Oftentimes, we take for granted many of the things in our world that would have never even existed if it wasn’t for the mixing of diverse cultures. Music is universal and it is an art form that has evolved so much over the years precisely because of the influence of cross-cultural exchanges.

Let’s take Salsa, for example, which is a dance that came to be as a result of the cultural exchanges between Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrant communities in New York City during the 1970s. Willie Colon, Bobby Valentin and Hector Lavoe are some of the prominent pioneers of this musical fusion. Eventually, Salsa spread all over the U.S. and Latin America.

It’s even more inspiring to think about what paved the way for Salsa: the groundwork laid by Afro-Cubans, such as Tito Puente and Tito Rodriquez, who established Mambo as the popular dance in New York City during the 1940s. The Palladium Ballroom was the place to be if you were appreciative of diverse people and music and many of the most popular musicians performed here. But of course, politics creates restrictions among people and even though The Palladium succeeded as being the hub of spreading many diverse dances for many years, the 1962 U.S. embargo against Cuba stifled this cultural music exchange.

But as many are well aware of, the 1960s was a time of revolution, progress, and awareness. People were disgusted with the reality of the Vietnam War, were becoming aware of how corrupt and deceiving the governments could be, and were questioning why a country like Cuba that was just fighting to establish equality among its people on its own terms was being hated on. Young people, of course, were at the forefront of this counterculture and organizations like the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords were being created. It was within this dynamic context that the Salsa band, Fania All Stars, burst out onto the scene. In 1971, they sold out Yankee Stadium.

Salsa united Black and Brown youth growing up in New York, giving them a connection to their ancestral lands as they built bridges to the diverse cultures they were a part of now in the United States. This is the beautiful fusion they spread to the rest of the world.  And as the 1970s ended, new generations- with even more diverse heritages- were mixing within a rebellious social and political environment, and an innovative art form was already sprouting out of the concrete: Hip-Hop.

 

Fania_All_Stars_by_traydaripper
Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment. See more articles by this author >