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Unconventional Means
The Great Salsa
Expanded Glossary
On The Record:
Salsa Quotes
Loo's Collection
Loo's Salsa Diary

On The Record – Salsa Quotes
The history of Latin music and dance is shaped by people; very passionate people. Their unique vantage-points are best glimpsed through the way they articulate of their understanding. These words were, to me, personal flashes of enlightenment:

"Son is the most perfect thing for entertaining the soul." – Ignacio Piñeiro, founder of Septeto Nacional.

"Music is so essential to the Cuban character that you can't disentangle it from the history of the nation. the history of Cuban music is one of cultural collisions, of voluntary and forced migrations, of religions and revolutions." – Ned Sublette.

"We don't say 'I'm bailando [dancing] a conga', but 'I'm arrollando [being overhelmed] in a conga.'" – Cristóbal Díaz Ayala.

"The basic success of the conga came from ...that basic principle of African music and dance: everybody participates. The conga eradicated the distinction between performer and audience, broke down the wall of the proscenium..." – Ned Sublette.

"Hay que destacar bien la melodía" [You have to bring out the melody] – Emilio Pujol, Catalán guitarist.

"Con las sonrisas la música penetra" [the music penetrates with smiles] – Anonymous bachata fan on the lightening effect doble sentido has on its listeners.

"Music is such a vital part of their consciousness that sometimes they even dance without audible music; with sheer pleasure they dance to the rhythms of music playing only in their heads." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez on the love of music by ordinary Dominicans.

"the feeling of polyrhythm submitted to the unity of tempo" – Alejo Carpentier on the clave.

"Black musicians rhythmicized the contredanse, creating musical styles which evolved into the habanera (also known as the tango) and, later, ragtime, as well as the danza, danzón, and ultimately the danzón mambo and its offspring the cha-cha-chá." – Ned Sublette.

"...unlike in the English-speaking territories.., in Louisiana black people were permitted to play drums—not only military drums with sticks, but ancestral drums, making them talk with their hands." – Ned Sublette.

"In all movements, gyrations, and attitudenizing exhibitions, the most perfect time is kept, making the beats with thefeet, head, or hands, or all, as correctly as a well-regulated metronome!" – James Creecy on the dancers at Congo Square.

"it is, of course, common for superordinate groups to block social assimilation to protect their favored position. This is largely done through the use of distinguishing cultural forms, practices and tastes while the cultural resources of subordinate groups are disparaged as a apart of the overall pattern of domination." – Thomas Turino.

"The Kongo idea of the funeral is send the dead off with a lot of music. You don't want them going sad to the other world. They might come back to haunt you ." – Robert Farris Thompson to Ned Sublette.

"Bachata ...structurally simple, linguistically raw, and narratively direct—so faithfully articulated the experiences and concerns of the poor that it shocked and repulsed mainstream Dominican society." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez.

"Sonority is changing, and if you don't hear what is being made right now, you're running the risk of becoming a sort of a museum item." – Composer and bandleader Adalberto Alvarez on the dangers of failing to innovate in music.

"The general disinclination of Spain to accept slaves from Islamicized regions of Africa during the formative years of Hispano-American society had enormous consequences for the development of music in the New World." – Ned Sublette.

"A laborer might last ten years or so before expiring. But individual workers in the death camp of sugar were survived by their culture, which was constantly re-Africanized by fresh arrivals. To that plantation culture, the music of our hemisphere owes no small debt." – Ned Sublette.

"Up through and including Lincoln, American politicians nursed a fantasy of repatriating blacks to Africa." – Ned Sublette.

"Like slaves on the sugar plantations of the Antilles, ...the sugar slaves of southern Louisiana had negative birthrates for as long as slavery lasted." – Ned Sublette.

"Every farm with slaves was a slave-breeding farm. Raising slaves was mostly a cottage industry..." – Ned Sublette.

"In order to play merengue, many bachata ensembles simply added a tambora and a güira to their existing instrumentation... guitar-based merengues... practically forgotten in urban contexts, was reintroduced as a viable style of popular music... [and] blurred the previously cleaner distinctions between bachata as slow romantic music that was contrasted with the faster dance merengue." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez on bachata's transition from the margins to the mainstream.

"One often reads that the 1950s was the golden age of Cuban music, but it was really one long phase, from 1937 to 1958, each year with its own splendour." – Ned Sublette.

"Middle-aged men fornicating with adolescent girls, women used for breeding purposes, children sired and sold, black men dehumanized, and families routinely shattered." – Ned Sublette on the subject of slavery.

"rage, depression, anguish, conflict, and knives; it smelled of sewer, of street, rum, mud—in short, it was urban music." – Juan Valoy on bachata's expression in the '80s.

"In 1942 Cachao wrote a tune for Arcaño, 'Rareza de Melitón,' with a memorable catchy tumbao. In 1957 Arcaño recorded a reworking of it under the name 'Chanchullo'; and in 1962 Tito Puente reworked that into 'Oye como va,' still with that same groove. In this form, audibly the same, it powered Carlos Santana's multiplatinum 1970 cover version, close to three decades after Cachao first played it." – Ned Sublette.

"All... [Cuban] melodic design is constructed on a rhythmic pattern of two measures, as though both were only one, the first is antecedent, strong, and the second is consequent, weak. This happens not only in instrumental but also in vocal music... This adaption of the melodic concept to the rhythmic pattern is manifested in such a manner that the change of a measure in the percussion produces such a notorious discrepancy between the melody and the rhythm that it becomes unbearable to the ears accustomed to our music." – Emilio Grenet, in his introductory essay describing possibly clave or baqueteo rhythmic signatures.

"The Domingans transformed the economy and the society of eastern Cuba with their superior agricultural technology, business skills, and highly developed arts, most especially including both white and black music and dancing. The whites brought an ideal of refined, luxurious living, as well as reactionary political views and a well-developed aesthetic of slave torture. The blacks brought their creolized but still recently African culture, which included sophisticated knowledge of war technique and revolutionary ideology and, as such, was central to creating a culture in eastern Cuba that would repeatedly erupt in revolution." – Ned Sublette.

"Clearly, multitrack recording separately presupposed a conceptual leap from traditional ways of thinking about music as a whole to thinking about a song as a composite of separate pieces. Learning to fragment and manipulate the parts of music was part of a larger process of learning to manipulate the reality of social and cultural fragmentation demanded by urban life." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez on bachata musicians coming to terms with modern urban culture.

"The two biggest hits (by Machito)... were about that enduring Cuban song topic—food: 'Sopa de pichón' [pigeon soup] and 'Paella'. If you think that all songs about food are double entendres for sex... Well, maybe all songs about food can be double entendres, but in many periods of Cuban history, for many people, food has been harder to get, and the subject of more fantasies, than sex." – Ned Sublette.

"...its programs of old favourites tacitly reassured its audience that the old, the traditional, was still valid and valuable... mainstream radio stations that played only the latest hits... implicitly made the claim that newer was better... that the old was useless and should be discarded." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez, on Radio Guarachita's programmiing.

"I would have liked to sing opera, but I have the voice of a mango-seller, so I resigned myself to selling cherries from the piano bench." – Bola de Nieve, piano-composer and interpreter of boleros.

"...Africans brought not only necessary manual labor, but also came with knowledge, skills, and foods [rice] that were crucial to keeping the white settlers of Louisiana from starving." – Ned Sublette.

"Orquesta merengue served as an object of socialization, guiding the country's new middle classes into a sophisticated and more consumer-oriented world... Bachata's appeal, in contraxt, rested on its ability to introduce its listeners, principally peasants and shantytown dwellers of rural origins... to urban values they needed to understand—and adopt—in order to survive on the margins of modern, urban Dominican society" – Deborah Pacini Hernandez, contrasting the meanings of the two Dominican music and dance genres.

"...Fania was interested in maintaining in the market the image that salsa was the representative Latin rhythm. [If] They had to maintain that position, [then] merengue couldn't be Latin" – Disc jockey Willie Rodríguez on Fania's alleged marketing supression of the merengue.

"Miguelito, liberated from having to sing with Cugat, sounds like he just got out of jail and is letting it rip." – Ned Sublette, on the Miguelito-Machito recordings of 1942.

"We premiered two or three numbers a week. That's how it was. Although it sounds unbelieveable, I did the arrangements in two hours." – Luis "Lilí" Martínez Griñán, pianist and composer for Arsenio Rodríguez.

"On occassion, slaves in Spanish New Orleans owned slaves, whose labor they could appropriate toward purchasing their own freedom, or whose ownership they could trade as a partial payment on their own freedom." – Ned Sublette.

"Already before '38... Orestes López was indicating 'a thousand times mambo' (on the instrumental parts he wrote), each time he needed to repeat a figure many times. We were already saying vamos a mambear [let's mambo]. ...There, indisputably, was the characteristic rhythm of the mambo." – Antonio Arcaño as interviewed by Leonardo Acosta in 1974.

"That spirit of mockery characteristic of the guaracha was part of the mambo from the beginning." – Ned Sublette.

"Bachata's ability to serve for both dancing and romancing has given bachata a competitive advantage over musics such as merengue or balada, each of which can only fulfill only one of these functions." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez.

"Chano Pozo created the role of the conga soloist in the modern band, somewhat th way Coleman Hawkins created the solo tenor sax." – Ned Sublette.

"I remember saying to Benny Bailey, when I heard about the missing music, 'What the hell are we gonna do now?' And Benny said, 'No trouble—we just hit! We've been playing that same music for a month already now. We know it ass backwards.' And that's what made it great. We played without music stands. Everybody stood up and the people just couldn't understand how we could play like that without music." – Kenny Clarke, member of Dizzy Gillespie's band on European tour in 1948.

"What they are looking for with the word bachata is to keep it beneath the saxophone. To keep the guitar beneath the saxophone. It can't be. The two instruments are equal." – Bachatero Leonardo Paniagua, on the subordination of bachata to merengue as a symbol of class struggle.

"Chano was ahead of his time, by virtue of staying with the African model. Open-ended, one-chord vamps would become the core of funk, twenty years later. Nobody was doing them in American jazz in 1948." – Ned Sublette on why Gillespie needed to adapt (and write a bridge for) Chano's original concept for 'Manteca' [Lard].

"The trova is so penetrating that it's very difficult to escape... I had other professions, but what marked me was music..." – Ángel Díaz.

"[Arsenio] played with a tempo that in order to follow it you had to be Cuban, be a dancer and feel the black counter-time, because it was very slow. That's why in Cuba his band only played for the negros at La Tropical and places like that. But Arsenio didn't want to lighten up his rhythm and that's why he never thad the success he deserved here [in the United States], because his music was never well understood." – Mario Bauzá on Arsenio's lack of success in the United States.

"Remember that in México Bartolo is a donkey's name. Stay here but change your name." – Rafael Cueto to Bartolomé "Benny" Moré.

"But it would be so much less exciting if it were perfect. It is precisely that high-stakes feeling that no one wants to be the guy who screws up the take, and that occasional uncorrected imperfection in music you know is not easy to play, that makes these records sound so alive." – Ned Sublette on the qualitative differences between recording performances of yesteryear and today.

"As a child, he had been part of a dance duo with his sister; knowing how to dance was central to his musicianship." – Ned Sublette on Tito Puente.

"Salsa was an unmistakeable product of the Pan-Caribbean experience: salsa musicians were mostly Puerto Rican, its rhythms were principally Cuban, and its social context was primarily the Latino barrios of New York City." – Deborah Pacini Hernandez.

"She had a command of time like a drummer, an almost perfect sense of intonation, a panoply of phrasing tricks that seem to have been entirely her own, an authoritative approach to a lyric, and a powerful, durable contralto." – Ned Sublette on Celia Cruz.

"Here are all the negros / We come to plead / That you grant us permission / To sing and dance." – Opening lines of "Ay, Mamá Inés" by Eliseo Grenet, evoking Anselmo Suárez Romero's description of the slaves' asking permission from their master.

"There was a turning point in popular music in recent times— precisely when the musicians stood up from their chairs... the orquesta emerged as a frontal spectacle" – Television host Núñez del Risco on the changes to Johnny Ventura's presentation style in response to the emerging importance of television.

"While the original merengue remained the interpretive responsibility of folkloric groups, and even of museums of history and popular art, the merengue of the modern orquestas and conjuntos has to march shoulder to shoulder with the progress of popular music all over the world." – Johnny Ventura, responding to criticism from traditionalists on his embrace of international influences in his music.

"The invention of marketing the popular orchestra and giving it economic dimensions within a productive apparatus was our invention, because to sell popular art you use the same marketing tools as to sell a fried plantain or a can of juice or a car." – William Liriano, Johnny Ventura's business partner.

"The radio I heard sounded so nice, so dynamic, so different from what we had here. I wanted something like the Colombians, something lively, with all those cumbias and all those kinds of musics" – Radhames Aracena on the Colombian influence on his programming of Radio Guarachita.

"In the 1970s, then, the uncouth music made by the upstarts from the countryside was forced into a subordinate position from which it could not threaten the agendas of promoters of other musics: it was marked with the term bachata, which was stripped of its original value-neutral connotation as an informal backyard party and transformed into a term of disrespect and denigrationby being loaded with a set of undesirable associations including rural backwardness and vulgarity" – Deborah Pacini Hernandez.

"After working the last thirty years as a musician, I have little to show for it... I made over two hundred recordings for several companies, and I never received one cent in royalties." – Fernando Storch of Conjunto Caney.

"I've studied under several men in Cuba who were considered musical geniuses, but after studying at Juilliard I realized I did not know much about music... Americans take music much more seriously." – Alberto Iznaga


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society