That’s the debate Eddie Palmieri recently started and Victor Manuelle engaged in. In the lastest round of this topic that has been debated for years, Palmieri said that the new style of Salsa was hurting Salsa music, while Victor Manuelle reacted that it’s all part of Salsa music evolution.
Palmieri’s Historical Point of View
At this moment it’s hard to find a better Salsa music flag bearer than Eddie Palmieri. The veteran Salsa and Latin Jazz pianist saw and participated in the whole evolution of the genre. His brother Charlie Palmieri started the Charanga La Duboney, from where Johnny Pacheco came from to later form the famous FANIA record label. Eddie, who played in Tito Rodriguez’s great orchestra at the top of its game, left to create one of the most influential Salsa music bands. So Eddie witnessed the forming, the golden years, and the recent decline of Salsa music.
Palmieri’s point is that Salsa has lost it’s essence of music that is rhythmic with improvisation at its center piece. Eddie argues that solos used to be an essential part of a band’s performance, and that is now lost. The music has become basically singer-centered music, lacking some of the fundamentals that made it what it is. The softening of Salsa music in this way, has made it less relevant and, therefore, of less interest to Latin music fans.
Victor Manuelle’s Evolutionary Point of View
My respects to Victor Manuelle for the way he engaged in this debate. The first thing he did is acknowledge maestro Palmieri’s expertise in the subject. He wasn’t even born when Palmieri was performing in the Palladium. He knows the maestro and has performed with Palmieri, and yet, very respectfully disagreed with him.
The “Sonero de la Juventud” is one of the 1st generation of Salsa Romantica singers that came up (after a few like Louie Ramirez, Frankie Ruiz, Luis Enrique, Eddie Santiago and others had kick-started it). But he was a Salsa Dura fan! He knows all the good old Salsa music, and has seen the birth and evolution of the Salsa Romantica into the pop-Salsa movement it became.
Victor Manuelle’s argument is that music needed to evolve, and in doing so, it attracted a whole new audience of Latin music fans that were more inclined to the romantic themes (e.g., like fans of ballads). He states that the Salsa Dura that Palmieri refers to is more than 40 years old and needed some changes, even when there is still room for the purisits who like the old Salsa music instead of the new one. There is space for all type of Salsa music and Salsa music fans, he argues.
Economics and Content Drive Salsa Music Fate
I think Palmieri and Victor Manuelle both have good points. Yes, Salsa music began losing some of its essence with the emergence of Salsa Romantica and what is now pop-Salsa. That made some Salsa dura fans walk away. On the other hand, the music always evolves. That’s part of humankind.
Even classic Cuban music inside the isolated environment after the US embargo continued to evolve, from Son Montuno, Guaguanco, etc., to Songo and later Timba. Juan de Marcos created the band Sierra Maestra to “rescue” the traditional Cuban music from falling into obsolescence with the younger Cuban generation. On this same line of thought, Juan de Marcos later created the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro Cuban All Stars bands with old Cuban legends almost forgotten.
Today we’ve seen the same with Salsa music. Bands like the Spanish Harlem Orchestra came out to “rescue” the old sound. Palmieri continues to perform his old material that audiences still love. And yet, the new generation of Salsa music and it’s artists has brought many new fans, even though some may not know, or may not even like the old style of Salsa.
Economics was part of the equation here. Clubs found it hard to sustain big Salsa bands. The new style of Salsa was less for clubs and more for concerts. It was less about dancing and more about listening as if it were ballads. So the clubs saw a decrease of attendance that couldn’t justify keeping them open. With less work there were less venues, and with less venues there was less work in a downward spiral.
The content had also something to do with old Salsa music falling out of public preference. Content of traditional Salsa was starting to become obsolete, just like the content of the old Cuban music that preceded Salsa was become obsolete to the (back then) new generation of Latin people in the barrios and urban neighborhoods. They didn’t want to listen yet again to “El Manicero”, but rather listen to “Calle Luna, Calle Sol”, something they could relate to more.
The “machista” and urban male themes were very common. Salsa Romantica brought themes all could relate to.
I better stop here, because there is so much to say about this topic. Both Palmieri and Victor Manuelle made good points. Even though pop-Salsa may have robbed some of the essence of what Salsa music was, the music was bound to evolve, and in doing so, opened it to a larger base audience. Like there are fans of Jazz and Latin Jazz, there is room for fans for old Salsa music, and of pop-Salsa.