A LATIN SOUND.
BBC4, for those abroad who will not have the pleasure of accessing this fantastic channel, have, since their launch done a series of brilliant deconstructions on some of the most important (and sometimes underappreciated) genres of music in the world. From Folk America, to Synth Britannia, they almost always have the knack to reveal something new about music you know intimately, or have the faintest of knowledge. Filled with first hand accounts, fantastic archival footage and strong, engaging storylines, they have become the highlights of the already strong programming line-up. As this week was Latin Music week, we saw a re-run of one such example. Latin Music USA.
This four part series charted the rise of Latin Music in the US, from the 1930’s to the present day. As the story unfolded it revealed, quite brilliantly how Latin Music, from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba has helped shaped the sounds and look of 20th Century America and by proxy, the larger western world. The programmes showed how these indigenous sounds evolved and adapted until they broke through into mainstream consciousness in the 1980’s and beyond. You might not think there is much of a link between the pop juggernaut of Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ to the underground sounds of a Hector LaVoe, or the brilliant Afro-Cuban grooves of Machito and His Afro-Cubans, back in the 1940’s but this programme sought to and did, make those connections and with it, herald a new appreciation of this overlooked musical world.
Starting with the adoption of Latin American percussion into the big band sounds of 1930/40’s New York we saw the rise of this new rhythm through the Jazz clubs of Harlem, helped by the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. How the first Latin American big bands that took the clubs like the Palladium by storm, which in turn led to the Mambo craze sweep through the suburban America, culminating in the monster hit of West Side Story (ironically starring not one true Latino in it’s main cast). Then onto the ‘El Barrio’ Boogaloo music of Joe Bataan and Willie Colon in New York, which in turn gave birth to the extraordinary rise of Fania Records and the infectious Salsa grooves of the Fania All Stars with Cuban veteran singer Celia Cruz. The story then turned to the West Coast Latin experience, taking us through a journey of Chicano Rock and eventually to the crossover success of late Selena. The story ends on the Florida coast and the Cuban immigration explosion in Miami that led firstly to the mainstream success of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and then the worldwide success of Ricky Martin and a whole host of Latin crossover acts. Latin Music USA left us with the natural evolution of rap into Latin, with the rise of Reggaeton.
In particular, the first two shows were outstanding, not only for their brilliant use of archival footage and first hand account witnesses, they also illustrated the inherent joy that is in this music, certainly the New York Salsa of the Fania All-Stars is as far as you could imagine from the grim image of Milton Keynes Salsa nights. But it is the infectiousness and exuberance of this musical style that helps it transcend it’s roots. You couldn’t help but be impressed with the style, passion and verve that generations of Latin musicians gave to their music, as well as their openness and willingness to assimilate musicians and styles of music that weren’t just “Latin”. Listening to an album like this for example, you can hear joy, excitement and passion pouring from each performer, it is a treat.