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Book Review: New York and the International Sound of Latin Music (1940-1990)

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In his second and arguably his most ambitious book to date, the Grammy-nominated musician, professor, author Benjamin Lapidus makes a compelling case for New York-based musicians and how they shaped the sound of international music.

According to Lapidus, “The book started as an idea in 2010, and the research began in 2012. It’s easy to feel alone and even futile when tackling such a large subject, but the encouragement and interest from musicians and collectors who shared their time with me made me feel like it was a worthwhile endeavor.”

Essentially, “New York and the International Sound of Latin Music” is a comprehensive assessment of New York as the capital of Latin music from 1940 to 1990, as reported by an active participant and astute observer. Based on extended interviews and insightful musical analysis, Lapidus explores a swath of interesting and enlightening topics, including Latin Music Education in New York; Latin Music Instrument Makers in New York; Sonny Bravo, Tipica 73 and the New York Sound, Jews and Latin Music in New York and the impact of the arrival of the Cuban “Marielito’s” in the 80s.

Chapter 3, titled “This Guy Does Not Look Latin: The Panamanian Connection” shines a light on “the unique Panamanian community in New York, particularly Brooklyn-based Panamanian musicians, and their contributions to the development of Latin music. Also, Lapidus explains how Panamanian musicians felt solidarity with Cuban, Puerto Rican, West Indian, and African-American musicians whose cultures were similar, yet distinct from their own. Though it’s not well-known, Panamanian musicians were innovators and leaders in their own rite. Moreover, they performed with Louis Armstrong, Machito, and his Afro-Cubans, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente among others. 

Chapter 5, titled “Puerto Rican Engagement with Jazz and its Effects on Latin Music,” explains how “Puerto Rican and Nuyorican artists in New York City used jazz harmony, arranging, improvisation, and musical aesthetics to broaden the sound of Latin popular music from the postwar period to the 1990s and beyond. Also, it debunks false, misleading narratives that depict Puerto Rican artists as “adopters, copiers, or appropriators of Cuban music” and calls out historians, authors, and researchers who neglected specific musical advances and innovations in Latin music made by Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups in New York City. 

“New York and the International Sound of Latin Music” is obligatory reading. Particularly, as it relates to the history and development of Latin music in New York City. Benjamin Lapidus deserves praise for following the facts and debunking the “mythology” that surrounds the history of Latin music. Only an artist on the ground could have written a book as timely and as insightful as. I highly recommend it. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Lapidus is a Grammy-nominated musician and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and The Graduate Center. As a scholar, he has published widely on Latin music. He has performed and recorded throughout the world as a bandleader and supporting musician.

PURCHASE BOOK HERE

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