with all these performers who sing catchy and danceable pop songs in English, yet when they sing in Spanish they feel they have to dig up old saccharine-laden love songs that few care about?
- Enough mediocre Hispanic reality TV shows and awards shows to overdose on and end up throwing the televisor out the window.
- Scandal after escándalo: Puerto Rican merengue star Elvis Crespo going loco at a restaurant, drinking too much, inappropriately kissing a husband and wife, embarrassing himself to no end, etc., and finally admitting he suffers from a severe alcohol problem; Mexican L.A. radio icon Piolín being accused of sexual harassment by a man, finally putting out in the open years of rumors about his alleged homosexuality; and, lost in all this commotion, what was perhaps an even more unbelievable story, the allegations of sexual harassment by two female employees against Puerto Rican American Tomas Cookman, a Spanish-language rock giant, artistic manager extraordinaire, and founder of one of the few remaining innovative Latin music companies around, Nacional Records.
After this season of our discontent, however, we can look forward to some rays of light. Thus, expect to hear:
- Young, up-and-coming, Justin Bieber-like Cuban American singer from Ohio Anthony De La Torre, artistically known as De La Torre, releasing his debut EP, De La Torre Volumen 1, later this month. Renowned music producer and composer Desmond Child produced the album, while Cuba’s hip hop star X Alfonso directed the video for the first single, No Te Entiendo.
- At the other end of the age spectrum, 85-year-old Cuban master of the trumpet Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros enjoying a much-deserved comeback (there are not that many Afro-Cuban legends still alive) with an album dedicated to him, Zon de Chocolate, in which he is also featured, and his expected participation in a musical homage honoring his deceased friend and colleague Arsenio Rodríguez in San Francisco at the end of the month.
- The slow but steady artistic growth of Miami-based Argentine singer Ariel Nan, who is premiering a video on the 9th, Enloqueciendo, on the CNN en Español network.
- And the unique collaboration of two Portuguese-language groups, New York City’s Nation Beat and Recife’s Estrela Brilhante, joining forces in “A Tale of Two Nations” tour, which brings to the forefront a rhythm from the northern parts of Brazil known as maracatu de nação, which revels in its intoxicating mix of African, indigenous, carnaval, and religious sounds. Expect performances in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.
So not all is lost. After a summer of grim news and disappointments, there are some things to look forward to in the fall.