Azucar y sabor: a closer look at salsa

I’m soaking in salsa. Not in tomatoes, onions or chili peppers. No, for the last two days, since the office is in shutdown mode, I have been listening to Yahoo Launchcast. I started with my usual dose of reggaeton but then I decided to listen to the Salsa Cien Por Ciento station. What fun!

As intimidated as I seem when at Luka’s or a family gathering(or my recent night at Nashville’s Ibiza), I have always loved salsa. There’s something about that piano, those horns, that cowbell, the timbales, the bongos and congas, and all the voices of the coro as they play and dance in unison. Salsa has been a part of my musical life for as long as I can remember. I grew up on Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo, Oscar D’Leon, Tito Puente, and La Sonora Matancera. I learned the basic salsa step of right foot forward and back and right foot backward and back, the duro palante and pun patras that Daddy Yankee calls out, along with all other dance moves. Of course, I didn’t learn to dance with a partner because Peruvians dance freestyle, which now that I think about it, must be because all Peruvian dances, including the equally movido Afro-Peruvian dances, are danced alone and incorporate plenty of improvisation. Salsa brings back great memories of dancing in garages and family rooms, of singing along with classics like “Caballo Viejo”and “Brujeria,”of beating time on a sofa or a table.

Recently, I read Mi Vida, the autobiography of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. I always admired the brassy singer from her young days with La Sonora Matancera singing the chacha(I love “Yerbero Moderno”) to her 1980s Mazola commercials. There was something about her crazy wigs, wild outfits, and wild makeup, and her signature shout, “Azucar!” Her life story is the American Dream Latino style and taught me a lot of history as well as more about salsa(which is a term made up by the media and music moguls to market Latin dance music and one which the veteran performers never fully embraced.) I have even more respect for her now, knowing that she performed up until a few days before she lost her battle to brain cancer. Her songs are especially inspirational to me now, knowing what she endured and yet transformed through her art

Listening to the salsa station has reminded of the artists I enjoyed in the late 80s and 90s when I got back in touch with my Latino musical roots: Luis Enrique, Jerry Rivera, Eddie Santiago, La India, Marc Anthony. I can tell the difference between these pop salseros and the more jazzy vets like Eddie Palmieri. The station plays a good mix of old and new school salsa with a few merengue songs and even my old favorite, “Yerbero Moderno.” Alone in my office, I danced both the chacha and salsa. Azucar!

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