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  Musical Inheritance

  Image Collage Courtesy of Basement Graphics and TWW, Inc. Copyright 2005

Lesson Three: Musical Inheritance

My Salsa
By Juan Fernando Lamadrid

As a Cuban-born American, music has always been a part of my life, mainly Cuban folk music. It was the background music to baptism and wedding receptions, birthday parties, promotion celebrations and Sunday gatherings. While growing up, during daily life, my grandfather and father preferred classical music while my brother and sisters and I loved rock and roll. Though I had my American peer group, I tended to gravitate towards Latin parties and had many Latino and international friends. My friends were the sons and daughters of other ambassadors and embassy personnel in and around Washington, DC.

My family moved to New York in 1968. Things there were quite different for a 10-year-old boy than they were in suburban Washington, DC. There was music being played in the streets. Wild drumming sounds and polyphonic rhythms emanated from the parks and playgrounds of Manhattan. The first time I saw a conga drum I recognized it as the producer of the sound in the old Cuban records that were played at my grandfather’s house. I called my grandfather and told him "I want a conga.” He showed up some days later in New York with a wooden conga drum made in Mexico. He told me that in Cuba he was called the "King of the conga" (el rey de la tumbadora) because while Mayor of Havana in the late 1930s he reestablished the tradition of the Comparsas, an African tradition of drumming and dancing that took place yearly on January 5-6. The Comparasas had been made illegal because of the revenge and bloodletting that occurred during the celebrations. Traditionally the Comparasas were a day of freedom given to the slaves. They used this day to parade through the streets, dancing and playing their instruments, while dressed in wild costumes.

With that conga that I still own today, I started a band with some friends from the local public intermediate school that I attended. We played jazz, rock and roll, and noise music. A few years later Carlos Santana played at Woodstock and introduced Salsa Fusion and Tito Puente’s music to millions of young Americans through his recordings.

My grandfather also told me that while he was Mayor of Havana his Chief of Police was the father of Mongo Santamaria, the great Cuban conga player. Mongo’s father asked my grandfather to help his son get a visa to emigrate to the United States at a time when it was not easy for a black man to get such permission. Mongo came to the USA and began playing in jazz orchestras as a virtuoso. The rest is history. Mongo sent a copy of each of his recordings as they were released to my grandfather’s house in Washington, DC. I played these records to death while growing up.

During high school days, my sister and I danced the Hustle and Salsa all mixed together. As many other Latinos did, we took turn patterns from the Hustle and danced them to Salsa music and took Salsa’s sensuality and danced to the Hustle. Soon the Latin Hustle was popular.

I remember when I used to hang out with Nilda Borrero, a Puerto Rican woman and the director of the New York Mambo Organization, a loosely formed collection of Salsa dancers inspired to proliferate, educate, and preserve the Mambo. Around 1:00 AM, in the middle of a raging blizzard, it occurred to her to leave the comfort of my Manhattan apartment to seek out a Salsa Social Dance in the Bronx about an hour away (without delays caused by traffic or snow). When we got outside, huge puffs of snow were floating down and the city streets were already covered in a deep silent white blanket of snow. There were few people on the street an it seemed that they were all looking for the scarce few taxis that occasionally passed by. I said to Nilda, "it’s late and who knows how long it will take us to get to the Bronx? Nobody heads to a party so far away under these conditions.” Her reply was "but we are not regular people; we are Salsa people!"

Activities/Lesson Plan

Analysis of Lamadrid

Ask students to listen to/read Lamadrid's statement

1. As a group, pick out influences on Lamadrid—his family, his musical experiences, his culture, his life experiences.
2. How does this compare and contrast with Ms Goldfarb's statement? What are the similarities? The differences?

Development and Identification of Musical Inheritance

• Have students create a PowerPoint or digital slide show with the images and music that define them, answering the question: “What kind of person are you?” relating this back to the last sentence in the transcript.
• Share these presentations digitally.
• Have students write a 5-paragraph essay answering the question.
o When you are 35, what kind of music will define your life? Why? Give examples and defend your answer. How will your music stand up to the test of time?



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Authors: Laura Jones, NBCT; Eliana Marcenaro, Language Arts Teacher.

This project has received support from the Latino Initiatives Pool distributed by the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.



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