Salsa is and was a controversial term for music that escaped between the edges of definition. It wasn’t simply Puerto Rican, Cuban, commercial, from New York, black etc and yet it wasn’t possible without all of these things
This film doesn’t really try to define salsa as much as to triangulate it through looking at the music through they eyes of musicians like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz on the one hand and social activists on the other. Of course, the commercial pressures that produced Fania’s slickest productions are caught here on the turn as more conscious lyricists like Ruben Blades reclaim in words the spirit of resistance that the music has nurtured in its rhythms.
Jeremy Marre gets over to Puerto Rico and looks at everything from Santeria to tourist shows and back in New York he gets close to the musicians. But the thread that holds it all together are the words of the utterly mesmorising young activist Felipe as he recounts the social import of the music. The political tone he casts on the documentary would scare PBS in the States away from broadcasting the programme and it took ITV’s South Bank Show to screen this incredibly vibrant account of the wonderful music of the Latin Diaspora.
This is by no means a full account of a type of music, it is a moment in time, explored through different people’s eyes in a community united by a shared experience of marginalisation but fired to the heart with crushing, pulsing, explosive rhythms. Even less is it a typical music video. Do not buy this if you just want to hear the great artists mentioned on the cover, but do buy it if you want to understand them a little better.
The DVD comes with a fascinating director’s commentary peppered with interesting asides on the music, the musicians, the politics and the characters.
Salsa will be released on 12 March 2007 in the UK and is out now in the States