The band Santana became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a pioneering sound that fused rock, blues, salsa and jazz. Their music featured the melodic, blues-based guitar lines of Mexican immigrant Carlos Santana, set against Latin rhythms. Photo by Chad Batka

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music

By Frank Delgado

The band Santana became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a pioneering sound that fused rock, blues, salsa and jazz. Their music featured the melodic, blues-based guitar lines of Mexican immigrant Carlos Santana, set against Latin rhythms. Photo by Chad Batka

Beginning Nov. 17, Arte Américas in Downtown Fresno will feature a traveling Smithsonian exhibit titled American Sabor. The exhibition documents the roles of post–World War II U.S. Latino musicians as “interpreters and disseminators of Latin American genres” and highlights their roles as innovators within genres of music that we understand to be indigenous to the United States, such as jazz, R&B, rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop.

The galleries inside Arte Américas will be transformed into a multisensory experience that will give guests the opportunity for an educational and entertaining experience. “There will be full-size cutouts of the featured musicians, listening stations, an interactive jukebox and dance floor right in the middle of the exhibit,” said Arte Américas treasurer and visual arts consultant Nancy Marquez. “I think our guests are going to really enjoy the didactic layout of this exhibition,” she added.

The exhibition will show until mid-January and focuses on five major centers that represent the diversity of Latino popular music production in the post–World War II United States—New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and San Francisco. Each city section draws visitors into the broader histories and cultures that shaped these musicians’ contributions. American Sabor will travel to 12 cities on a national tour that will continue through 2015.

American Sabor was organized for travel to Fresno and other cities nationally by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (or SITES). The national tour and related programming are made possible by the Ford Motor Company Fund—from its transport to related educational and entertainment opportunities.

A series of high-level concerts, lecture performances and events are planned to complement the exhibit—all at no cost to the community. “We feel very lucky and thankful for this opportunity to host concerts that feature Latin jazz, salsa and oldies-but-goodies throughout the Cultural Arts District,” said Arte Américas Executive Director Elva Rodriguez.

Guests won’t be able to just show up to the free concerts, however. “We want the community to experience American Sabor first-hand…giving context to the live performances,” said Rodriguez. Those who want to attend the performances will have to visit Arte Américas in person and pick up their ticket after viewing the exhibit.

Scheduled performers include members of the Fania All-Stars (a musical ensemble established in 1968 by composer Johnny Pacheco) and a show at the Rainbow Ballroom featuring the Latin Supergroup, which includes members of War, Malo, Santana, El Chicano and Little Joe y La Famila. Fresno music educator Steve Alcala will also curate an ArtHop/JazzHop performance at Fulton 55 featuring musicians from Fresno who have gone on to play professionally throughout the United States.

As a complement to the Smithsonian exhibit, a second exhibit titled Sabor Del Valle (Flavor of the Valley) and curated by ethnomusicologist/anthropologist Dr. Manuel Peña will be featured in the Galería de la Comunidad. Peña is a retired university professor and acclaimed author who has penned several seminal books on Latin music. He conducted a series of interviews with musicians and bandleaders from the Central Valley’s “Golden Age” of Latin music and assembled a collection of stories, show posters and historical information about the most notable bands and players.

“What I like most about American Sabor is that it’s a type of programming—arts, culture and music—that brings people together,” said Arte Américas music consultant Helen Rael, “and I like that this is a great opportunity to bring even more people from our local community to our cultural center.”

*****

Frank Delgado is the program director at Arte Américas and hosts a program that spotlights the cultural center called Nuestra Casa on KFCF 88.1 FM on the third Thursday of each month from 1 p.m.–2 p.m.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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