African American Contributions To Afro Cuban Music

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by Nuyorican, Nov 17, 2016.

  1. Nuyorican

    Nuyorican Son Montuno

    As in who are they? What part did they play in the making of this music in the beginning?

    From the books I’ve read so far there doesn’t seem to be much info out there.

    I’ve read that Dizzy Gillespie and some other Jazz greats loved/played this music also but haven’t been able to find much detail.

    Can anyone recommend a book that dives into this info?
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  2. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination by Raúl Fernández. A superb book! The afterword is by Al McKibbon, who is a pretty good example of what you're referring to.
  3. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Not sure about any books but that one recommended by DJ Yuca sounds good.

    In addition to Dizzy Gillespie, there have been many great African-American jazz trumpet players involved -- I realize you are looking for people involved from the beginning but here are some notables over time.

    Doc Cheatham recorded and performed extensively with Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.

    Art Farmer recorded The Aztec Suite album with compositions and arrangements by Chico O'Farrill.

    Wynton Marsalis has made several trips to Cuba with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and has presented many Afro-Cuban Jazz concerts in New York City.

    Roy Hargrove formed a group of Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in 1997 and recorded the album Habana, which won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Performance.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2016
  4. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    Hey fellas,

    Sadly and quite tragically there is no scholarship on this subject whatsoever. Yet there is a myriad of information available if anyone were to do the research.

    This is a subject close to my heart and I was knee deep in it for years. The story of African-Americans contributing to Afro-Cuban music is basically the chronology of Jazz itself. Wherever 'Popular Music' could be found interpreted by African Americans, Afro Cuban music figured into the repertoire in some fashion. This goes back to the 1890s w/ Early Vaudeville touring ensembles. The most prominent being Williams & Walker and Cole & Johnson.

    DANCE is how the "mainstream" becomes hip to the music. That's a blanket statement. These early cats were exposed to such culture in their travels and their dance artists within the troupe would attempt to emulate it. Pioneers such as the legendary Aida Overton Walker who launched the "Porto Rico Girls," none of whom were Puerto Rican, but all African-American and West Indian.
    In fact, West Indians were the "Black" community that gave rise to much of the awareness of Afro-Caribbean musical expression amongst Black culture in the USA, that allowed for smoother transitions for the Afro Cuban, Afro Panamanian, Afro Boricua, Afro Dominican, and other practitioners who immigrated to the U.S. to "find a place" for themselves to blend in and contribute to developing it further.

    The military style orchestras such as the Tuskeegee Institute Jazz Ork. were playing Cuban Danzas as far back as 1904. In New York City, early African-American musical associations that had house orchestras interpreted popular music [New Amsterdam Brass Band, Clef Club ochestra, Tempo Club orchestra, Saratoga Club orchestra, etc.] included repertoire hailing from Argentina [Tango], Puerto Rico [Danza] and Cuba [Danzones].

    The inclusion of Latinos within these ensembles may have played a role in influencing repertoire selections. (Think of the Mario Bauza/Dizzy Gillespie narrative when both were with Cab Calloway.)

    Nearly every important orchestra comprised of African-American leadership and personnel interpreted these musical styles. Again, the reason was due to DANCE. Which was and continues to be the allure to a music. As much as one can appreciate the music, its the dance that a majority gravitate their interest to. It has always been that way and we can all see that up close and personal today.

    This history of interpretation of Cuban music by African-Americans or West Indians [who I believe is essential to being included in this conversation] goes on throughout the 20th century.

    As far as specific contributions go, Frankie Newton, an African-American trumpeter, was among the first of ANYONE [he MAY have been THE first] to feature a Tumbadora [what is commonly regarded as a 'Conga'] into the modern large orchestra in 1940. This was prior to any Latin American orchestra who interpreted Afro Cuban music. Who don't begin to commonly feature a Tumbadora in their large orchestras until about 1943-'44. Both in the U.S., Mexico and in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. Every large orchestra patterned itself after the North American U.S. bands. To a certain degree, we can directly credit an African-American for this in the form of Fletcher Henderson. Who launches the first multiple trumpet, multiple sax orchestration in popular music. This is not only the model for every orchestra that makes up the 1930s and 1940s era for Jazz, but its impact was also felt throughout the Caribbean and South America.

    Edgar Sampson, an African American saxophonist, orchestra leader and composer, was among the earliest arrangers for the Machito band when they emerge as a full time working orchestra in 1941. Among the founding members of the Machito orchestra were Freddie Skerrit of West Indian descent, and Bobby Woodlen, who was African American. Later on, African-American saxophonist Leslie Johnakins would join their ranks and his association with Macho would remain all the way into the day Machito passed in 1984.

    Steve Pulliam goes back to the early 1940s leading a Sextette under his own name, where he places the Trombone in a "lead" role within an ensemble. Something that Barry Rogers and Generoso "El Tojo" Jimenez have been largely credited with. One has to include Steve Pulliam as Pulliam's group interpreted both Jazz and its brand of "Latin" music at the Park Palace ballroom, among other spaces. Within the context of the modern "Salsa" era, Steve was the lead trombonist in the Mon Rivera orchestra. Along with another African-American trombonist, Joe Orange. While the influence of the Trombone in Salsa deservedly goes to Barry Rogers, Steve had been at it for a while longer and was among a class of trombonists during the 1960s that established the "signature" sound for all ensembles in Afro Cuban dance music in New York City. All the LPs during the 1960s and AFTER the "Que Gente Averigua" LP features Steve on trombone.

    Speaking of Barry, his career begins with an established ensemble led by an African-American saxophonist named Hugo Dickens. Whose repertoire classified them as a "Latin" orchestra. They interpreted Mambos, Cha Cha Chas, as well as Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, etc. In fact, one of the more disappointing facets of the Boogaloo documentary WE LIKE IT LIKE THAT was excluding this era from the overall narrative. Which is a "theme" that continues to hamper "Salsa" history. The exclusion of the African American and West Indian presence in the music. Boogaloo was not invented on a stoop in El Barrio. Black musicians are who need to be acknowledged. The very concept of Boogaloo is an old one. The Afro Cuban combined with U.S. Black Popular musical elements. That concept goes back to the early "Black" musical associations, to the bands at the Savoy who interpreted such music, to Machito orchestra and the class of the 1940s to the 1950s era. Hugo Dickens did not exist in a vacuum and what we "Salseros" identify as "Boogaloo" doesn't pop out of nowhere in the mid 1960s either. That's just the direction the market went in. The 1960s was all about dance fads. A carry over from the previous decade. In fact, that same documentary I was disappointed in did manage to highlight a reality. A segment where Ricardo Ray explains how he saw how a group of African-American teeny boppers were expressing themselves to his typical Afro Cuban dance music. It wasn't Mambo or Cha Cha Cha or Pachanga but something else. He later went up to them and asked them what they were doing and they responded "Boogaloo."

    You can credit African Americans for both the musical influence, as well as the dance form or expression of what we identify as the "Latin Bugalu." The Nuyorican generation and all others emulated Black culture in the U.S.A. Or has drawn direct inspiration from their experience. Same as White folks and everyone else. That has ALWAYS been the constant with popular music. Then and Now.

    The early Willie Colon sound can be attributed to non-Latinos. Marty Sheller [Jewish-American] is the arranger for most, if not all, of the initial recordings. Dwight Brewster [African-American of Caribbean descent, who is the true composer of the song JAZZY], James Taylor [African-America], Mark "Markolino" Dimond [African-American], Willie Campbell [African-American], Robert "Gill" Gilliam [African-American], and Gene Golden [West Indian] all recorded or played with this band from 1966-1972.

    Honorable mention to timbalero Henry "Pucho" Brown and his Latin Soul Brothers. The late trap drummer and percussionist, Peter Sims, aka "Pete LaRocca," who had expressed doing proto-Bugalu's prior to the Latin Music industry jumping on the band wagon. The cats that have already been mentioned within this thread. Oh man, a little known fact was that Ralph Cooper was a band leader in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Before he became known as the MC of the Apollo Theater, this brother very early on was exposing the dancers of Harlem and beyond, and in consistent fashion, the sounds of Afro Cuban music with his ensemble known as the "Kongo Knights." He is also to be credited in helping to integrate Afro Cuban dance culture within dance halls and theaters frequented by Harlem residents by contracting many of the artist who made of Afro Cuban music in New York.

    This story of this subject matter is vast and takes YEARS of researching and excessive reading to get as clear a picture as possible. Greater minds would be able to touch on a whole lot of technical aspects that I'm unable to that would no doubt be fascinating. Unfortunately, its not a subject that a lot of people bother with. From even the aficionado level. As I stated, there is zero scholarship on this specific subject and its probably due to reasons why a lot of other stuff isn't given the time of day. All the info is out there. It's not in a book. What's been published are citations of a handful of names, but nothing beyond that. The rest has to be researched.

    Bottom line, African American culture is the single most important element to Cuban Popular Music and Dance culture in the USA and beyond, outside of the elements indigenous to Cuba, rooted in Africa and Europe. Yet it is the "presence" or element in the music that is the most ignored by the story tellers, chroniclers, academic historians and their pseudo counterparts. Why that is is subject to opinion. But, like a lot of other things, we need more "diversity" in the popular narratives presented. They are entirely too one-dimensional or centrist to a specific environment, community, etc.

  5. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    "LATIN JAZZ: The First of the Fusions" by John Storm Roberts, is one of the few publications that gives some brief insight into this topic. Although its more sociological than details of names and actual specific things being contributed. But its a treatment that shows you that there is MORE to discover.
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  6. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Damn Richie! Deep. Very deep.
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  7. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    Hey brotha,

    It's really fascinating and there's so much more to it. I could go on all day talking/writing about this subject. But there's only so much time in a day, you know?

    If anyone is interested in digging deeper on their own, I strongly recommend you start in Harlem. Not "Spanish" Harlem. HARLEM. Just Harlem. Get rid of the geographic or racial borders one might create in one's head and just focus on culture. Harlem is where the modern day SON gets introduced to a U.S. audience. It was not on Broadway via Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra. Black Cubans are responsible for introducing it in the only place where they could have done so in Jim Crow-era USA [now Donald Trump-era USA :) ) . In Harlem.

    Again, the books don't help much with specific details but there are clues within them all that provide direction if this is the subject matter you're focusing on. The Afrian-American contribution to Cuban Popular Music. "Dance" is thrown into that cultural mix as well.) independently you'll discover that its a lot of content and a long history. Ignored by us all, including African Americans.
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  8. Nuyorican

    Nuyorican Son Montuno

    Thanks Ritchie… The info in your post is more than enough to get me started on my search.

    I will also purchase the books you & DJ Yuca recommended.

    One question though...

    Do you know why?
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  9. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    One thought is due to the way the world works in our society. A world conditioned to "think" a certain way. One thing I've realized is that to find the Latino musical story (or any subject matter) in its most complete form, you have to study the culture, environment, and roots of everything and anything where the music or subject matter can be found. That means learning about cultures, customs, places, and events you may not be interested in or passionate about. But they all have to do with what you're looking for.

    No one with a consistent wide platform has ever bothered to pursue that angle. The African American POV in relation to Cuban Popular Music. It's been done from a contemporary context. As if African Americans are somehow becoming hip to Afro Cuban music recently. When they've been exposed to it and digging it since before 1898. And I don't just mean musicians who played Afro Cuban music. I'm also referring to consumers. Dancers.

    What was their take whenever they saw Eddie Palmieri or Richie Ray performing in Brooklyn?

    The audiences at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to see and dance to Tito Puente?

    Or the dancers at the Savoy who experienced Machito?

    The audiences who kept artists such as Joe Loco and Mongo Santamaria afloat, to cite two examples, were African American, Haitian & West Indian audiences. More than anyone else. That includes Cubans and Puerto Ricans or any other Spanish speaking community. The former communities are entire cultural experiences being ignored by a majority pf spcoety. Which is why I hold my nose to a lot of the scholarship. And only specifically due to the conclusions that get made or developed. As if this culture only exists for 2 select groups (Latinos and Jews). For Afro Cuban dance expression in the U.S., you HAVE to dig deep into the U.S. Black experience. People would be pleasantly surprised at how both cultures are feeding off from one another.

    African Americans are who provided a turn key system of opening doors to Spanish speaking Black Latinos into the professional environment of music way before there was ever a "Latin Music" industry in the USA. White/Anglo musicians in the U.S. are emulating the U.S. Black artistry (and they still are). Yet, what do we do? Talk about Cubans and Puerto Ricans and all of the Jewish cabaret owners. Talk about the Mambo, which is predominantly coming from a Jewish or Anglo and 2nd generation Americanized-Latino perspective. Always leaving out the Black culture who managed, operated and booked the talent at those cabarets. African-Americans are who provided a platform for the earliest waves of classically trained musicians of African descent from the Caribbean and South America in their orchestras and in the spaces they operated. 9 out of 10 of us limiting or marginalizes Black culture to what we THINK they were all about. Jazz, dancing to Swing, etc. It would be inconceivable to most of a notion of a sea of African American musical talent expressing Cuban, Brasilian and Argentinian music before there was anything regarded as Afro Cuban Jazz.

    The very first WEEKLY and successful Spanish language productions of music, dance, etc. being presented in the City of New York was not the Teatro Hispano as most elder Latinos in New York believe, but none other than the Apollo Theater on 125th Street. Before it was the "World Famous" space it became known for. NOBODY addresses this in any in-depth manner, much less at all. We are a society who is into linear history and that history is relegated to the non-Black perspective a majority of the time. There's one reason to shoot down Stacey Dash's challenging the need for a "Black History" Month.

    Just look around you and see what has happened in the USA and what is happening in the world currently and there's your answer...
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  10. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Yeah Richie. I'm sure you're right. I played a gig with a Salsa band at this years Harlem Music Festival and it was mostly an older African-American crowd in their fifties, sixties and even seventies who came dressed to the nines and did some beautiful dancing. I assure you dancing Salsa and Mambo was nothing new for them -- they might have been exposed to the music and dance by their mothers and fathers.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
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  11. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    The music is a cultural experience. It's a New York or [fill-in-the-blank] experience. African-Americans are as likely to respond to such a natural exposure to culture as any Latino born and raised in any U.S. urban environment would. This musical culture was already "Sonando" in the U.S. "Black" community before any other. "White" Latinos included.

    The African Diaspora in full effect...
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    RICKJDLT Descarga

    I have an African American friend who played Bongo with Salsa bands for years, including Alma Boricua & El Combo De Puerto Rico, (Local bands in Northern Cali), He taught himself Spanish along with Vietnamese. You would think he was a Black Cuban. We played drums at Salsa festivals until about 5 years ago when he got a real bad case of arthritis. He died 3 months ago at the age of 63, R.I.P.
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  13. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    Sam Turner is another musician who is a percussionist and goes back to the 1960s playing this music. He is one of the young percussionists that made up the Har-You Percussion Ensemble that was a program for the Harlem Youth Center in New York. The workshop was of course conducted by Montego Joe.

    Years later, as an adult, Sam recorded as a leader a CD entitled the RUMBA CLUB that featured Andy Gonzalez on bass.

    There's also a reality regarding Black culture and what we designate as the "African American" experience. Plenty of folks who hail from the Caribbean, but grew up in an urban U.S. environment, or what most would perceive as an "African American" experience, also make up this story.

    The late Ralph Macdonald a first class world percussionist was the son of a Calypso giant in the 1930s to the 1950s named "Macbeth the Great." According to Ralph, his dad would perform at the Park Palace on Harlem and interpret, not just Calypso music, but his brand of Afro Cuban dance music as well. Macbeth the Great [real name Patrick Macdonald] was born in Trinidad. Ralph himself also played and recorded Afro Cuban music and inserted it into his brand of Jazz. But he was raised in the African American experience.

    The same could be argued for Joe Bataan. A son of a Filipino and African-American, born and raised in New York City, shaped and molded around the African-American and Nuyorican experience of Harlem. His whole musical catalog is an exhibition of the complexity that revolves around "Race" and culture and how we, as a society, perceive and classify it as. Subway Joe could fall into a myriad of categories and none of them would be misrepresented.

    Another gentleman who plays percussion is Steve Kroon. For years I thought this brother was African-American. Meaning the popular interpretation of he being a U.S. born Black-American. He's actually Puerto Rican. Not that anyone in the Puerto Rican community at large is aware of it.

    That's one of the things that made me switch my whole viewpoint from focusing squarely on what was the African-American contribution to Afro Cuban music, to simply what the Black or African diasporic contribution was to Afro Cuban music. Because a very high % of "Black" culture having anything to do with music from the Caribbean, are as much from the Caribbean themselves, as they are from Alabama, Kansas City, St. Louis, or born and bred in Harlem. If you pursue information with that mindset, you find a whole universe of Afro Cuban musical history that has been ignored and make up the "missing pages" of the documented Afro Cuban music legacy and its popular narrative. We give Arthur Murray and kitschy "Rhumba" bands by Anglo bandleaders the time of day. We should also focus on the African diaspora in the 20th century in all its distinct forms. Because they are all connected in some manner to any indigenous form that makes up a culture in the New World.
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  14. El Caobo

    El Caobo Maestro 'Salsa' Palmieri

    Although there has been many African-American musicians playing important roles in salsa bands over the years, the greatest contribution of African-Americans comes by way of influence. As Cuban musicians we're making Ng their mark in the United States, they absorbed many elements of the African-American jazz circuit; causing the evolution of Cuban music to differ in the Americas from how it evolved on the Island. In turn, African-American jazz also absorbed into its evolution, elements of Cuban music. The two styles influenced each other. Somewhere in the middle, there is Latin Jazz, which cannot t be neatly labeled as either, but is very swinging!

    My preferred type of salsa has a very strong jazz feel to it.
  15. Richie Blondet

    Richie Blondet Shine Officer

    This is right on and also extends beyond the Jazz element and goes into Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Panamanian, Jewish, Italian, and other nationalities who interpret Cuban Popular music absorbing Funk, R&B, etc.

    TIPICA '73 is a perfect example of an ensemble who were one of the few U.S. based conjuntos to interpret the "new" music coming out of Cuba, in the 1970s (Songo) and while using it as a model, they adopted U.S. popular music and fit it into the arrangements. Sonny Bravo was a fan of and particularly influenced by the brass voicings of Earth, Wind and Fire. Some of the phrasing one hears on the brass as written by Sonny are culled from Earth, Wind and Fire. An African-American Jazz/Funk/Rock or """""Fusion" band of the era, which was the big thing during the period. That's the reality of 1970s "Salsa." For the folks who want to continue egging on the whole "D.R." or Derechos Reservados argument that nothing creative was taking place during the "Salsa" era, take another listen and then put on some Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, Miles Davis, Weather Underground, The Headhunters, Return to Forever, etc. All of that music was the direction the Fania All Stars were attempting to go in and capture that market over the "Tipica" traditional movement dancers preferred and still prefer to this day. Because the market was greater and it was viewed as the next evolution of Afro Cuban music. Ironically, the only groups that kind of stuck to it and continued on that path were the Cuban ensembles from Cuba. Irakere in particular and, ultimately, what became identified as "Timba."
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