Monday, August 8, 2011

"SALSA" A phenomenon in New York City,...The glorious 70’s

Before you read this very long mini novel of my perceptions of what it was like in the good old 70's. I just want for anyone reading this, that I am not a writer or a Historian. This is just my perception of what I lived during that glorious era. What I saw. How I interpreted what was happening and how it all have evolved in my memory now.

In the 1930'S, 40'S and 50'S, Cubans in New York, living among many Latinos from Puerto Rico and elsewhere, played their own distinctive styles of Cuban music,  influenced most importantly by African American music. Their music included son and guarachas, as well as tango, bolero, rumba, mambo and danzones, with prominent influences from jazz.
While the New York scene continued evolving, Cuban's popular music, especially mambo music, became extremely popular across the United States. Albeit, it was at the old Palladium in NYC, where this music and this dancing style became popular. - This was followed by a series of other types of Cuban music, which substantially affected the Latin scene in New York City.

I had  seen or read somewhere, that The word "SALSA" is an excellent ”metaphor” for a genre of music that emerged as a result of mixing; Cuban-based rhythms played mostly, by Puerto Ricans in New York City! - What salsa is…” A sauce”, helped to clarify the cultural and musical atmosphere of New York City during the late 1960's, and 1970's. What it is not, is a rhythm.  -Nonetheless, when we refer to Salsa and its birthplace, we cannot totally ignore the true origin of these rhythms (Cuba) or also ignores every other country that has contributed to the popularization of the "salsa" phenomenon in New York City.
Many people have written numerous articles on this subject, and while I agreed with some of them, I disagreed with others. Why? Because I was there, not as a musician, or a record producer, or a seasoned promoter… I was there, as a young Latina, salsa and Latin Jazz lover, an amateur music collector,  a dancer,  a chance promoter and as a young person, from that era. Now, when I read  the work of others so called "Salsa Historians" and I don't agree with the way their topic is exposed, or I find the information is wrong, it's because, the fact is that I was there, right in the heart of the salsa movement. Many of my girlfriends, looked way better than many of the females jet setters of that time. As per myself.... I already wrote it. I knew how to put myself together. Have always been good at dressing well. Others called me a "Fashionista"  this is very important, if you wanted to go places, then in our Latin world,  you have to look good, meaning have a good physique, dress well, know how to have a good rapport with just anyone. Really have knowledge of  the music and their interpreter and be a good or fair dancer. These were the salsa scene's survivals tools, in order to really be in the "IN CROWD"  We were out every single day of the week. Sometimes, we frequented new places just to check them out, then we would head out to our regular places. One important fact, I would like to state here is that, we never paid any admission fee. All the club owners in NYC and NJ were honored to be graced by out presences. We were very great looking, classic Latinas. Where ever we went. We called people's attentions. We were really popular.  We were  privileged to meet many of the Salsa's forefathers. Some of them we called our friends. Nestor Sanchez, was a very good friend. At the beginning, Nestor wanted to be more than just a friend. I made sure we kept a clean and very loyal friendship. To me the "Albino Maravilloso was one of the greatest salsa's crooners of our times, however, in the matters of the hearts, he didn't touch a note in mine. a few years, I dated a very well known crooner much older and darker than him. Well, that is just the way life is, we don't have control of our heart. This other crooner was not better looking than Nestor. They definitively had different looks. 

I would like to give you a description of the NYC of that time in our history....

To better describe NYC at the end of the 60’S it's my opinion that  Allan Tannenbaum did a remarkably sturdy piece of journalism, in his article New York in the 70s.  A Remembrance, (February 2004). The following is an excerpt from his skilful and highly detailed article; Dirty, dangerous, and destitute. This was New York City in the 1970s. The 1960s were not yet over, and war still raged in Viet- Nam, fueling resentment against the government. Nixon and the Watergate scandal created even more resentment, cynicism, and skepticism. Economically, stagnation coupled with inflation created a sense of malaise.
The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 delivered another blow to the U.S. economy, and brought the strain of long lines to buy gasoline.

Conditions in Harlem and Bed- Stuy  were horrendous, with abandoned buildings and widespread poverty. The subways were covered everywhere with horrible graffiti, and they were unreliable. It seemed as if the entire infrastructure were in decline. Political corruption, sloppy accounting, and the cost of the war were killing the city. The times Square, the crossroads of the world, was seedy and sleazy. Pimps, hookers, and drug dealers owned the night there. 

Crime was rampant, and the police were powerless to stop it. The random killings by the “Son of Sam” made New Yorkers even more alarmed...  -The parks were in decay with litter, and without lawns, and there were perfect  home to muggers, and rapists. When the proud City of New York had to beg the Federal Government for a financial bail-out, the President said no. The Daily News headline said it all: “Ford to City – Drop Dead.”

Although today it  may seem so far-removed, and I am  thinking it was  long ago. These  words  written by "Allan Tannenbaum", describe  vividly clear what NYC was actually like before–.... It is difficult to imagine!
The war was still rampant in Nam, for  lots of us that , although, were not fighting the war there, we were fighting our own battles, right here, in the street of NYC.
In our ghettos’...  It was a challenge just walking to and from home! - These were the days that the Bronx ,and Brooklyn  were both on FIRE.... BURNING! One can not recognize these places, or relate  to them with what they were like back in the 70's-.
We often tripped over hypodermic needles, and fighting off the hookers and the petty dealers  back then, was a daily task.... It was awful... For me in particular, was a double whammy.... I arrived  to this country in my early teens. Coming from an upper middle class family, and having been in boarding school, since the age of 6 until the age of 11, put me in a very difficult situation, once our plane landed in this beautiful country we all love and call AMERICA THE GREAT.....

Our plane left the beautiful Capital City of Santo Domingo and our beautiful home and neighborhood, This was due to another story I wrote, about what my famiy had to endured during the latest years of the Trujillo's regime.  Rafael Leonida Trujillo Molina, That Dominican Dictator, that Vargas Llosa, the peruvian writter, essayist, politician and collegue professor,  described as the worse tyrant and oppressor of the late 20th century. 
This tyrant felt my father was a treat to his dictatorship....  After my family collaborated with  his regime, for so many years.. From the early 50's ,my father was the Director of custom and my mother worked at the presidential Palace. Our family was very well respected and many of my father's cousins were intellectuals, writers and Trujillo that ha no schooling, used to like to be seen among the prominents  and intellectuals families, which he called his friends.

To our disgrace, one day he discovered that my uncles, that were already here since the late 1940's, founded " THE CLUB DEPORTIVO DOMINICANO."  My uncles along with others Dominicans living here that were part of our extended families, and closed friends, founded this club, as a place for cultural event. One day they invited Jesus De Galindez, for one of the cultural events. El Proffesor Don Jesus De Galidez, was living here in exiled, was a professor at Columbia university, was a prominent, intellectual and a Dominican, nationalist. Trujillo considered, one of his worse enemies. He feared, intellect and education, because, although he was smart, he lacked  an academy education, and social grace. Which later on he learned, by associating himself with all the families, I already mentioned, that were known for being pillars of intelligence and intellect.

 I arrive in this country near the early  60's, right in the middle of all the socials and cultural issues, this country was facing... President Kennedy, has just been assassinated. We found a country in mourning. This was sad to the eyes and mind of a child my age. Never knew anything about segregation, what it meant, how to spelled it Well I found it here. A few months in this country. I added to my list of heroes which were vast. I already mentioned, I came from a musical, intellectual and political familiy.....

 So I was reading about the Cuban Revolution. (this was without my parent's knowledge) El che Guevara was my number one idol, I knew , just everything, It was out there for anyone to know, Marx and Lennin with their communist philosophy. Malcom  X, Dr. King, Mahatma Gaadhi, was already a very well known figuere. It was one of my father's Idols, along with many other great men and women of that time.  So to end this little introduction on my background and where I was mentally when I arrived here. From that very rich culture and my beautiful island.
Coming from that wealth in culture and a good living, straight without any stop, to the South Bronx, and all the old and decaying tenement's buildings. That, my friends, was a real culture shock, for anyone, no matter how old they were.... From my first week of school, I got beaten up, by a group of African American girls, in those days we called them "BLACK" As, you all know we have new names, for just about everything. By the time I was in school for five weeks, the beatings increased. It was the second time in my life, that I discovered what hate and being a victim of ignorance was.  I was well groomed, dressed like what I was, an upper class Dominican. spoke a very refined and vast Castellano. I grew up in Catholic schools. In my country, the nuns, in these rich schools for young ladies that I attended. It was their jobs to raised us to be first ladies.  So unbeknownst to me, and at such a young and tender age,  I came from "Paradaise Island " to the "Belly of the beast"

Thanks God that I had many cousins. Some of the Boricuas girl in the school, came to my aid. Till today, they are the sisters, I never had,  I would get home and for months, all I would do was cried. I was beaten up, just for being different, for being what they called me a 'HICK"  I idn't speak English also. So this was my crime.

 A year later, I was the one giving the beatings. Everyone in Tiffany and 161st street, knew Carmen Cepeda was no one to play with, I was mean. I had one of those heavy dutty bats, and I used it few times. Enough........ NO MORE ABUSE.... By then, I had all the guys fighting for me. Like I learned from a very young age, It is a plus in life, if you have good looks, are  intelligent, resourceful, skillful, and educated, it 's the ultimate combination. All the girls wanted to be seen with me. The guys, followed me for a long time, even until I was married.  My English was still not very good looking, however, I exposed these young people to my many knowledge on all these Philosophies. My musical background was a tool, that was what really rocketed me to what  we could call the top in those days. 

 Well, now you know  how I had to integrated in this great society. I really thanks God for this change in my young live. I learned about bigotry, prejudice, hate, envy, ignorance and all the capitals sins and evilness that exist in this world. For most people, we are really introduced to this, at a very young age. These are the factors, that are going to determine how we are going to be as adult. They either make you or brake you.  It all depends in the individual. For me, it was a blessing, I have always been an advocated for justice, equality, social justice and have always stand in defense of a victim, no matter where I am. I have been in the subway, and I had exercised what I call it's my God's given right to help the helpless, like I was once..... 

For the most part even, with all the socials issues, the war ,the crimes. For most young people growing up in those times of social awareness, and above all for us Latinos here in NYC, it was the beginning of a musical revolution that we were not aware was going to make such a worldly impact. A new music that was going to break every frontier and was going to make people equal, just for the love of this music. Never did I fathom, or any of my friends and cousins,  that we were to bear witness to what was going to be known as SALSA , and we were to be lifetime's SALSEROS. While other ethnics groups of all races, creed, skin colors and nationalities, would all  be united for the love of this music.

These were bittersweet days. ...While we were young and living a carefree life, amid, the poverty and the destruction of our communities due to the drug war. Most of us, Blacks and Latinos,  had family members  and friends  fighting the war in Nam. Many of them not much older than us, were returning home in black  boxes, or missing limbs. -This was disheartening, eerie and unreal for anyone that was at that time, not only a minority (It was really us the  minority that was sent to the front) it was quite daunting for anyone a little older than 14 years of age. This was actually the age of all young SALSEROS. Even the young Icons of Salsa such as The Palmieri, Orlando Marin, Ray Barreto, Willie Colon, and many others started playing music and forming little musical group at that age.

By 1966, I was working after school, in my family factory in the garment center. I was making $12.00 a week. I used to head out to casa Amadeo in prospect Avenue, to buy my music. I used to make a list from  spend $6.While we were dancing to the music of Joe Quijano and his Pachanga, Pacheco , Jose Fajardo, Puppy Lagarreta, and tjeir charangas. We also dance to early Newyork chachacha sound of Ray Barreto, Pacheco, Mongo Santamaria, The mambo from the Mambo Kings, Machito and the Tito's, Jose Curbelo. Pete Rodriguez and his Boogaloo, Joey Pastrana, Joe Cuba with Jimmy and Cheo  Dancing to the chachacha , La lupe was a big star. We danced to all the Boleros, of Santito Colon, Vitin Aviles, Pellin Rodriguez, Cortijo and Maelo were big hit in NY an PR, La Sonora poncena Rodriguez was every young girl dream, his boleros were what we call in spanish ' CORTAS VENENA"  wich means cutting your vains. and all the Afro Cuban's rhythm. We still never hear the term SALSA, or the new sound of this music. so different to all the other rhythm... We were hearing this new sound in the street by the many groups of young artist coming out of el Barrio and the Boogie down Bronx.  While Fania had been on existence since 1964, it was not until 1968, that many of my cousins, friends and myself, stated buying music by that label. 

 came the"SALSA", and that for us young Latinos in NYC, it obviously became sort of a cause. It was our revolution. - Our generation of NYC Latinos, the majority of us, we were not into fighting any war, communism, socialism or anything. We were just radical; we were not fanatic, extremist, or militant. -Our main purpose was our easy going attitudes, and fun and games lifestyles. Many of us, didn't work unless it was quite necessary, never went to church nor did we care about saving. School for many was a place to hang out, to meet people, to learn how to dance this new music "SALSA",  to demonstrate against the war, and many of the civil right issues of that time. Nevertheless, we actually were not too passionate about anything, until SALSA came to our world.

We used illegal drugs and listened to rock and roll  and funk music. Our generation, With its radical beliefs and practices. We stunned America's in many ways. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movements, they made a tremendous impact on the American society, and the world as we knew it... Even today the effects of that era are still felt. Although we were so extreme, and lead such a carefree life, we made tremendous advantages and set examples for the youth of today and years to come.

SALSA came as a way of giving us some hope., It was a musical identity for  the young Latinos living in New York City, and a small group of non-Latinos.  - It actually gave us a reason; it allowed us to discover something new, to interact with other young people, to feel free of the guilt from all the death images coming from the television, and many of the funerals we attended in our neighborhood.    
Many of these young people dying in the war, they were people we knew, school mate, closed friends, relatives, brothers and sisters;  all fighting an unknown war with no purpose or a sense of a cause, dying for something that they did not want to fight or die for. - Oh what a waste! What a responsibility for a generation of flower's children! -We preached LOVE not Hate, PEACE no WAR, in spite of living in such a troubled nation, divided by racial issues. Our  young men  were living in fear of being drafted... - "The draft" was used by the United States government to force young adult men into uniform to fight the raging war on Vietnam. With the growing anti-Vietnam war protests in the 1960s , there was a growing general disillusionment with American middle class material progress, with the "keeping up with the Joneses mentality" and the general emptiness of American life.

As alienated kids protested, grew their hair and smoked their pot, they began to reorder their lives and some of them "dropped out" of school and traditional careers to pursue different styles of living. These included more sexual freedom, less work, less ambition, and more being stoned or "high," more meditation and thoughtfulness, more bicycle riding, more walking and more hitch-hiking. These kids and young adults became known as "hippies." Of course, no one quite knew what a "hippie" truly was, so you just smiled when someone asked you if you were a "hippie." Many of the hippies were ostensibly apolitical or nonpolitical.

- The Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, February 9, 1964.... - In 1959, Berry Gordy -- a one-time assembly line worker at Ford Motor Company,  founded a Detroit-based record company called Motown.  By 1963, Motown became the most successful black-owned record company in the history of American music.  Motown had a stable of vocal groups, songwriters, musicians. 
The music was an attempt to reflect upon the events of the time --- civil rights, the growing unrest over the war in Vietnam, and the rise of feminism.  In many instances, the "message" within the song was simplistic or even banal.  However, other songs received substantial airplay and became "anthems" at concerts, rallies, and demonstrations.  The most prominent artists to emerge from the folk tradition include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and the trio known as Peter, Paul, and Mary.

While all of these changes were happening in New York City, throughout the early 60's and way up to the 70's, i  America and the world..What was happening in our Latino world in NYC? - Quite a lot!!  -New York was, is and will remain a melting pot for centuries to come, and we cannot single out one group as the center of the musical universe. El Barrio, as well as The Palladium Ballroom in downtown Manhattan, are both essential places in the development of the salsa  music, but they are not the birthplace of "salsa". 
There was a time up to the 1960, when, old school musicians and salseros can still remember there was no such terms as "SALSA", and when everybody played, and danced to Cuban music.

These were the days of the Boleros, all over Latin America, South and Central, the Caribbean. These were times, when most of the musical talents were coming from Cuba, as well as other places in Latin America. 

 There was indeed a wealth of talent in our music coming out of the radios, it was not uncommon to hear the leading voices, of Benny More, Blanca Rosa Gil, Olga Guillot, Felipe Pirela, Marco Antonio Muniz, Gilberto Monroig, Daniel Santo, Celio Gonzalez, Orlando Contrera, La Sonora Matancera, Panchito Riset, Roberto Faz, Sexteto La Playa, Chano Pozo, Machito, Vicentico Valdez, Rolando La serie (El guapachoso) etc. The mid 60’s, in New York City brought a new generation of young musicians with different,  contagious, and sensual rhythms, and movement. 

Of these accomplished musicians that started to revolutionized our music as we knew it back then in the mid 60's,  we had the  like of Joe Cuba, with his boogaloo, Joe Quijano with his Pachanga, Orlando Marin, with the acclaimed hit " Se quemo la casa" El Gran Combo had integrated some serious boogaloo, Cortijo y su combo singing Ismael Rivera, have taken the Latin America world by storm, Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puentes and Machito were the Kings of NY, La Lupe was the Queen Of Latin Soul. Mon Rivera was "El Trabalengua(Tongue twister)
" Mambo was extremely jazz-influenced".  -It  was the mambo popular bands that kept alive the large jazz ensemble tradition, while the mainstream movement of jazz was moving on to the smaller bands of the bebop era.  Throughout the 1950's, Latin dance music, such as mambo music, rumba and cha cha cha was mainstream, popular music in the United States and Europe. However, the 50s also saw a decline in popularity for mambo popular bands, followed by the Cuban Revolution of 1959. It was then, that the leading bands started declining…… So the golden years of the Mambo Kings bands, was coming to an end by the end of the 60’s.

  Before 1963, we never hear the Word SALSA. We only knew it as a cooking ingredient. The 60’s certainly gave us a variation in dancing styles.

We still had the mambo. In addition,  we were still dancing the chat, cha, cha, Rumba and the Cuban Habaneros. However, we were presented with new, fresh, and  sultry and seductive rhythms such as charanga, Malanga, Pachanga, Boogaloo, Latin Jazz and a new sexier style of dancing the older Son Cubano, we got the son montuno.

Ah, Salsa, Salsa, Salsa…. This was our street music. Born in our ghetto’s… It was “Our thing” it brought hope, yes it did… Salsa has been from the first time I listened to the first salsa tune, a source of healing, comfort, contentment. My personal views about this music, is extremely intense, to me is like a direct contact with something divine. It's more than a religion; it's more like a philosophy, a way of living. -Its lyrics and the African beat give my soul a sense of freedom.

This sultry sound of salsa gave us young Latinos in NYC a new sense of normality. It gave us hope and a new way to describe our generation-  While the adults in our families, in our communities were conservative, hard working, and caring mostly,  about money, We didn’t care about any of that. We were party animals!!
Before they called it “SALSA”, many musicians in New York had already explored the possibilities of doing some experimentation blending Cuban rhythms with jazz, an example of this music, was played quite often before in the 1940’s by Cuban legends, Machito and his brother in Law, Mario Bauzá. 
This mixture was known as the "Afro-Cuban jazz," This music was obviously for dancing. The Latin big-band era in New York City, found favor with dancers and listeners alike. - With the bands of the Mambo Kings, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Machito, Jose Curbelo, Orlando Marin and many other Cuban musicians of that era. These musicians were fervently committed to playing for the most part, Cuban music in the '50's —.  While this was happening in New York City, back in the Island of Puerto Rico, Rafael Cortijo, along with singer Ismael Rivera got the island's dancers moving to their own genres such as the bomba and the plena.
 By the mid 60’s, Johnny Pacheco founded the Fania Label, with the help of Jerry Masucci (An Italian lawyer). Johnny Pacheco was by then an accomplished musician, he had a Charanga Orchestra, was a producer and composer. Among the first artists to record on Pacheco's Fania labels were Nuyorican trombonist/composer Willie Colón and Panamanian-born singer/composer Rubén Blades, both stamped and carved a pivotal role in salsa music history.  -This was partly for their socially conscious and topical lyrics. Some examples of this music, was, El malo, Abuelita, Calle Luna Calle Sol, by Willie , and Siembra, Juan Pachanga, Chica plastica by Ruben. -They also paved the way for many other young Latinos to get into this new wave, new sound “SALSA...”.

According to what I read about the Fania Label, it was totally dedicated to recording tropical music. To my way of thinking this revolution, and yes indeed... Salsa was a revolution, a big moment that started in NYC , and spread all over Latin America and the Antilles. - Main reason it came about, was because of the Cuban situation, and the  conflicts with Castro, where the United Stated, simply cut any relationship with Cuba.
 This political situation between these two countries, impacted the music industry and all the Cuban musicians. It was also felt all over the world. This effect was not only intended to influence them politically, besides the music, it also affected the art and culture. Nevertheless, it was no longer possible to call Afro-Cuban, to anything related to any music that had any Cuban influence.

Sometime in the 1970, I think,  it was in Latin New York Magazine, where I read an article, which actually bother me, and in a way made me a little mad and disappointed in the views and ways of thinking of Tito Puentes. -  I  obviously don’t remember who was the author of the article. It was either  Izzy Zanabria, or perhaps, it  was someone else. -  This article was relating, how Tito Puente’s was refusing to call this new music "SALSA". The article cited how he (Tito Puentes) felt about this music, his feelings towards the boogaloo. His views, were extremely negative, at that time, he was not supporting it “ He said that  this new music was nothing less than the combination of all the old Cuban’s Rhythms and some new arrangement..... He was right, in many ways! - Salsa music didn't invent the wheel! However, this was a new sound, it was not mambo, cha-cha, son montuno etc. Therefore, it deserves a proper name.  He was refusing to give credit to all these new , young,  talented musicians, which were emerging mostly from New York City. His attitude was pretty much, the same as he carried, during the Palladium's days, with all the other legend.

I certainly don't want to say anything negative about an extremely well known, loved and respected, timbalero, producer and an extremely  talented musician  which most Latinos and Non-Latinos called the KING-. He  earned that title hard and fair- There is no doubt about how marvellous Tito Puentes was. Just like Tito, these young musicians were the descendants of Puerto Ricans. Tito shared with these young musicians, their musical talent, and  many of these young men were from  El Barrio just like Tito.

The new generation of young musicians had come up with a totally different concept, and deserved to be recognized and supported. They made a significant contribution to our "SALSA"  These are the names of some of the fathers of our Latin music, Willie Colon, Joe Cuba, Joe Pastrana, the Parlmieri's brothers, Ray Barreto, Louie Ramirez, and many others that will take much room for me to log in this article.

Then, came the 1970, these were the days that the Fania was at its peak, everyone in New York was talking about the Fania. In addition to the Fania, which was the main record label. There were other labels, such as Cotique, Tico records, Alegres, Coco records, Inca, etc.. Furthermore, most of New York Salseros were only familiar with the Fania label.

The Fania has several artists, and these were the musicians, we, the young  salseros wanted to go and see  playing live, and dance to their music; Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, Celia Cruz, Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Bobby Rodríguez y la Compania, Willie Rosario, Chivirico Davilas, Kako, Ismael Miranda, Junior Gonzalez,  Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, Tommy Olivencia with  Chamaco Ramirez, Marvin Santiago, Willie Rosario, Roberto Roena and his Apollo Sound,  Rhapy Levvit, Frankie Dante and Markolino, Santiago Ceron, El Gran Combo, Ismael Rivera, La Sonora Poncena, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Pete "El Conde Rodriguez, Hector Casanova, Tito Allen, Adalberto Santiago, Tipica 73, and so many others, that we could possibly fill a three page list. By the mid 70’s, Salsa was changing the way people listened and danced to Latin music.

This music and, this dance  was so contagious,  and catching, that it was spreading all over New York, some parts of the United State, Europe, Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean island, Japan,  all these people all over the world were treated to this new sound. Puerto Rico became the Central figure in this revolution. It contributed to produce some of the best interpreter to this new genre.

What was new and contagious about this new sound everyone was calling SALSA ? …- While Cuban clave remained as the heartbeat of the music, there are four main factors in how it became its own genre: the important role of the Cuban timbales in the ensemble, the modern harmony associated with jazz musicians increased use of trombones, and the incorporation of Puerto Rican rhythms, instruments and stylistic elements.

Even" though",  our city was dying with all the social diseases of that era, and the impact of the war, all the embargoes, Watergate and a complete list of issues that were clearly of not importance to us, including  the young Latinos, that had just emigrated to this mecca, and were now calling it home. -  Oh  New York City! - The city of wonder!! How powerful this city appeared to the innocent eyes of our youth... NEW YORK CITY!...- We never imagined such an incredible  sunrise!! A fun day would be to get on the subway from the Bronx, head out downtown, where we just walked around the city and watch it in motion, people going to work, people at work… It felt so right. It was quite active in the summertime, so much to do. We would walk past neighborhoods, and see kids at play, then,  we would go past high skyscrapers, downtown Manhattan, would  walk long blocks and wonder around "Times Square".    
 We would venture into  Coney Island, then would return to the Bronx. Many times we used to  hang out the whole night in Crotona Park or just any street in the South Bronx or South of Brooklyn, listening to the music of Joe Gaine, dancing in the park, in the streets. We pretty much went everywhere. While pondering in these days of my youth,  I just couldn’t fathom, living anywhere else on the planet – I’ve never felt unsafe in the city.....

Rubén Blades once said, “Salsa would remain as one of the world's most influential music and dance genres in the decades to come.” - Oh the 70’s …. These were unquestionably the glorious days of this music. There was salsa everywhere you went- In the streets of New York…. The Bronx was baptized “El Condado de la Salsa”  (The salsa county). The salsa was blasting out of every radio. There were more clubs, discotheques and after- hours that it was humanly possible to attend.

  I frequented every club that existed in NYC in those days. Beginning from the late 60’s, up to the mid 80's when I decided it was high time, to take a break and dedicate my life, my efforts and energy to my marriage, upbringing and care of my young children, and to finished my education and concentrate on my career.

I tried to go to more than four places some nights.... It was hard! All over the city, the Latin clubs were featuring live music. In any typical Friday or Saturday night, Willie Colon with Hector  could be Playing at the Corso, while at the Hipocampo was Adalberto Santiago y los Kimbos, and Charanga 76. Then at the Chez sensual, was perhaps, Angel Canales, at Boombamakao, it was Chivirico Davilas,  or Joe Cuba with  Cheo Feliciano.Then Casablanca with Machito as the house bands, after that it was another band,  like conjunto clasico, Roberto Roena or Sonora Poncena.-- It was indeed, a task, a big chore just choosing where to go first-. Many of us frequented  more than one club in any given nigh. Once the clubs were  closed, then we all head out to the after hours. These after-hours joint (The only classic one was Pozo in el Barrio) made the way for the new DJ's era. In time this led to the dissolving of many NYC bands due to the lack of work.

Then came  the summer time! - Oh my Gosh.....- What a pleasure it was to wake up, drenched in sweat ! - Yes we took showers in the middle of the night...Why?  I certainly, can say that as far as I can recall, Latinos didn't own air conditioners!.. This is just my perception of that time, maybe everyone I knew was just extremely limited or unusually cheap - Every house you went there were none.... It was just ordinary old fans, they used to sell them in 3rd Ave, I never saw an AC in the " Boogie down" old Bronx.... Well, despite the heat wave, that we always  had during that great decade, the summer was a period of unstopping parties all over, every day of the week. -The weekends, they were just AWESOME!.. It was "La Montaña del Oso", La fiesta Del Mamoncillo, Las Villas, La Fuente (Central Park) all the free concert in Central Park, Lincoln Center,Most public parks, Orchard beach with their free concerts, and the salsa dura on Saturdays and Sundays. El Barrio was the place, and still until today, it has remain  the place  to go and hang out the entire summer.

Back then and now,  Beginning  from 105th to over 120th, you can just walk around and there would be an all day rumba where you can  dance, and have the most fantastic time of your life without spending a dime. A can of soda was enough( back then, we didn't have the commercial bottle water yet). In the Bronx, every park, was swinging with salsa and the young people dancing it. -Sometimes we would have ours siblings, cousins or  friends throw us in the POMPAS (fire hydrant),although many times we got quite upset, because they got us all wet... Now,  when I reflect on that time, all I could say is;  IT WAS JUST PLAIN FUN!!! -In the mid 70's , this summer crazed in NYC, prompted the Gran Combo to record what has become a classic of all times," UN VERANO EN NUEVA YORK". This classic song, really defines a NYC summer, specially in the 70's.

To me, this was a great wealth of musical and dance culture, and our generation was privileged  to bear witness to this movement in our history..SALSA!

How was it possible for a young person,  to choose, where to go dancing, and stay there the whole night, while somewhere else there was an explosion of rhythm, with another great Orquesta, group or bands. There was not a shortage of things to do or places to go...Some of us, were as young as 15 years of age, ID's were not required at the clubs. No wonder, sometimes, we got into so much trouble.
It was hard to choose to have a career, to try and get an education when all of this was happening in NYC. -I found that even keeping a relationship was difficult.  There was really too much happening. -On my part, I can say, I did it all in half in those days, part time school, part time work, part time sleep, part time eating, while it was full time clubbing, swinging and dancing. There was just not time...

In addition to the Clubs and discotheque, there were the after-hours..... OMG,  the after-hours!!!  These were quite shady places in New York City, places that operated without any kind of licenses or certifications! That was the old New York City… These places usually opened at 4:00 am every weekend until 10:00 or 11:00 am, the next day which was either Saturday or Sunday.. The only reputable and excellent after hours, I knew of, was Pozo in El Barrio. Albeit,no matter how dubious theses places were, they were quite keen, their DJ’s were the best, the music was always awesome In those days instead of” awesome” we used to say “groovy” or everything else that was happening, was VACANO. In these after-hours is where we had the pleasure of dancing with the best salsa dancers in NYC!
These were the days, that crashing parties were a skill.... Nonetheless, we all had fun... Had it not been because the Viet Nam war, I guess, life would have been 100% trouble free. Those house parties were “THE BEST. “ Free food, free liquor, and a “free head”. - They were extremely popular, and every weekend, as well, as the club, We had the temptation of having to crash a party, anywhere in the city..... It didn’t matter, we went everywhere, thanks to the NYC subway system. Our core  values and belief was, “No invitation was needed” and, it didn’t matter how far a subway trip was going to be, the challenge of crashing a fabulous party was worth the trip.

I remember one day I had a party in my apartment in Woodycrest Ave in the Bronx (I was only 21 years of age, and I already had a place in a lovely  area and a beautiful building "Nonan Towers" by the Yankee Stadium, with a doorman. Well,  I was already an ambitious young woman, had a terrific job working for a Lawyer, was doing Salsa promotions for producers of events. I can really say, I had a fantastic life! (No one at that age, nowadays can afford to keep an apartment and have a car as well) At that party, we were celebrating my cousin Dictelio's 21th Birthday..... I had a large studio apartment, by 11:00 Pm, that night there were over 150 people, 80% of these people I did not know. They were party crashers just like us. Simpy they heard about the party from someone, that knew someone, that there was a party in the Bronx..."Bien Vacano!!! - Vacano or Vacana was a term used for people that were players, good dancers, dressed well, were popular and knew where it was "happening" in NYC. One more requirement to be considered a Vacano or Vacana was to be into the drug culture of those days. vacaneria was everything the Vacano and Vacanas did. -As you can see,  for what is left of many people of that generation today..... THERE WERE MANY VACANO/A....

Because there were so many clubs, after-hours, house party and discotheque. It was certainly too much happening in NYC. Most of the time if you were considered by others,  and though yourself to be a true Vacano or Vacana.-This was a reputation that you had to keep in order to go places in NYC, then,and to be able and fit in with the right crowd, seriously! At least, this was the term used among people in my circle. About my  circle of friends, it was quite extensive..." I knew people from Jersey, I had a sizeable group of friends from Brooklyn and Queens,  many from El Barrio, Washington Height and the Bronx". - To keep a reputation of being "in", we could only stay in a club for no more than 3 hours, then we would head out to the next place. We actually didn't  want anyone telling us the next day, that we missed something, in this place of the other place.

It was in these clubs that we learned about our Latin music, “Our Latin Thing” These are some of the clubs, discotheques and after hours that come to my mind. -It was in some of these places that we, the Latinos’ "Baby Boomers" felt in love for the first time or for the hundreds times. -This is where we learned how to dance salsa, cha cha, charanga, Guaguanco,son cubano, son Montuno, Disco etc....

For many of us, it was at these places that we learned and developed the social skill that have allowed us to interact so well until now, because in these NYC clubs of the "good old 70's, everyone knew each other from somewhere, or they knew your “panas” from your hood (friends) "so", everyone was your friend.

The Chez José, (located at the Hotel Park Plaza, 50 West 77th Street between 8th and Columbus Avenue) The St. George Hotel in Brooklyn, NY,  it was at this place where I danced to more than 10 bands in one night. They started bringing many Latin bands in the mid 60's during the  height days of the boogaloo.- El Hipocampo, Casa Blanca, (this was the place where after they've  closed the Palladium ,the displaced mambo dancers took refuge. Machito, and Graciela were the house's band on Saturdays. After 12am, when Machito finished performing, they brought the charangas band. -The 31/2 times ( this was at the Bronx, near Prospect Ave), Pozo (after hours) it was at this place, that you could dance and mingle with all the stars, such as Pete "El Conde", Casanova, Pacheco, Hector Lavoe, and anyone that was anybody in those days.  'Of course, Pozo would not let you in if he didn't think you were "somebody"  Tu Casa Social Club (after hours) La Mariposa(after hours), La escalera(after hours), The Cheetah, The Red Parrot (in the early 80's) The Chez sensual, Park Plaza, El Dorado, El flamingo, Savoy Manor, Faces inc, Boombamakao, Barnie Google, El Corso, The Roseland(only for large events), the Birdland(Special events only), The Palladium(closed in 1966, sometime open for specific events), The Maganette, Scorpio's Inn, (Discoteque) Hunts Point Palace, Colgate Gardens, Luigis, EL Toro, Terrace Garden, Burnside Manor, The Epoca, Tapestry, El Toro (Castle Hill) The village Gate, The Ipanema, The Corks and Bottle, Casino 14,  The Bronx Casino, Leviticus(Discoteque), The Nest, The original Copacabana, El Caborrojeno (45th and Broadway, in the late 50's to the late 60's, this was the place for many great stars like Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez etc. in the early 70's was a merengue place) Happy Hill Casino( 157th & Broadway( A merengue place of the 70's) Las palmera (Queens, NY, A merengue place)   The Cheetah(57th off 5th ave ,this is where all began) Embassy ballroom, Side Street (early 80's)  Concourse Plaza, Peek -A-Boo Lounge, The Loft (Discoteque, Soho, Prince St) The Stardust Ballroom, The wagon Wheel, El Chico, Ochentas,  La Mancha, Marion Manor,  The New York Casino ( Broadway 96 in the 80's) The Tropicana, Broadway ll, There were also the Disco we frequented in the City, where we dance to the Funk music of that time or discovered the new crazed of the time... DISCO DANCING; Some of the names that come to mind are, the Forbidden Apple, The Santuary, The Fun House, Reflection, The Loft, Starship Discovery 1, Inferno. Disco fever (The Bronx)  The Sound Machine (East 55th street, later on was the Discovery) Bond, Ice Oalace (57th street NY, this was a very exclusive place, I was only able to get in three times, Many big stars frequented this place) Barefoot Boy( 39th street , NY) Adonis (64th and 2nd ave) Adam's Apple(61st and 1st ave) 2001 Odyssey( 64th street in Brooklyn) Well , I am sure there are many others that I don’t remember right now, but there were many more.

The best Salsa radio program was also in this glorious 70’s era... "Symphony Sid" and "The Joe Gaine Express show" ,hosted by Joe Gaine.  I remember the summers, how every street in the Bronx, The south of Brooklyn and El Barrio, the Heights, were "Encendia" (on fire) with these radio stations and the music that Joe Gaine played. Joe would be blasting, Ray Barreto, The Apollo Sound, Any of the Palmieris, Willie and Hector, La Ponceña, El Gran  Combo, Cheo, etc. He played all the music we danced to at the club, every night. It was " in fact". - "Un Verano en Nueva York" Then the Polito Vega on Sundays, and all the concerts at Orchard Beach, of course, there was our dear old Ernie, always spinning the best salsa, at section 5, in Orchard beach. 

Most of us, young Vacanas, had the body to wear Bikini’ -For some of us, it’s just a fond  memory..... So we danced with our bikinis and our buffalo Sandals (The natural color platform sandals that were quite popular in 1974 and 75) Got our tan, and went to show it at the club in the evening, with our halter blouses and hot pants. .. 

There were so many places that it was hard to keep up. I remember Dancing 7 days a week, going to work and to City College..... Oh well! Did I ?.... uhmmm…… "Please", don't ask me how I accomplished all these tasks and responsibilities.  Apparently I did,  and I was adept at it, at least I was able to  keep myself out of "Any  serious trouble"... Furthermore, I was able to graduated, finally after being in school for over 12 years…… Yeah that is how long it took… .., Salsa was extremely distracting.

Generally, I can say that these were " in fact",  incredible times. Fun and easy… Those of us that were young, careless liberal, radical, freethinking and fearless.

Then came the 80’s, this was a time of diversification, Our hard core popular salsa, evolved into soft and mild salsa romantic, with lyrics dwelling on love and romance, and its more explicit cousin, salsa erotica. At this time, the salsa became more accessible, it  expanded to Mexico, Argentina, Peru, the Caribbean, some countries in Central and South America, Europe and Japan, where in Japan it was popularized by the famous Orquesta Del Sol. By this time, in the Dominican Republic the Merengue has some sort of renaissance. Now Merengue is another story, I am not going to touch it in this article. I am Dominican,  and when I visited the Dominican Republic in the early 70's, Dominicans there were not into salsa yet!! -When I went out dancing, the music you heard was from young, Fernandito Villalona, Cuco Valoy, Sergio Vargas, Anthony Rios, Johnny Ventura, Millie y Los vecinos, Conjunto Quisquella etc.

In the 1990s evolving out of salsa from Cuba, timba drew on the Songo rhythms and was invented by bands like Los Van Van and NG La Banda. By this time, this type of Cuban-born salsa was known as timba and became popular across the world. Another form of Cuban salsa is Songo-salsa, with extremely fast rapping.

Salsa has registered a steady growth and now dominates the airwaves in many countries " in Latin America," Asia and Europe".  I am a firm believer that salsa will survive, the Bachatas, Reggaeton, Los Merengues de Kalle and that the best is yet to come, Of course,  it would be different. I do think there will be a salsa Renaissance.

Well, I was just pondering in these fabulous memories..... I am glad, I had these experiences, met so many  of the salsa legends, in addition, I met in the dance floors, and at the clubs,  some really terrific people, some of them are still my friends, and we still keep in touch regularly. -After all these years and all the changes we saw happening with our music, the clubs we frequented are no longer there. The promoters we knew, either passed on, or are retired,most of the music labels we knew are non existent. Regardless,  we still, go out, support our music and enjoy ourselves. The music, the clubs, the promoters are not the same. We are not the same … Our love of salsa and our culture brought us together and will keep us together, this is the thing about salsa, which is so healing and therapeutic. It brings the best in you. - I feel truly blessed, to had been around when the Afro Cuban music, gave birth to the salsa!!

My friends, this was a quick trip down memory lane......

Please continue to support our musical journey through the fascinating world of Salsa music!!
As you were able to appreciated, by reading this long recollection of my perception of that time in our musical history, I am not a writer.  If you are a writer and while reading this you found all my faults, please feel free to edit this article and you can email it to me at I appreciate your positive criticism and 'of course any other  feedbacks you may have. 


By: Carmen Cepeda



  1. Wow what an amazing well written article; thank you!

  2. Wow! What an amazing article! Learned lots from it! The best thing about your article Carmen Cepeda is that you lived the era! You experienced it! No one told you u know what ur talking about! I was born in 1965 so I can relate to some of the fun and some of the places!! Thank you for your great article! God bless u!

  3. Wow, what a life Carmen. I was born in 1956 and was a teen right smack in the 1970's, and I can relate to so much of what you are talking about. I still listen to 90% of my music from the 1970's.


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