Memories from the beginning of my blessed close to 43 years of my musical journey. I’m truly blessed!
“¡Salsa Divina!” 1975 – “Fotos y Recuerdos”: Serendipity…The beginning of “¡Con Salsa!”
“Identity keeps you grounded and purpose keeps you going.”
I have writte...n and told the story of that unforgettable Friday night on July 20th, 1973 at the Bradford Hotel when I played the role of master of ceremonies and one of the Four Amigos promoters for two outstanding bands and the beginning of new relationships and friendships that I have enjoyed for the past forty-one years. The dance featuring Ralphy Leavitt and La Selecta with Sammy Marrero and Andy Harlow and his band, wasn’t an overwhelming success in regards to the numbers of ticket sold that I and my other three amigos, James Richards, Sonia Marrero and Jovita Fontanez had hoped for, but much better than expected considering that there were some influential people working against us wanting us to fail. At the end of the night we each made $75.00 after expenses.
Late that night as I walked back to my apartment on Montgomery Street in the South End I thought abut a song I had been playing on my record player over and over again…”Puerto Rico” by Eddie Palmieri from his album “Sentido” on Mango records. I had bought it at Vitin’s Record Shop on Tremont Street, around the corner from my apartment. When I first heard it I immediately fell in love with it and thought that it would be a great theme song for a radio program. I thought that if ever I would have the chance to do a radio show I would remember the lessons learned from the experience in dealing with the powers that be. I would aspire to be different.
It was a night that would transform my role and purpose as an active stakeholder in the Puerto Rican community and beyond.
Two years later on June 22nd 1975 I would welcome listeners to the first airing of “¡Con Salsa!” on WBUR90.9FM. Since then, nearly thirty nine years later, every time I’m about to start my show, during my meditation and prayer, I give thanks to those who without knowing it inspired me to do what I do and be who I am. “Los ricos, los pobres, los buenos, los malos, los valientes, los cobardes, los lindos, los feos, los inocentes, y los culpables” - I thank them with much love, respect and admiration.
I especially thank the late Lonnie Stephens, a college friend from Antioch who was the person who opened the door for me at WBUR spring of 1975.
Lonnie was working as an announcer/producer at the station and one night as I drove down Commonwealth Avenue towards Kenmore Square I saw him waving for a taxi with some recording equipment on his shoulder. I immediately recognized the tall, lanky figure with the big Afro and pulled over to offer him a ride. We drove to his apartment in the South End, shared a cup of coffee as we caught up with each other and he casually mentioned that the station was looking to do a Latino themed radio program on weekends. Without missing a beat I told him I had an idea for a bilingual program in English and Spanish that would feature Afro-Latin music as the connection between the African Diaspora throughout the new world and that of the musical tinge from Cuba, and Puerto Rico into New Orleans up to New York City. I already had a name for it I told him…“¡Con Salsa!”
He smiled his broad glowing white teeth as he responded with enthusiasm, inviting me to join him at the station later that week for a recording of a pilot program for him to submit. I remember riding the elevator at 630 Commonwealth Avenue with a shopping cart loaded with 33.3 rpms vinyl LP (Long Play) records. When he met meet on the top floor he was surprised to see the number of albums I brought with me, suggesting that the recording wouldn’t be for more than 10 minutes or so.
I just wanted to have as many options to play depending on my mood although I knew that “Puerto Rico” by Palmieri would take up 7:00 minutes. So as they say the rest is history! Within a few weeks I was invited to meet Bonnie Cronin who was the General Manager at the time and I was given a slot as a community volunteer from 8:30 to 10:30pm on Sunday nights. I was developing my radio voice, highly influenced in style by the great and legendary Felipe Luciano and Terry Denizard from “La Hora del Feeling” in San Juan and within a year, because of it’s acceptance and the support of a new diverse audience, the show was expanded to Saturday and Sunday nights from 8:00 – 10:30pm and I was hired as a professional announcer producer.
The list of those who I thank every weekend include Bonnie, the late James Bonney, Jane Christo, Steve Slade, Ted Boccelli, Rob Batteles, Dennis Boyer, the late great Tony Cennamo, Steve Elman, Ronda Hamilton, David Letterman, Charles Perkins, Wylie Rollins, and all of the other great community and student volunteers.
I especially thank my dear friends, Angel Medina, who was with me from the very beginning and Bruno Rodriguez, my faithful colleague. There are many others that I will thank in subsequent essays.
Shortly after the beginning of “¡Con Salsa!” I spent that July 4th summer week of 1975 in New York City interviewing musicians, singers, record producers, journalist at Latin Beat Magazine and others to learn about their contribution to our music. I spent time at every Latin Music Company, and record store; checking out music jam’s at Central Park, live gigs with Héctor LaVoe, Corporación Latina, El Sabor de Nacho, Roberto Roena, Tipica ’73 and at the Fania All-Stars concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of “Our Latin Thing” at Madison Square Garden.
The renowned music historian and folklorist René López introduced me to the González brothers (Andy and Jerry) over the telephone from his office, insisting that I visit them at their home on Gildersleeve Avenue in the Bronx.
I remember the first time I had seen Jerry and Andy play; it was at a dance with Eddie Palmieri at Club Ocho Mil in San Juan. Christmas holidays 1973, my mother had picked my girlfriend and I at the airport and on the drive home I noticed a banner hanging across the street announcing a dance that night with Palmieri, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, Santos Colón and Roberto y su Nuevo Montuno. Eddie’s band that night had Barry Rogers and José Rodríguez on trombones, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros and Vitín Paz on trumpets, Mario Rivera on saxophone, Alfredo De la Fe on violin, Nicky Marrero on timbales, Tommy “Chucki” López on bongo, Eladio Pérez and Jerry on congas, Andy on bass and Ismael Quintana on vocals. Unlike the other bands they weren’t dressed in uniforms, played song after song without reading music charts, and featured solos by everyone at an energy that blew the other bands off the stage.
Visiting with them at their home was a “real time” musical education through our conversations, a number of musicians stopping by, listening to tapes of their gigs with Palmieri, Barretto, Libre, Conjunto Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorkino and many, many others. I will always be indebted to them for their time and generosity for a fledgling radio host/producer.
I would see them perform with El Grupo Folklórico that fall at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, meet the legendary Nancy Luciano and see them later with Manny Oquendo’s Libre.
That summer, back in Boston, I would also receive a telephone call from John S. Gail, from the Carlton Hotel Corporation regarding a concert/dance with Tito Puente at the their Harbour House Hotel on the Lynnway in Lynn. It was there that I met Tito for the first time, (and my dear friend Bobby Sanabria who later sat in with TP), conducted my first interview with him and formed the beginning of a friendship until his death in 2000. I was fortunate to either promote, produce or MC many of his performances in Boston and at the Newport Jazz Festival.
And I had the honor of producing his last concert in Boston at Northeastern University’s Blackman Auditorium on Friday, May 5th, 1999.
Tito and his band had flown on the red eye from Hawaii to New Jersey the night before in route to Boston. I was at Logan airport waiting for him when I was informed that he missed his flight to Boston. My first concern was for his health since he had recently celebrated his seventy-sixth birthday and continued to work a very gruelinig schedule of one-nighters after fifty years of performing throughout the world. I was relieved to hear that he was fine and on his way via bus with the rest of the band.
The concert was scheduled for seven thirty pm and Tito and his musicians arrived at seven pm. The sellout crowd of 1,116 had grown inpatient outside the auditorium waiting to be seated as I kept them informed of his whereabouts and estimated time of arrival. An hour later they were on their feet giving him a standing ovation before the first note was played. That night Tito Puente showed us all once again that he truly was the King of Latin Music. He played the sound and rhythms of the big band mambo era, the cha-cha-cha’s, guaguancos, montunos and Latin-jazz that he and the other two Mambo Kings, Tito Rodríguez and Machito had popularized at the historic home of the Mambo, the Palladium Ballroom in New York City. By the end of the night everyone was dancing in the aisles, young and old, Latino, black and white, a night never to be forgotten.
The next morning, on the same stage, he conducted a workshop with the Boston All City High School Jazz Band. The youngsters had rehearsed a few of his charts and even though they weren’t totally aware of whom he was, seeing him perform the night before made the morning clinic extra special. For more than two hours, Tito played his timbales with the young musicians, answered questions, offered advice, signed autographs and posed for pictures. He was charming, engaging and truly grateful for the opportunity to share time with these talented young high school musicians.
Summer of ’75 led to fall and I continued traveling to NYC as often as possible immersing myself in everything that was Salsa…concerts and dances, sometimes just for the night and back. The powerful draw of the line up of Salsa stars and legends was irresistible as you can see by the accompanying flyers to this essay. By the end of the year I was a bonafide Eddie Palmieri fan…catching him live wherever and whenever I could.
If I was going to talk about it on radio, I needed to live it in the streets.
As we did on so many occasions, my good friend Angel Medina and I drove down from Boston right after work for a benefit Latin Salsa Concert to Save Jazz Radio at the Village Gate on October 20, 1975. WRVR Jazz Radio in New York City served as the home for Felipe Luciano’s extremely popular weekend programs, “Third Bridge” and “Latin Roots” until May 8th of that year when he was dismissed after airing two programs dealing with a controversy in the lower East Side’s School District 1.
Roger Dawson then occupied the 1:00 – 6:00pm slot with his “Sunday Salsa Show” but in October it was announced that WRVR had been sold and the night at the Gate was the Latino contribution to the effort of the Citizens Committee to Save Jazz Radio. Nancy Rodríguez, the former Nancy Luciano, from Mothers Latino a booking, artist management and Production Company and Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, the former Minister of Information for the Young Lords and host of his own radio program “El Barrio Nuevo” on WQIV FM, were the producers of the benefit concert.
Nancy was the co-producer of “Latin Roots” with her then husband Felipe Luciano, is the mother of Felipe Luciano, Jr. and broadcast her own radio program on WBAI “Con Sabor Latino” from 1987 and “Ritmo y Aché” into the early 2000’s.
It was a great night of memorable music that included Raices, the late Bobby Rodríguez y La Compañia, El Conjunto Candela with the late Nestor Sánchez on vocals, Seguida a Latin Rock band, El Grupo Folklorico Experimental Nuevayorquino, Celia Cruz, Ricardo Marrero and the Group (with Dave Valentin on flute), and the grand finale Eddie Palmieri and his band with Lalo Rodríguez on vocals. Machito, Rubén Blades and Ismael Quintana were among a number of singers and musicians in the audience lending their support in solidarity.
Back in Boston, in October I would work with Willie Alonso on a dance featuring the great and legendary Charlie Palmieri and his Ochestra along with Orquesta Clave as the opening act. Willie was a recent Puerto Rican transplant to Boston at the time that, among other things, distributed Latin New York Magazine in the Boston area. It was another one of those memorable nights thanks to Lonnie recording two hours worth of the music live including a jam at the end of Mambo Show with members of Mongo Santamaria’s band that were playing that night at Paul’s Mall/Jazz Workshop.
After the gig we went to Willie’s girlfriend’s apartment in Jamaica Plain for some down-home cooking of “asopao de camarones” (Shrimp stew) with Charlie and some the band.
But during that memorable summer week in New York City, Alex Massucci at Fania records suggested that I just sit in the lobby of their offices at 888 7th Avenue and interview who ever walked in through the door.
Ray Barretto was one. He had a new album soon to be released featuring the late Puerto Rican singer Tito Gómez and a new vocalist from Panamá that he wanted me to wait around for, suggesting that it would be worth my while. Late that afternoon, early evening, Ray introduced me to Rubén Blades. As we started the interview he asked “¿de donde tú eres? ¿Puerto Rico?” Emphatically he said, “¡Nunca te olvide o deje de tocar la música de Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Mon Rivera, El Gran Combo, Tito Rodríguez o Joe Cuba y Cheo Feliciano! ¡Esa son la gente que llevaron esta música a Panamá y yo siempre me voy a recordar de eso!”
“Where are you from? Puerto Rico? Don’t ever forget or stop playing the music of Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Mon Rivera, El Gran Combo, Tito Rodríguez, or Joe Cuba and Cheo Feliciano! They were the ones who brought this music to Panamá and I’m always going to remember that!”
Prophetic words that would serve as a core value of “¡Con Salsa!” paying tribute to all who have contributed to our music, culture, history and quality of life.
Little did I know how much that week would play a role in the following 39 years of my life.
I am truly blessed.
© José C. Massó III 3.5.14
This SUNDAY! El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico @ The Wonderland Ballroom.
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico!
Este Domingo - This Sunday
Wonderland Ballroom JUST Remodeled!
“¡Salsa Divina!” – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, “Los baluartes de nuestra música”
Puerto Rican Salsa singer Tony Vega recorded a song, “Los baluartes de nuestr...a música” (The bastions of our music) where he pays tribute to some of the great singers, musicians and musical groups from the Island including Gilberto Santa Rosa, La Sonora Ponceña, Domingo Quiñones, Andy Montañez, Cheo Feliciano, Bobby Valentín, Tito Rojas, Tito Puente, Frankie Ruiz, Ismael Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Rosario, Pellin Rodríguez, and Tito Rodríguez.
When he sings about El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico he calls them “El Gran Combo del Mundo” (The Grand Combo of the World) and praises them for enhancing our flag.
Tonight, in anticipation of their upcoming concert/dance next Sunday, March 11th in the newly and completely renovated Wonderland Ballroom in Revere celebrating their 55th anniversary, I’ll dedicate the five hours of “¡Con Salsa!” to the music, songs and legacy of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico.
I invite you to tune in from 10:00pm – 3:00am on wbur90.9fm or worldwide on the web:wbur.org
“Como cantante Tony Vega, “hay que destacar y mencionar, hay que valorar y ovacionar, hay que mencionar y destacar a los baluartes de nuestra música.”
“¡Salsa Divina!” – Dave Valentín ¡Que Viva!
Four months after the beginning of “¡Con Salsa!” I met and saw Dave Valentín perform for the first time on October 2...0th 1975 at a benefit “Latin Salsa Concert to Save Jazz Radio” at the Village Gate on the corner of Thompson and Bleeker Streets in the Greenwich Village in New York City. WRVR Jazz Radio in New York City served as the home for Felipe Luciano’s extremely popular weekend programs, “Third Bridge” and “Latin Roots” until May 8th of that year when he was dismissed after airing two programs dealing with a controversy in the lower East Side’s School District 1.
Roger Dawson then occupied the 1:00 – 6:00pm slot with his “Sunday Salsa Show” but in October it was announced that WRVR had been sold and the night at the Gate was the Latino contribution to the effort of the Citizens Committee to Save Jazz Radio.
Nancy Rodríguez from Mothers Latino, a booking, artist management and Production Company and Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, the former Minister of Information for the Young Lords and host of his own radio program “El Barrio Nuevo” on WQIV FM, were the producers of the benefit concert.
Nancy was the co-producer of “Latin Roots” with her then husband Felipe Luciano, and is the mother of Felipe Luciano, Jr. She hosted her own radio program on WBAI “Con Sabor Latino” from 1987 and “Ritmo y Aché” into the early 2000’s.
My good friend Ángel Medina and I drove down from Boston right after work late that Monday afternoon in time to catch a memorable night of music that included Raices, the late Bobby Rodríguez y La Compañia, El Conjunto Candela with the late Nestor Sánchez on vocals, Seguida a Latin Rock band, El Grupo Folklorico Experimental Nuevayorquino, Celia Cruz, Ricardo Marrero and the Group and the grand finale Eddie Palmieri and his band with Lalo Rodríguez on vocals. Machito, Rubén Blades and Ismael Quintana were among a number of singers and musicians in the audience lending their support in solidarity.
It was a truly memorable night. The group Raices had caused a stir back then because they had been signed by Atlantic Records and had just released their first and only album “Raices” on Nemperor Records. The group included musicians that I had known from my days playing drums and singing in garage bands (The Traveler’s, Filet-o’-Soul), and performing at high school dances and clubs as a teenager in San Juan in the 1960’s until I came to the United States in 1970. Some of them had been members of popular rock groups back then (We Know You, The Challengers, The Living End and the Sunsets) and all were very talented: Amaury Lopez on piano, Juan Melendez on flute, Carlos (Kiko) Melendez on guitars, Roberto Puras on bass, Rafael Cruz on percussion, Sammy Figueroa on congas and the very talented and legendary Gonchi Sifre on drums.
Ricardo Marrero and the group included Dave Valentín on flute and two future founding members of Rubén Blades’ Seis del Solar, Marrero on vibes and bass player Mike Viñas. All three had met as students at New York’s Music and Art High School. As impressed as I was of Dave’s flute playing, I was more impressed upon learning that he and Mike were music teachers in the New York City public schools.
I would befriend Ricardo and Mike when they performed in Boston for the first time with Rubén and Seis del Solar at a memorable concert at the John Hancock Hall on November 19, 1983 that I co-produced with El Pueblo Nuevo Inc.
Our friendship would grow over the years as I produced Rubén’s concerts in Boston and when I served as tour manager for them and Rubén while working for Bob Woolf and Associates as a sports and entertainment agent. I would also get to know Sammy Figueroa over the years and our friendship would also grow during his time with Seis del Solar in the early 1990’s.
After that memorable October 20th concert I would have numerous occasions over the years of serving as emcee when Dave performed in Boston with Manny Oquendo & Libre, with his own band, with pianist Bill O’Connell, the Caribbean Jazz Project with Paquito D’Rivera and Dave Samuels, and with the great Tito Puente. He was always immaculately dressed, elegant from head to toe as he created a potpourri of sounds on his flute with his growls and cries punctuating the air.
He left us at a relatively young age of 64 on March 8th, 2017 but his music and legacy is alive and well. Last night I had the honor of emceeing a tribute concert in his honor at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts. Our dear friend Oscar Stagnaro, bass player extraordinaire, Berklee College of Music administrator and professor, co-produced the event with Lolivone de la Rosa, an extremely talented guitarist and student at Berklee from Puerto Rico who put together an outstanding band of young musicians who performed 10 selections from Dave’s songbook at a level that he would have been proud of.
Fernando Brandão (Brazil), Kristalis Sotomayor (the pride and joy of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico) and Anggie Obin (the pride and joy of Panamá) were outstanding on flute, along with pianist Jiwon Kwon from South Korea who transcribed all of the music, Gen Yoshimura on drums from Japan, Jason Camelio on trombone (USA) and from Venezuela, Alexis Soto.
A heartfelt thank you to Oscar and Lolivone for thinking of me as their emcee and to the musicians for a truly outstanding night of great music that was memorable for all of us who attended.
Yesterday morning at 5:00am as I slept, I started putting together a poem in Dave’s honor. At 5:30am I woke up, walked down to my basement office and sat down on the computer and wrote “Dave Valentín ¡Que Viva!”
When I came back upstairs to bed Divina asked me if I was okay and what was I doing? “Writing a poem for Dave Valentín” I answered.
Last night, accompanied by Alexis providing a tumbao on his congas, I recited the following poem:
Dave Valentín ¡Que Viva!
David Joseph Valentín
Hijo de boogie down Bronx
Maestro de maestros
Virtuoso de la flauta
Creator of wind songs
Heard in heaven and on earth
Leyenda de leyendas
Gigante entre gigantes
At home with the legends and the giants
Tito and Herbie Mann,
Hubert Laws y Manny Oquendo & Libre,
Paquito, Dave Samuels,
Caribbean Jazz Project y el piano de Bill O’Connell
Y el de Palmieri
Maestro de Maestros
Virtuoso de la flauta
De la descarga a Dansette
From Danzón for my Father to Obsesión
Your growls and cries punctuating the air
Your magical flute melodies taking us to El Yunque,
Sounds of the rainforest y el coqui como la clave
El ritmo de las olas de Luquillo sirviendo como el tumbao
Nos alimentaste con el aire del caribe, aroma a mar
con el sabor del Tropic Heat.
Maestro de Maestros
Virtuoso de la flauta
Antecedentes de Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
La Sultana del Oeste
De los versos de Marti al Son Afro-Cubano
y El Grito de Lares Boricua de Betances al ritmo de Bomba y Plena
a Nueva York y el Latin-Jazz.
Maestro de Maestros
Virtuoso de la flauta
Lamentamos tu partida
Y hoy celebramos tu legado.
¡Viva Valentín! Long live Valentín! ¡Que Viva!
© José C. Massó III 2.23.18
“¡Con Salsa!” – Pianos a lo Cubano: Alfredo Rodríguez & Omar Sosa
Last Friday we enjoyed a truly memorable night of great music featuring two of Cuba’s greatest... pianist: Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. In the month of March, two other outstanding Cuban pianists will be performing in Boston.
Alfredo Rodríguez and his trio will be at the Regattabar next Thursday night, March 1st for one show at 7:30pm. His new CD “The Little Dream” is his fourth studio album – “one that reflects the hope children hold in building a brighter future, where tiny dreams manifest into grandiose realities.”
Over the years, Rodríguez’s worldwide tours have shaped his diverse global point of view. “I believe people are more similar than different. We live in a time where we have so many ways to inform ourselves, and yet some places – and people – choose to remain isolated. As a result, the world can lack peace and empathy, instead of showing unity and tolerance.”
In a time where governments want to build walls instead of bridges, and uplifting programs like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are being rescinded, Rodríguez understands how important “dreams” are, especially for today’s youth, and the immigrant children known as “Dreamers”, for shaping a more unified future. He expresses, “the title of my new album, The Little Dream, is my response to our current world climate. The title comes from my fascination with the dream world, which is a beautiful manifestation of our reality. My greatest dream is one where all humans live happily and in peace. Children are the hope and the answer to creating a world of love, peace, unity and understanding.
Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita will be performing their North American tour debut in Boston at the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday, March 24, 2018 at 8:00pm.
Their new CD Transparent Water is a collaboration between 7-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist-composer-bandleader Omar Sosa and U.K.-based Senegalese kora master and singer Seckou Keita, featuring folkloric Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles. The project is the latest example of Omar’s determination to seek new combinations of instruments and cultures, wherein the musical destination is subordinate to the joy of shared artistic expression.
Transparent Water – suggestive of translucence and flowing light – is a deeply spiritual performance, revealing its inspiration in the close and compassionate listening of artists engaged in a captivating musical conversation, reaching across three continents to probe the collective spirit of the human condition. Felix Contreras of NPR Music put it this way: “While living with this album for some time before I tried to put words to my fascination, I often imagined Omar Sosa lifted up to the Yoruba spirits in the form of a swarm of butterflies. Such is the beauty of his musical spirit.”
Tonight on “¡Con Salsa!” I’ll feature tracks from both of these excellent new CDs “The Little Dream” and “Transparent Water”.
I invite you to tune in from 10:00pm – 3:00am on wbur.90.9fm or worldwide on the web:wbur.org.
DAVE VALENTIN TRIBUTE TOMORROW FRIDAY 2/23 8PM. FEW SEATS AVAILABLE. NO COVER. RSVP: email@example.com Join Berklee faculty and students:
Fernando Brandão (Fl...ute)
Kristalis Sotomayor (Flute)
Anggie Obin (Flute)
Jason Camelio (Trombone)
Lolivone de la Rosa (Electric Guitar)
Jiwon Kwon (Piano)
Oscar Stagnaro (Bass/Musical Director)
Alexis Soto (Percussion)
Gen Yoshimura (Drums)
José Massó (MC)
I look forward to this celebration of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico's 55th anniversary and will have the honor of serving as emcee....I invite you to join us for this memorable night of great music and dance.
“¡Salsa Divina!” 6 Chapters/4 Days: Chapter 4: Chucho Valdés & Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Last night Divina and I enjoyed one of the best concerts I have ever experience...d in my life! And that is saying a lot since I have seen so many during my lifetime.
Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba entertained us for over an hour and 40 minutes during their Boston performance of “Trance”, the two-piano project that brings together two generations of the greatest Cuban piano players of the last 50 years.
The first time that I saw Jesús “Chucho” Valdes, the eminent Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger perform live was with his group Irakere during their first tour of the United States at a concert at Boston College where they were the opening act for Stephen Stills. The date was March 22nd 1979. Chucho led a stellar group of musicians including Arturo Sandoval and Jorge Varona on trumpets, the multi-reedist Paquito D’Rivera and Carlos Averoff on saxophones, Carlos del Puerto on bass, Carlos Emilio Morales on guitar, Enrique Plá on drums with Jorge Alfonso on percussion and Armando Cuervo and Oscar Valdés on vocals. I would have a chance of meeting them that night after their performance, and interviewing Paquito in Spanish and Carlos Averoff, who was the most fluent in English.
Nearly twenty years later, in 1997, I saw Chucho’s father, Bebo, another legendary Cuban pianist perform along with Paquito D’Rivera and the late, great Israel “Cachao” López on bass with a big band in a concert in Miami, Florida.
Over the years I have seen Chucho perform in Boston whenever he’s been on tour the last time being on November 12th 2015 with his Afro-Cuban Messengers at the Berklee Performance Center in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Irakere.
In 2001 I hosted the first of three annual trips to Cuba as part of the defunct Citizens of the World Tours for WBUR. I consider the experiences as life changing since that very first trip from the moment I set foot at the José Martí International Airport in Havana. I grew to feel that despite the hardships, I was struck by the Cuban’s dignity, hospitality, gentleness, patience, indomitable spirit and unquenchable sense of humor.
We enjoyed a lot of music during our trips to Cuba and one of the most memorable was Chucho performing with his group at the Hotel Nacional in Havana during our second trip in 2002. The following day we had a chance to socialize with him at one of the local paladares, in an outdoor garden under a beautiful tropical sun.
For those of us who were fortunate to enjoy Chucho and Gonzalo last night, “Trance” will live in our memories forever. We are so blessed!
A very long post, but I ask that you consider reading it. Thank you.
“¡Salsa Divina!” - El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico 55 Años de Patria y Cultura & “Negritude” Shaggy Flores.
“Aquel que no está orgulloso de su origen no valdrá nun...ca nada porque empieza por despreciarse a sí mismo” ("He who is not proud of his origin will never be worth anything because he begins by despising himself") - Pedro Albizu Campos
My dear friend June Carolyn Erlick, Editor-in-Chief of ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, wrote in her Editor’s Letter for the excellent Winter 2018 edition that is dedicated to Afro-Latin Americans, that “music is resistance and the music of Afrodescendants past and present has been used to resist the dominant white culture. Music is identity – it is a way of asserting one’s heritage. And music is often democratic, allowing all to participate, whether as performer and artist or spectator.”
In celebration of this year’s Black History Month I offer the following essay. It’s rather long for a Facebook post, but I ask that you indulge my penchant for sharing my thoughts in long form instead of 150 characters.
As you can imagine, during these past 42 years plus, I have been blessed with countless memorable moments and every day I give thanks for living these moments in time for which I will be forever grateful.
Musicians and singers are very much part of my experiences and memorable moments. People that I love, respect and admire. The list is long, but I will mention Eddie Palmieri, Rubén Blades, and Juan Luis Guerra just to name three. I hope and plan to publish my book, “¡Salsa Divina!” this year in celebration of the 43rd anniversary of “¡Con Salsa!” The book is an anthology of essays that are semi-biographical, with social commentary, and historical anecdotes around my experiences in music, sports, entertainment, media, politics, education, academia, philanthropy and community.
Among the many musical groups, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico will figure prominently throughout the tome.
On Sunday, March 11th El Gran Como de Puerto Rico continue their 55nd anniversary celebration tour with a dance/concert at the newly and completely renovated Wonderland Ballroom some 7 miles north of Boston in Revere. I will have the honor and pleasure of serving as emcee for this special event featuring this iconic group of musicians.
There is a story regarding Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Puerto Rican collector, historian, and archivist. While he was in grade school in Puerto Rico, it has been said that one of his teachers claimed that blacks had no history, heroes or accomplishments. This exchange inspired Schomburg to prove the teacher wrong, and he dedicated his life to finding and documenting the accomplishments of Africans on their own continent and in the Diaspora, including Afro-Latino/as and led him to a life-long quest for Africana knowledge. Schomburg would also become deeply allied with the African American experience and was one of the main figures of the Harlem Renaissance during the early 1900’s after moving to New York at the age of 17 on April 17, 1891.
A good number of you know my story.
My grandmother, María Anastacia Colón Aponte de Massó was born in Salinas, Puerto Rico on April 27th 1891 and died in Guayama, Puerto Rico on October 28th 2003. Doña Provi, as she was affectionately known, was a beautiful and a wise soul of a woman, who lived on earth for 112 years, 6 months and 1 day. She didn’t have the benefit of an extensive formal education, but she took advantage of life’s lessons and lived a productive and meaningful life.
She was a very unique person, extremely talented and gifted who was very popular, loved and respected by her family, friends and community. In the official archives of Salinas and Guayama, she is recognized as the Exemplary Mother of the Year on two different occasions.
She not only lived 112 years, 6 months and 1 day of Puerto Rican history she contributed to the Island’s history and made history as well.
Because of her wisdom, I learned a lot about life and as the adage goes “I never mistake knowledge for wisdom, knowing that one helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”
During our frequent trips to the Island I would gather my children and later our grandchildren around her to hear stories about her life and experiences. Like others of her generation she clearly accepted that yesterday was history and that there was nothing one could do to change the past other than to learn from the experience and hopefully be a better human being.
My grandfather, Eusebio Massó, doña Provi’s husband and soul mate, was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico on August 14th 1875 and died at the age of 87 in that city on June 27th 1962. He is best known and remembered as the only trainer and rider of the great and immortal Dulce Sueño, recognized “as the greatest Paso Fino sire the breed has produced, the prepotent sire, the most beautiful horse, and the greatest breed builder we will ever have.” 
My grandfather is immortalized forever in history books for his scientific approach to horse breeding and training. He was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 as well as the Guayama Sports Hall of Fame. He was also declared “Inmortal” by el Caney del Deporte de Salinas in 1992 and recognized with the Copa Bucanero de Paso Fino in 2005. Every year the Dulce Sueño Festival is held in Guayama and my grandfather’s legacy is continuously celebrated and perpetuated.
Both of my grandparents not only lived Puerto Rican history, they contributed to it while making history themselves.
Every day, when I face my computer as I sit at my desk in my office at work, I have in front of me a wall with photos of my grandparents and awards of recognition given to them that serve as reminders of my rich ancestry and cultural heritage, and their historic legacy. I am humbled in their presence and inspired to carry forward in their names and memory.
I, for one, unlike some Puerto Ricans, have never been ashamed of my grandmother or grandfather because of their African Boricua roots and ancestry. On the contrary, I grew up proud of who they were – their accomplishments, contributions and what they represented.
The issue of race and racial identity is complex and each one of us arrives at it from our own historical, social, political, economic, cultural and personal context. Our perspective is informed as well by our personal experiences.
The 2011 PBS series and book “Black in Latin America” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. sheds some light on this issue in some of the countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. This past Christmas, my wife Divina gave me a number of books that offer a deeper dive on this topic including “Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity” (Juan Flores), “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico” (Luis A. Figueroa), “Race, Front and Center: Perspectives on Race among Puerto Ricans” (Carlos Vargas-Ramos), “The Politics of Race in Panama: Afro-Hispanic and West Indian Literary Discourses of Contention” (Sonja Stephenson Watson), and “Remixing Reggaetón: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico” (Petra R. Rivera-Rideau). “Cuba A Cultural History” (Alan West-Durán), and “Musicalizando La Raza” (Bárbara I. Abadía-Rexach) are two others that have enlightened me on this complex subject matter.
My grandparents and parents contributed to my developing my identity and self-esteem. My journey involved a lot of deep introspection and was aided by being raised in a household where we were taught that everything and anything is possible and that what mattered was a person’s character and name. Little importance or value was given to those who flaunted their titles, their social economic class or the color of their skin.
“Mis abuelos criaron a mis padres
pasando todo tipo de necesidad
¡Ay! Pero nunca jamás, dieron un paso atrás.
Y tejieron banderas con las fibras más bellas
fibras santas de dignidad
raza, orgullo esperanza, sin rendirse jamás.
Estoy tan lejos de lo que quiero ser
pero me alegra tener en quien creer
tengo mi pueblo, pueblo latino
sigo pa’lante por mi tierra y mis hijos” 
My father, José C. Massó Colón was born in Salinas and served in the United States Army. Like his three brothers, he saw active duty in Europe during World War II. And like those of his generation and others from Puerto Rico who have served in the United States Armed Forces, he faced racism and discrimination because of the color of his skin, his Spanish language and Puerto Rican nationality. Yet he persevered and retired as an officer with the rank of Major after twenty-three years of active duty.
Thanks to the GI Bill my father was able to pursue his academic studies at the University of Puerto Rico and eventually obtained his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Business Administration.
He passed away in 2009 at the age of 93 and not only did he live over nine decades of Puerto Rican/United States history, he contributed to it while making history himself.
I was born in Old San Juan, at the Rodríguez Army Hospital in the former Fort Brooke. That building used to be “El Cuartel Ballajá”, home to Spanish troops and their families. It was the last and largest building constructed by the Spaniards in the New World. Today it houses the Museum of the Américas (inaugurated October 12, 1992), located on its second floor.
Whenever I walk the streets of Old San Juan, I feel as though I was born breathing Puerto Rican history and culture.
“en mi casa nunca se rindió el ¡Yo Puedo!
Me iba a la cama con la fe del que ganó.
Me despertaba con la paz del que aprendió que lo importante en esta vida es el tratar.
¡Que lo que cuesta es lo que no voy a olvidar!
Crecí luchando…” 
As a Puerto Rican, born and raised in the Island during the decades of the 1950’s, ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, I am very much aware of the racial reality “de mi gente boricua en nuestra patria y en la diáspora en los estados unidos” and the long list of terms commonly used to describe our racial complexities. As our friend Alan West-Durán, author and Associate Professor, Department of Modern Languages at Northeastern University, wrote in his article, “AfroBoricua?”  – “Many of these terms, depending on attitude and tone, can be expressions of endearment, grudging acceptance, contempt, or condescension”.
As proud as I manifested my African heritage and blackness in Puerto Rico it was ironic that upon coming to the United States to study at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1970 I would be called a nigger by a Black student who questioned my Puerto Ricanism and thus I found myself having to explain, defend and manifest my nationality as well as my race.
I didn’t become aware of Arturo Schomburg until after that episode back in the fall of ‘70. I learned that he was also among the earliest advocates for Black Studies. Given his immense educational contribution to knowledge about the Black world, which continued to include a special interest in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Spain, Schomburg may be considered the most memorable of Afro-Latinos in the United States. Schomburg’s life on the color line, his direct knowledge, and experience of racism in the Caribbean and the United States, and his kinship with other Afro-Caribeños and African Americans served as a model for Afro-Latino/as through the first half of the 20th century. Almost one hundred years after Arturo Schomburg called for the study of “Negro History,” he continues to serve as a symbol of diasporic unity and as an inspiration for Afro-Latino/as seeking knowledge about their African roots. Today, arguably the world’s largest repository of Africana, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture bears his name.
When I was experiencing a period of homesickness and culture shock during my first year at Antioch, my father surprised me by shipping my record collection that included the music of Rafael Cortijo with Ismael Rivera, Ismael Rivera’s solo recordings, El Gran Combo, Roberto Roena y Su Apolo Sound and many of my other favorites. It was as if he knew that they would serve as reminders of my roots and identity.
He had watched as my older brother and I would sit in our living room as youngsters in the late ‘50s early ‘60s glued to the moving black and white picture on television of Cortijo y su Combo performing in El Show Del Medio Día and La Taberna India. We would sing along to all of their songs, imitating their dance steps and routines, playing imaginary cowbells and percussion instruments. We would do the same thing to a different beat and language a few years’ later as young teenagers when we watched The Beatles and Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show. But Cortijo y su Combo and Ismael Rivera were our first true idols. Coupled with the exploits of Roberto Clemente and Orlando “Peruchín” Cepeda on the baseball fields throughout the major leagues, we were beginning to witness the emergence of black skinned Puerto Ricans representing Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans on the world stage.
The civil rights movement in the United States of Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine and John Lewis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were gaining traction throughout the country with the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequently Malcolm X, the Black Power movement of Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panthers moved us to embrace Black empowerment and James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” soon became the symbolic anthem for Black identity and pride in the United States.
But in 1961, Cortijo, Rivera, Clemente and Cepeda gave Afro Boricuas throughout the Island reason to walk with a sense of pride in our stride.
It is because of my ancestors, my grandparents, my parents, the Arturo Alfonso Schomburgs, Roberto Clementes, Orlando Cepedas, Pedro Albizu Campos, Rafael Cortijos, Ismael Riveras and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and other Afro Boricuas that every Saturday night I begin my radio program with a dedication in honor of the African Diaspora and our indigenous people:
“A mi pueblo caribeño antillano que ha contribuido golpe a golpe y verso a verso a nuestra cultura y a toda nuestra historia que le ha dado contenido, sentimiento y razón.”
“A los Tainos, los Caribes, los negros, los mulatos, el criollo, el jíbaro y al guajiro. A todos los que respetan y valorizan nuestras raíces y a los que saben luchar por mantener nuestra identidad.”
(To my Antillean Caribbean people who have contributed blow-by-blow and verse-by-verse to our culture, and to all of our history that has given it content, feeling and reason. To the Tainos, the Caribs, the blacks, the mulattos, the criollo, the jíbaro, and the guajiro. To all of those who respect and value our roots and those who know how to fight to maintain our identity.)
The legendary composer Rafael Hernández had paved the way for these iconic figures when he returned to Puerto Rico for a musical tour after having lived in Mexico for 15 years. Landing at Isla Grande Airport in San Juan on Saturday, June 21st, 1947 he was received by a massive gathering of compatriots as a conquering hero. Sports commentator Rafael Pont Flores summarized the event a few days later in his column for El Mundo newspaper:
“El terruño vivió horas de intensa emoción el sábado por la tarde. Al salir del avión Rafael Hernández y poner pie en tierra borincana, tal pareció, que se había parado sobre un resorte, que abrió de par en par el pecho de sus coterráneos para darle una bienvenida de conquistador romano del tiempo de los Césares.”
“Sentado en la parte de atrás de un automóvil [convertible] pasó como un celaje una figura feliz que movía los brazos en himno de gozo.” [El Mundo, 24 de junio de 1947.]
But life as we knew it with Cortijo and Ismael Rivera came crashing down on March 21, 1962 when the group returned from a tour of Panamá and Rivera was arrested at El Aereopuerto Internacional Isla Verde (now the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport) for drug possession. Eventually he would be sentenced to serve four years in a penitentiary in Lexington, Kentucky.
I vividly remember that a few months later, just days after my grandfather’s burial, my brother and I were banging out Cortijo’s plenas on the hoods of some antique cars parked in our grandmother’s yard in Salinas. As we sang “El bombon de Elena”, “Quitate de la vía Perico” and “Maquinolandera” our tía Emma came running out of the house telling us to stop singing and playing because everyone was in mourning. Proper etiquette dictated that we should be respectful and do the same. In fact, we were singing and playing because we were mourning the death of Cortijo y su Combo with Ismael Rivera.
But this seminal band would bear fruit that would grow to influence Afro-Latin music throughout the world.
It was up to Rafael Ithier, Cortijo’s pianist, to gather a group of his band mates for a meeting at 902 calle Refugio in Miramar (Roena’s house) to contemplate their future. They would decide to form a new group, highly disciplined, professional, strictly business, del pueblo (of the people) – all for one and one for all. June of ’62 they would become El Gran Combo with Ithier as their director on piano, Martin Quiñones on congas, Regelio “Kiko” Vélez on trumpet, Miguel Cruz on bass, Héctor Santos and Eddie Pérez “La Bala” on saxophones. They would add new members to the group with Mickey Duchesne on trumpet, Milton Correa on timbales, and Daniel “Maninín” Vázquez on bongó. Pellín Rodríguez and Chiqui Rivera would handle the vocals.
A few months later with Pellín Rodríguez and the addition of Andy Montañez on vocals and Roberto Roena leading their dance routines while playing bongo, and singing chorus, El Gran Combo occupied the space vacated by Cortijo and Rivera on our favorite television programs. With every passing year their recordings became soundtracks for our life’s history and their incomparable sound a brand quickly identified with El Gran Combo.
Over time they would gain international fame as Los Mulatos del Sabor, La Universidad de la Salsa, Los Embajadores de Puerto Rico, and finally ¡El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico!
Throughout the 42 years plus of “¡Con Salsa!” I have had the honor and privilege of sharing a stage with El Gran Combo on occasions too numerous to count.
One such occasion occurred on August 30, 2002 at the Diplomat Presidential Ballroom in Saugus. Our good friend Jimmy Parrilla had booked them for a dance to celebrate their 40th anniversary. In my capacity as director of the Northern New England Regional Office for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs, it occurred to me that it would be a great opportunity for them to be honored as “Boricuas Haciendo Historia” by our main office in Washington DC and for us to conduct a voter registration drive during the dance.
Mairym Ramos, Regional Offices Director for PRFAA flew up from DC just for this occasion. Serendipitously, Héctor Luis Acevedo, former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico was visiting his daughter Jasmine who worked as a Community Officer in our office. It turned out to be a truly memorable night.
At the age of 91, Ithier doesn’t play the piano as much as before and Willie Sotelo now sits in his place. Victor E. “Cano” Rodríguez (trumpet), passed in March, 2017 and Eddie, La Bala” Perez, a founding member and popular saxophonist died four years earlier in 2013 and was succeeded by Virgil Rivera. The group still tours extensively throughout the year with Jerry Rivas, Luis A. “Papo” Rosario and Anthony García, up front alternating on vocals. García joined the band as their new singer on January 24, 2015 replacing the very popular Charlie Aponte after he left the group on December 12, 2014 after 41 years as one of their singers to pursue a solo career. Ithier, Rivas, Aponte, and Rosario along with Wilfredo “Freddie” Cruz Miranda (saxophone), Luis A. “Taty” Maldonado (trumpet), Moisés Nogueras (trombone), Richie Bastar (bongó), Miguel “Pollo” Torres (conga), Domingo “Cuqui” Santos (timbales), and Wilfredo “Freddy” Rivera (bass) were the subject of a 2010 Banco Popular television special “Salsa: Un Homenaje a El Gran Combo” that was a big seller as a CD and DVD at a time when the music industry was and is experiencing diminishing sales of its product.
Everyone that I have mentioned have in so many ways influenced my personal and social identity. How I identify myself and in relation to society. My cultural identity, gender identity, national identity, spiritual identity and professional identity are a product of my greater awareness of self and their significant influence.
The premise of this essay is a celebration of my and our Afro Boricua identity, and ancestry. A celebration of our rich heritage and legacy.
My dear Divina knows that I am a lover of the spoken word and in addition to her Christmas gifts that I previously mentioned in this essay there is ¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets. This tome, edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow, features the work of forty poets including one of my favorites, “Shaggy” Flores.
His bio reads as follows:
Jaime "Shaggy" Flores is a Nuyorican, Massarican, Afro-Taino Poeta, writer and African Diaspora scholar born in Spanish Harlem and raised in Cupey/Guaynabo, Puerto Rico and Springfield, Massachusetts. After graduating from the High School of Commerce, he attended UMass Amherst and became heavily involved with student organizations. During this time, he created the annual Voices for the Voiceless poetry concert, one of the largest poetry concerts in the Northeast that brings nationally established African Diaspora writers to the five-college community. It was at this event that Flores established the Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award to honor legendary artists. When he completed his studies, he received a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies (UMASS-Amherst) and received his Master’s in History from Virginia State University (HBCU). Flores has performed at events such as the annual Muévete Conference held at Hostos Community College and later at the National Poetry Slam held in Providence, RI, and for a poetry troupe created by Louis Reyes Rivera and Felipe Luciano called “Wordquestra” in New York City.
Obatalá’s Bugalú: A Nuyorican Book of Sights and Sounds, is a follow-up to his first poetry collection, Sanchocho: A book of Nuyorican poetry (2001) edited by Louis Reyes Rivera.
In his latest collection, Flores provides an eclectic group of poems that reflect his personal experiences as a Puerto Rican growing up in the U.S., a poet, a spoken word performer, an African diaspora scholar, and a labor movement organizer. By using poetry to “create change with living words,” Flores shows readers that the Nuyorican aesthetic is alive and kicking among today’s Puerto Rican writers. Flores bridges the duality of his worlds—Puerto Rican and African Diaspora—with a poetry packed with word play and musical intonations.
Flores currently works in Northern Virginia as a Director of Strategic Communications for a national organization in the Labor Movement.
So for those of you who are so kind as to have read this 4,572-word essay, I close by sharing one of his poems “Negritude” included in Obatalá’s Bugalú and the ¡Manteca! Anthology:
for Tato Laviera, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, Juan Flores and Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.
We be those Negroes
born to slave hands
resurrecting African gods
when transplanted to new lands
with Spanglish slang
We be those Negroes
children of Yoruba y Ibo
bilingual and Indio
masters of plantation work
and Orisha spirit raising
We be those Negroes
creating jazz with cats
named Bird, Dizzy, Duke and Armstrong
Cubop Bugalu SalSoul searching journey men
Mongo Santamaría, Chano Pozo drum gods
and Celia Cruz
Legends leaving our cultural footprints
on the muddy minds
of the mentally dead
We be those Negroes
creating Schomburg Museums of Black Studies
in Nuyorican Harlem streets
where we once danced
during zoot suits riots
and Palladium massacres
We be those Negroes
drawn as Sambos and Jigaboos
by political cartoonists
who couldn’t erase
the taste of
from Antillean culinary
with curries called sofrito
We be those Negroes
brothers of Garvey
children of Malcolm
and Latin Kings
We be those Negroes
like Harvard-educated lawyer
Don Pedro Albizu Campos
in all Black regiments
learning the reality
of Jim Crow society
and their gringolandia
government race public policies
calling bilingual Negroes
We be those Negroes
giving Negro league
under the sun
to call home
when no one else
would have them
We be those negroes
on concrete jungles
to Kool Herc Grandmaster Flash
Sound Boy systems
We be those Negroes
Charlie Chasing/Disco Wizing
a dream called Hip-Hop
in Bronx backyard boulevards
casitas and tenements
with roaches for landlords
We be those Negroes
like Willie Perdomo testaments
called “Nigger-Rican Blues”
and Victor Hernández Cruz
odes to “African Things”
hiding our dark-skinned
with Bemba Colora
in places where the whiteness police
could never find them
We be those Negroes
denied access to Black Nationalist run
Karenga Kwanza poetry readings
because we remind the ignorant
of the complexity that is their culture
neither here nor there
not quite brown
not quite white
we navigate uncharted
of Black identity boxes
We those Negroes
We be those Negroes
We be those Negroes
We be those Negroes
We be those Negroes
Octoroons and Quadroons
We be those Negroes
Cimarrones and Nanny of the Maroons
We be those Negroes
Cienfuegos y Fidel
We be those Negroes
Luis Palés Matos and Aimé Césaire
We be those Negroes
We be those Negroes
y a veces
We be those Negroes
Dominicanos y Cubanos
We be those Negroes
Jaimiquinos y Haitianos
We be those Negroes
Panameños y Borinqueños
We be those Negroes
seeking freedom from
in an age of nuclear
carbon copy clone
We be those Negroes
known by many names
and many deeds
spoken of in secret
in envy during their nightly
as they try
to pick up white girls
We be those Negroes
sometimes negating our destiny
but always finding
in the darkness
We be those Negroes
© José Massó, 2011, 2018
 Dr. Carlos Gaztambide Arrillaga, Ph.D, Animal Scientist – Breeding Better Paso Fino Horses, p. 52
 Rubén Blades & Luis “Perico” Ortiz, “Sigo Pa’lante” (Autor: José Nogueras) – “Entre Amigos” 1983
 Rubén Blades, “Como Nosotros”, Mundo.
 Alan West-Durán, “AfroBoricua?” – Puerto Rico: The pleasures and traumas of race. P. 49 Centro Journal, Volume XVII Number I, Spring 2005
 © “Shaggy” Flores
“¡Salsa Divina” – “Negrito Lindo” Peggy Robles-Alvarado
In celebration of Black History Month 2018, I share this poem written by Peggy Robles-Alvarado and inclu...ded in “Manteca” An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets.
Aquí to be called Negrito means to be called love – Pedro Pietri
¡Negrito lindo, tú eres la Bomba del barrio!
He is brown sugar, melao encorbatao.
Fights against the black man’s burden,
the Boricua blues, all with a swagger ensazonao.
Un hombre cordial con el tumbao de la calle.
Made of East HHHhhhharlem street concrete.
Flavored with Brooklyn cement sentiments,
entered the belly of the beast,
emerged a transformed man.
Through academia he redeemed
his once blood-stained hands.
His empowerment was self-taught.
Went from Young Lord fitted berets,
to Caribbean fedora hats,
expensive suits, wing-tip shoes,
his jibarito smile completes that suit and tie.
A once hot-headed street thug, now a classy cool cat,
he believes education helps develop tolerance.
Proclaiming our people have the genes of geniuses,
so we must refuse to be mules.
Still releasing the trauma of conquest.
Trying to shed the overseer’s side effects.
Pain slowly released over centuries,
he demands more of our youth,
the next generation, la juventud –
“Párate firme, que
tú no naciste para sentarte,
tienes que ser fuerte fuerte,
pa’lante pa’ siempre”
He advises them to
read, speak and write well.
Encourages them to find role models within themselves.
Some say the big fish die by the mouth,
but not this one, no sir!
Él tiene la clave en la boca,
que entona con el pra-ca-ta y el gua-guan-có del corazón.
Cadence of his voice resurrects the kings of the past,
calls on caciques to rise.
The tempo of his speech steady,
with the strength of an old Negro spiritual,
the heat of a rumbero, the grace of el flamenco.
He is the descendant of los pioneros.
Refuses to be intimidated by any crowd,
never to be placed in just any one category,
never to be boxed in.
The census needs a new form for this kind of man.
He is more than simple set of words.
No one definition, every-evolving
life-long learner, international traveler.
Orgulloso de todo que es de color.
No set of parenthesis can define,
contain or restrain this blood line,
that holds the beauty of the world
in each of its DNA strands.
A genetic rainbow
set in the soil of many distant lands
that stretch to Africa, Asia, Europe, Ponce, San Juan,
Cuba, Nueva York, el Bronx, de aquí, hasta el monte.
He took our dark-skin abuelas out of the kitchen
and invited them to dance;
celebrated their hereditary sancocho,
savored their racially mixed mofongo,
relished in their café con poquita leche without shame.
Found beauty in the mahogany tabaco y ron hues
of our people.
Made it safe to say: ¡Yo soy negro!
Black, Kinky, Nappy, Prieto, Moreno
Boricua, Jíbaro, Jabao, Mulatto, Mestizo, Mesclao
Ex-con, Boca grande, Malcriao, Desobediente, Presentao
Calle, Tíguere-intranquilo, Rebusero-reformao
And made it
¡Negrito lindo, tú eres la bomba del barrio!
“¡Salsa Divina!” – Black History Month 2018 Sports & Society “African Americans in Times of War”
“Be ashamed to die until you have achieved a victory for humani...ty.” – Horace Mann
Tomorrow, millions of people throughout the United States and around the world will be glued to their television sets at home or at their favorite restaurant or drinking establishment enjoying Super Bowl LII.
I have no doubt that at some moment the conversation will touch on Colin Kaepernick and NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the United States National Anthem.
February is Black History Month when we celebrate the contributions and achievements of African American and Afro Latino brothers and sisters. The February 5th edition of ESPN magazine has a cover story on the “State of the Black Athlete” that I hope you will take time to read regardless if you are watching the Super Bowl or not.
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked for a response to those who say he should stick to basketball instead of social activism by a student at Harvard University when he spoke to a group of over 500 students this past November at a lunchtime event.
“That’s funny,” Green says, after pausing a moment. “People say athletes shouldn’t speak politics. Well, I find that funny, because everyone thinks they can speak basketball.”
The magazine goes on to remind us that “Black athlete-activists are not new, of course. Boxer Jack Johnson punched through racial barriers in the early 20th century, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, Althea Gibson was the first person of color to win a grand slam title in 1956, and a dozen years later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved, black-power fists atop the medal stand in the Mexico City Olympics. In 2015, a protest by the Missouri football team over racism on campus forced the resignation of the university’s president, and the following year, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade took the stage at the ESPY awards to urge athletes to speak out against injustice. A host of WNBA players, including Maya Moore and Tina Charles, have worn T-shirts supporting Black Lives Matter”.
There is a moment that we have to ask ourselves, are we part of the problem or part of the solution?
In 2015 I wrote the following essay and posted it on my Facebook page:
I read a recent article in the New York Times written by Michael Beschloss about the great Roberto Clemente “Double Outsider From Puerto Rico”…
“Today there is an abundance of Latinos in Major League Baseball, but there was not when Roberto Clemente took right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates 60 years ago this spring.”
“Clemente’s ordeal as a Puerto Rican breaking into what was then a very white preserve – and the aplomb with which he transcended his difficulties – reminds us of how far Latinos have come in American life.”
“Had he lived, Clemente, at the age of 81 this August, would have witnessed the formidable surge of Latinos into the national pastime – a phenomenon he had helped launch.”
“As Rob Ruck wrote in “Raceball: How The Major Leagues Colonized The Black and Latin Game” (2011), every player with Latino heritage who was in the majors before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 “was either Caucasian or able to pass as such.” (An example of the latter was Ted Williams, who kept quiet about the fact that his mother was born to Mexican parents.)”
“Like the Cuban-born Minnie Minoso, who started playing with the Cleveland Indians in 1949, Clemente was not only Latino but also black. Encountering mainland American culture after what he considered to be the more racially harmonious Puerto Rico, he later said he felt like a double outsider.”
“I grew up with people who really had to struggle to live,” Clemente said. He never forgot them. If not the first Latino to speak out, he was the most impassioned to decry racial and cultural discrimination. “Latin American Negro players,” he told Sport magazine in 1961, “are treated today much like all Negroes were treated in baseball in the early days of the broken color barriers. They are subjected to prejudices and stamped with generalizations…they bear the brunt of the sport’s remaining racial prejudices.”
“Clemente was a transformative figure who pushed for respect of Latinos and their culture on and off the playing field specifically in his willing to openly denounce racist and cultural bigoted beliefs that predominated during that time inside of baseball circles as well as in US society. Whether Clemente is the greatest outfielder or right fielder in baseball history is a debatable matter, but whether he is one of the most important baseball figures of the 20th century is without debate.”
He used the podium he had gained as one of the game’s brightest stars to speak to larger questions. “Clemente was interested in more than sports,” his biographer David Maraniss observed. “He was very political…and one of the people he admired the most in the world was Martin Luther King Jr.”
A little known fact is that Clemente was the Major League Baseball Players Union first Latino team rep for his Pittsburgh Pirates teammates.
I always think about my father whenever I read about Clemente. I think about him, my uncles and all of the Puerto Ricans who served in the United States Armed Forces from World War II to the Korean War, to the Vietnam War and the conflict in the Middle East. I think about my dark skinned Puerto Rican father who enlisted as a buck private and the incidents he experienced throughout his career due to ignorance, bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and racism as he rose through the ranks to become a Major in the US Army.
I am a product of his generation. I am a product of the struggles of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s.
I am a product of Antioch College (1973) – seen as a bastion of student activism, anti-racism and progressive thought. In the ‘70’s it became one of the primary sources of student radicalism, the new left, the anti-Vietnam War movement and the Black Power movement in the Ohio region.
In the 1950’s my alma mater faced pressure from the powerful House Un-American Activities Committee and faced criticism from many area newspapers because it did not expel students and faculty accused of having Communist leanings. My college stood firm, insisting that freedom begins not in suppressing unpopular ideas but in holding all ideas up to the light.
In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the commencement speech. We have a long list of distinguished alumni including Coretta Scott-King and José Manuel Ramos Horta president of East Timor who was the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, and holds a masters degree in Peace Studies from Antioch.
I have the utmost love, respect and admiration for the late Pedro Albizu Campos, Puerto Rican nationalist, political prisoner and Harvard University graduate. There are a number of framed silk screens in his honor hanging on walls throughout our home. There is a framed quote of his on the wall in front of me as I type this that reads “patria es valor y sacrificio”. I believe in independence for Puerto Rico, but I’m not anti-American, nor am I a communist or socialist, and I’m not anti-popular or anti-estadista.
That’s the beauty of democracy. That’s the beauty of freedom.
Among the thousands and thousands of writings, speeches, music, song and work that have informed me throughout my lifetime I include those of Paulo Freire, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Ricardo Alegría, Julia de Burgos, René Marqués, Enrique Laguerre, César Chávez, Delores Huerta, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Juan Boria, Luis Lloréns Torres, Pedro A. Malavet, The Young Lords, Juan González, Felipe Luciano, Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, Juan Flores, Luis Palés Matos, Martin Espada, Piri Thomas, Pedro Pietri, Jacobo Morales, The Black Panthers, Mayra Santos-Febres, Salvador Tió, Melissa V. Harris-Perry, Geoffrey Canada, Michael Eric Dyson, Tavis Smiley, Van Jones, Michelle Alexander, Spencer Overton, Randall Kennedy, Jorge Ramos, Roberto Suro, Rubén Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, Danny Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Andrés “El Jíbaro” Jiménez, Rafael Hernández, Pedro Flores, Catalino Tite Curet Alonso, Miguel Zenón, William Cepeda, Paoli Mejias, Bobby Sanabria and Ángel “Papo” Vazquez just to name a very few.
It is for this very reason that during my recent trip to New York City I stopped by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College at 68th Street to purchase over $100 of a backlog of 23 Centro Journals to enrich my mind and spirit with information and the thoughts of our contemporary thinkers, historians and writers.
It is for this very reason that I took the #6 Subway to 116th street in El Barrio so that I could view “Anchor” a photo exhibit of El Barrio and the Young Lords centered on the photography of Hiram Maristany and enjoy the exhibit of “Homar Art Binding Ties from Puerto Rico to NYC” celebrating the artistic legacy of Lorenzo Homar and the influences of New York on his life at the new gallery space at the Centro Library in the Silberman School of Social Work at 2180 Third Avenue at 119th Street.
I’ve been to Cuba on three occasions during the past fourteen years hosting the first of three annual trips to Cuba in 2001 as part of the defunct Citizens of the World Tours for WBUR. To this day I consider those experiences as life changing, recognizing during my first trip that despite the hardships, how I was struck by the Cuban’s dignity, hospitality, gentleness, patience, indomitable spirit, unquenchable sense of humor and creativity. Cubans reminded me of my fellow Puerto Ricans and energized me to refocus my short and long term plans to participate in creating and developing a society that would recognize and respect Puerto Rican and Latino history, culture, values, and traditions – “Un Pueblo Nuevo”.
I don’t think that my family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, employers, compatriots or the government of the United States has to worry that because of my trips to Cuba or my support, campaigning and vote for President Obama on two occasions is because I harbor a secret wish for the overthrow of the United States government or our economic system.
On the contrary, it is because I have an invested interest in our country and my homeland as I have stated often. It is why every day I wake up and meditate and during my meditation as I pray I ask that what I say, do, think and feel for the day are in sync with the same purpose. I ask that I may be able to join other enlightened men and women who share similar values, with a purpose driven, mission driven life in doing the most so that future generations are healthy physically, but also mentally, emotionally, intellectually, socially, culturally, economically and spiritually. And last I ask that whatever happiness I receive is not as a consequence of someone else’s misery.
On August 5th, God willing, I will be celebrating my 65th birthday. For several years now I have been keenly aware that I have more past than future, more yesterdays than tomorrows, so I don’t take life for granted. Every day I feel the passage of life and respect how fleeting it is. Throughout my days, in silent prayer, I ask to be worthy of more time because there is still so much more to do.
I don’t consider myself a bystander; it’s not in my DNA. I will stand up for justice where there is injustice. I fight for equity where there is inequity. I will strive for equality where there is inequality. I will join others in fighting against oppression wherever there is oppression. I will add my voice to those who shine the light on corporate and personal greed above humanity. I will join others in re-creating a public square; creating dialogue, cultural and racial understanding; a better, and enlightened and embracing society today, tomorrow and for as long as I live. I will continue to work to leave this world a better place than when I was born.
I welcome public discourse that offers ideas and solutions to challenging problems that we confront as a society, a country and as citizens of the world. I believe in the power of citizenry, collaboration and cooperation. I believe in changing the political culture that is about thrashing others, undermining their very legitimacy, and lying openly and repeatedly about individuals or institutions.
If I have any standing in my community, I believe that it is my responsibility to denounce those who distort, lie or coarsen culture and discourse.
And I will die protecting your right and freedom to have and express your opinions and beliefs, even if they are different than mine.
My beliefs and values are informed by my understanding of the United States, our history, our government, our corporations, our society, our culture and our identity. Informed by my understanding of this system that we live in.
Our dear friend Rubén Blades recently shared a note he wrote in Spanish on his web page directed at his readers…I take the liberty to translate as best as possible into English just a few of his words and thoughts for your consideration.
“I want to express my deep gratitude to those who read the articles that I publish on my website and in my social networks, and who take the time and effort to write your comments either for or against what I share. You make it so that my thoughts and work are amply rewarded; you give me new strength to continue and, most importantly, contribute to the discussion and the spread of ideas that generate the changes that societies worldwide need for us to survive as a species.”
“I fully understand that as human beings we each have our own interpretations of reality, in which we are influenced by cultural, and emotional biases that include our beliefs in addition to rational thinking. Therefore, when exposing an idea I want to share with others, I try to do so in the strictly rational plane, trying to leave out my own interests, inclinations and religious convictions, because these are personal choices and I understand that they don’t need to be accepted by others.”
“But I also respect the right of every human being to have an opinion. That does not mean I must respect and accept all views as good. Everyone, at their discretion, has the right to accept or reject the opinions of others. What we cannot do is deny the right to speak. Therefore, I insist in thanking you for your comments, respecting your right to opine.”
“Another issue is the ethics limitations imposed on us when using a mass medium. Any type of media outlet, whether TV, radio, newspapers or the Internet, has an obligation to clearly establish ethical guidelines on which the opinions are published. That is why our editor has clarified on several occasions that we will not allow the publication of certain comments that exceed the limits of ethics, tolerance and decency, because we have to defend the rights of other readers.”
Rubén Blades July 6, 2015
I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who embrace the tenet of Parrhesia, a strange word, a Greek word that I have become familiar with thanks to Rubén singing a song with that title on his latest CD “Son de Panamá”. According to Michel Foucault parresia is the recognition of truth as a moral duty, even though it can produce unwanted consequences for who speaks the truth. It’s preferred to speak the truth than to live a falsehood, it is to choose to tell the truth, knowing the risk, instead of choosing security by keeping silent. It is to accept the barrage of criticism and disapproval rather than adulation and flattery.
I share this in support and solidarity with Junot Díaz, Dennis Benzan and Héctor Piña for embracing “parrhesia”.
There is a moment that we have to ask ourselves, are we part of the problem or part of the solution?
© José C. Massó III 2015, 2018
“¡Salsa Divina!” – Black History Month 2018 “Let America Be America Again” – “Freedom Sound”
For Black History Month I have bought the two volumes of Joel Chris...tian Gill’s graphic novel “Strange Fruit” for my granddaughters Brooklynn and Reagan.
I do so at a time when our Federal Justice Department is rolling back civil rights by the day, and hatred and supremacy is proudly marching in our streets under an administration that isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, but targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection. I have faith that we are resilient and like those who struggled before us we will find the will and courage to stand up.
Tonight on “¡Con Salsa!” I hope that through the power of the spoken word and music that you find enlightenment as you listen.
I’ll share The Jazz Crusaders interpreting their “Freedom Sound” right after James Earl Jones narrates Langston Hughes “Let America Be America Again”.
Historically, The Jazz Crusaders were a nucleus of four in search of a bass player. Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder, Joe Sample and Stix
Hooper, were working together in various bands since their junior high school days in Houston, Texas circa 1953.
After leaving Texas and settling in Los Angeles, they made their first album, Freedom Sound, Recorded at Pacific Enterprises Inc./Rex
Studios, on May 24, 1961and started musicians and critics talking about the aggressive new group from Texas, firmly rooted in tradition and growing inevitably from the blues.
Tenor saxophonist Felder, their major solo voice, is heavily in that David Newman-James Clay-Curtis Amy Texas groove. A very fast terminal vibrato lends excitement to his playing. Henderson’s trombone was generally in the J.J. Johnson tradition but with just the right hint of raucousness to provide Felder the proper complement. Samples playing is florid but well constructed and on the way to achieving an identity. Hooper, the nominal group leader, a tasty swinging drummer, provides a solid rhythmic base together with bassist Jimmy Bond. Guitarist Roy Gaines, and Bond, were not regulars in the band but joined in for the recording date.
“Let America Be America Again”
Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Tonight on "¡Con Salsa!" in celebration of Black History Month I will share the Langston Hughes poem "Let America Be America Again" narrated by James Earl Jones....in the meantime enjoy this video narrated by Alfre Woodard.
I look forward to participating in the musical tribute to the legendary Dave Valentin...
Very excited to play with this amazing band the great tunes Dave either wrote or interpreted in his own unique way. Had so much fun learning his music! Please ...join us on 02/23 at Villa Victoria Center For The Arts at 8PM. MC, José Massó will lead us into the journey of Dave's history and contributions to latin music. No cover. Limited space! RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org