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Reviews: Books


World Music – The Rough Guide.
Edited by Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, David Muddyman and Richard Trillo. ISBN 1–85828–017–6.

The words of one reviewer summarises the guide beautifully: "A work of lunatic scholarship". If youíre into any form of world music, donít settle for anything less. It covers the widest range of music, and does so very well. Superlatives blush with inadequacy.

Dancing. The Power of Dance Around the World.
By Gerald Jonas. ISBN 0–563–36411–4.

Gerald Jonas examines dance in all its guises, all over the world. Such a broad remit results in coverage that can be best described as a strong introduction to each dance. Nevertheless, the book still manages to convey a genuine feel for every aspect of its content using its beautiful photographs. A lovely book for dancers and non-dancers alike.

Caribbean Currents. Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae.
By Peter Mañuel. ISBN 1899365079.

Peter Mañuel examines the existence and development of music in the Caribbean; a mighty task. The level of detail varies from area to area, as would be expected. Prior knowledge of particular aspects is sometimes assumed, rendering the content slightly less accessible to the newcomer. A more than competent treatment of the topic, perhaps better suited to readers who share similar political views with the author. Useful.


My Music Is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities, 1917-1940 (Latinos in American Society and Culture).
By Ruth Glasser. ISBN 0520208900.

The narrative of this work straddles the story of Puerto Ricans on the island of Puerto Rico and in New York City, from the early colonial period until the effective end of the Prohibition. It is an intensely human account of the events that befell the Puerto Ricans and how they managed to negotiate the challanges and changes they were faced with in this turbulent period, which coincidentally contributed immensely to the rise of salsa as we know it. Very good.

Salsa! Havana Heat, Bronx Beat.
By Hernando Calvo Ospina. ISBN 0–906156–98–X.

A Colombian view of salsa and its origins, the book offers many valuable insights. Foremost among these is a third party perspective of the contributions of Cuban and New York Latin populations on Salsa in recent times; a topic often polarised by political ideologies. Mr. Ospinaís style settles easily on the reader, which is an advantage since the book should be read more than once to get the most from it. Good.

Salsa – Musical Heartbeat of Latin America.
By Sue Steward (Foreword by Willie Colón). ISBN 0–500–28153–X.

Sue's long term immersion in the Latin music scene provides her with a very special perspective. She demonstrates a reasonable working knowledge of the landmark songs, albums, and performers. I found the portrayal of their histories and interconnections most informative. Her writing style is skittish and leaves the reader with an impression of sentences straining to cover too much ground in too little time, and when she touches on areas out of her field of competence, the material is occassionally flawed. The book is a good starting point, but I would encourage readers to delve a little deeper in other sources too. In the main she achieves what she sets out to do. Fair.

Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo.
By Ned Sublette. ISBN 1556525168.

Seldom with subjects as broad as salsa do you find a text that is so well researched and so engagingly written that it justifies its position as the definitive text. Well, this is such a work. The author draws seemingly disparate ideas together and weaves them into a richly colourful tapestry. Often I found myself thinking "why is he talking about this matter now?" only to say to myself "it will be made clear in a few pages time", and my faith was never misplaced. The sheer scope of the work, from the second millenium BCE to the mambo period, is dealt with thoroughly and compassionately. This is the Ultimate endeavour, and I can pay it no greater complement than to say it is the book that I wish I could have written.


Merengue – Dominican Music and Dominican Identity.
By Paul Austerlitz. ISBN 1–56639–484–8.

Paul Austerlitz writes authoritatively without losing touch with the reader. The tremendous amount of detail is finely crafted into a work that borders on the enthralling, demonstrating his comsummate understanding of the Merengue and its cultural context. Definitive.


By Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, & Richard Martin. Special Photography by Ken Haas. ISBN 0–500–27979–9.

History and development of the Argentine Tango is covered in four sections, each by a different author. Some writing flow is sacrificed in favour of providing the reader with four personal views of the dance. It works well. The visual presentations are superb and go a long way in conveying the full flavour of the tango. The kind of book that spends more time on your lap than on the coffee table.

The Latin World

The Penguin History of Latin America
By Edwin Williamson. The Penguin Press, 1992. ISBN 0 14 01.2559 0

Professor Williamson traces the history of Latin America from when the first Latin–descended peoples set foot on those shores, detailing the impact they had on the indigenous cultures and how they evolved from that point. Five hundred years worth of history across such a large geographical span is a tremendous amount to cover, and he has succeeded in doing so extremely well. The topics of narration are arranged in a manner that makes it relatively simple to follow the most crucial developments. As general histories go, you would be very hard pressed to find a better one. Definitely an invaluable foundation piece for those who want to develop a good understanding of Latin American culture.

The Little Capoeira Book
By Nestor Capoeira. North Atlantic Books, 1995. ISBN 1–55 643–199–6

Speed, agility, and balance create a lethal combination in martial arts, but how can one bring these same qualities to the "jogo"? Capoeira has its unknown origins enveloped by tales of slaves and dancing arriving to Brazil from the African continent. In The Little Capoeira Book, Nestor Capoeira explores the possible roots of the fascinating art that captures and entices its practitioners and its viewers into wanting to learn more about the execution of the individual moves. He combines background information about Capoeira, as well as explanations of the jogo or game in which skills are performed. Brief excerpts of songs involved in the practice of the martial art are also included. Unlike many books on Capoeira, he also provides diagrams outlining the basic moves, which can lead to the more exciting manoeuvres used in the jogo. Nestor Capoeira invites his readers to challenge their minds and bodies in the practice of a lesser-known martial art. (Leslie Kirchler)


©1999 Salsa & Merengue Society