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El Sentinel

Classic Salsa Music Is On The Upswing

By Vanessa Vázquez Yuret

August 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Move over Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin.

More and more Hispanics -- young and old -- are tuning to the salsa classics of the late Tito Puente, El Gran Combo, Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, the Fania All-Stars and Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.

These artists of the golden era of salsa of the 1960s and 1970s are filling stadiums and concert halls nationwide and abroad. And more programs, such as Los Masters de La Salsa on Orlando's WRMQ-1140 AM, are cropping up on the radio dial dedicated solely to classic salsa.

"People call me every day to request a song that reminds them of when they were young," said Eddie Vázquez, producer and host of Los Masters, which plays old salsa tunes from 5 to 8:30 p.m. six days a week.

Friday, salsa fans will get a chance to see and hear the popular duo Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz live in Orlando. The two are credited with coining the term ‘salsa' in 1966 to characterize the new Latin music. Known for such songs as "Sonido Bestial" and "Mr. Trumpet Man", Ray and Cruz will be performing at the Palladium International off Universal Boulevard.

"People want to hear good salsa," said Richie Ray, who lives in Miami.

Original salsa was known for its exuberance, energy and swinging rhythms. Artists such as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz and El Gran Combo never declined in popularity or fell out of favor. However, many other groups did. In the last 10 years, many Hispanics have come to believe that contemporary salsa music has lost some of its luster. Music videos, for example, focus more on appearance than music. Merengue has become more popular, but its beat can be monotonous. And the new salsa music is slower and hard to dance to. Responding to critics of today's salsa, singer Marc Anthony exhorted music listeners to "get over it." However, a chunk of listeners refuse to move on.

A 1999 Recording Industry Association of America study showed that Hispanic consumers ages 30 to 54 -- heavy music buyers -- purchase more than 50 CDs per year. Their favorites: ballads and tropical music, and especially music CD collections of such old timers as Ray and Cruz.

That is why such concerts will continue to be popular for years to come. In fact, many artists are keenly aware of the nostalgia for classic salsa.

La India, one of the hottest salseras and a protégé of the late salsa and Latin jazz percussionist Tito Puente, recently recorded a CD of La Lupe standards. The recording was well received by critics.

The late La Lupe, a Cuban balladeer popular in the 1960s, also has generated an off-Broadway, New York, show based on her life.

That show, which critics also gave a thumbs up, follows by several years an off-Broadway play about the late salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, which soon may be revived.

Indeed, many salseros prefer to look back to the glory days of salsa.

"The true salsero loves to hear their favorite salsa singer jamming, and the orchestra showing their new sounds without the help of an engineer in a music studio," said radio host Vázquez.

New York received a blast of salsa energy last June, when Ray and Cruz headlined a Carnegie Hall concert along with Papo Lucca and his Sonora Ponceña, another oldie band. Orlando residents will get to hear the swinging duo when they take the stage next week. The chemistry of the two -- Cruz's strong tenor voice accompanied by Ray pounding the piano -- is a hallmark of their concerts.

New York-born Ray met Puerto Rico-born Cruz in New York, where they formed a group, Reyes de la Salsa, about 1963.

Like Ray and Cruz, other classic salsa bands got their start in New York in the 1960s and 1970s.

But one group, the Fania All Stars, surpassed them all. It included all the luminaries of the major bands popular at the time: Ray Barreto, Papo Lucca, Bobby Valentín, Larry Harlow, Roberto Roena, Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano, Willie Colón, Rubén Blades and others.

Many Hispanics remember the all-star concerts to this day. One in particular, Our Latin Thing, has been memorialized on film and CD sets.

After their Orlando concert, Ray and Cruz will join the Fania All Stars Sept. 8 at New York's Madison Square Garden for the 30th anniversary of Our Latin Thing.

It's yet another reminder that classic salsa lives on.

"Young folks like us have to influence the new generation," said Ray facetiously.

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