Saturday, September 3, 2011

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music

Where: Ripley Center

When: through October 9, 2011

The Spanish word sabor means taste or flavor and is often used to refer to good music.  This exhibit is full of sabor and well worth a trip to the Ripley to see.

I am always amazed at how the people who put up shows in the Ripley manage to take a terribly unattractive space with no natural light, and turn it into a feast for the eyes.  This time, they've really outdone themselves, as this exhibit is also a feast for the ears.  Latin jazz from the 1950s and 1960s is playing in the background and this adds enormously to the festive atmosphere.

The exhibit focuses on five different cities in the United States (New York, San Antonio, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles) and the growth of Latin music in those cities.  You can begin your tour of the show in any of the cities; each section is filled with great artifacts: playbills, album covers, snapshots, ticket stubs and much more.

It occurred to me to wonder, when most music is digital now, what will constitute a memento in the future?  There are no more album covers to show, which is unfortunate, as some of them were quite good works of art, independent of the music.  Will museums show computer screens with lists of people's iTunes playlists?  A question for future museum curators...

 Throughout the exhibit are listening stations, so that you can hear lots more Latin music, in addition to what's being played over the sound system.   There are also plenty of videos of concerts and displays of costumes - truly a multi-media show.

I found out some things I didn't know before (although since my knowledge of Latin music was confined to largely to Desi Arnaz and Santana - both of whom are featured - that's not surprising).  Puerto Ricans were greatly involved in the beginnings of rap and hip-hop music, but the record labels decided to market this as "black" music, so artists who were Latin had a hard time getting contracts.  The San Antonio section highlighted the music of Esteban Jordan, who was described as the "Jimi Hendrix of the accordion" - I could not help but smile at this characterization.

Verdict: Do go and check out this show.  You could spend much longer than a lunch hour here, especially if you wanted to watch the videos or listen to the music at the listening stations, but if you don't linger, you can get a good overview of the show in much less time.

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