New York Icons: Siembra

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

S2: I’m Kurt Andersen and this is the Studio 360 podcast. Over the years Studio 360 is American Icon series has explored deeply dozens of important and influential works of literature film.

S3: Television architecture design music and visual art. We have done segments on cultural touchstones like the Muppets and the Andy Warhol soup can paintings and full hours on the Disney theme parks and Monticello The Great Gatsby. Native son and many more. We present them as the works of art and entertainment that have shaped who we are and how we see ourselves as Americans. Now at Studio 360 we are turning to our hometown New York for a new batch of icons stories about works of art that took shape in the city but have shaped people everywhere.

S4: When it came out in 1978. People who love salsa thought that the album siempre was commercially doomed. It was by Ruben Blades and Willie cologne. But the songs were too long. They bashed American consumerism and pushed for social change. Instead Sambora became the first salsa record ever to sell more than a million copies. It’s still probably the best seller in the genre. On this edition of New York icons Giuseppe Rego Tao explains why Sambora was so successful commercially and creatively and how it also fostered a colossal fight.

S5: How do you make a salsa hit first.

S6: You use a British opera from the 18th century about a bank to do.

S7: Then you add the German take on it from 1928.

S8: Mixed a little bit of gains from Panama. Blacks make her go down to prostitute thief and you have bear that on Navarre. Or Peter the blade a song that is more than seven minutes long. Length. But gambles. I. Guess by me that.

S9: You’ll be on video game 1 3 7 3. I. Don’t. Want this guy.

S8: Paid for Nevada. He’s a thief. He’s walking down the street from the opposite direction comes a woman a prostitute throw stabs her to try to rob her of her purse but she has a gun and even injured she manages to shoot him. They both.

S10: Die. This is an encounter between two people indeed the consequences of the encounter are not expected by any other participants.

S5: Rubin blades is a singer songwriter from Panama who rode Pedro Nava mixing all of those influences. He composed the lyrics and music of all but one song off the album siempre and then at the end of the beneficiary of the somebody else’s disgrace is a drunk who then picks up everything that. That he found thanks God and then keeps on walking. And.

S11: Saying that life is full of surprises.

S12: Life gives you surprises that cars is the perfect analogy for the album soon but in itself it almost didn’t come out. I remember that day Jerry my sushi was a funny president of Fania he called Willie cologne and myself to his office and he played the record in front of the three top deejays. Neil deejays songs at the Egypt and the three of them said that this record. Should not be put out.

S5: Because he would be the commercial death of Willie cologne Willie Colon was the big star on the album at the time raised in the Bronx. Cologne was a radio salsa institution as a trombone player and he had more than a dozen records under his belt Sambora was his second collaboration with Ruben Blades and on the album he did not play the trombone.

S13: He was the producer swilling cologne at the time was a proven seller.

S11: He was very famous and established. If Willie cologne had not been on this record it could have been put away by the time Sambora came out salsa also was a big phenomenon in New York City. The rhythm was born in Latino neighborhoods like this one.

S14: East Harlem. When my parents came to the US from Puerto Rico they both lived here and they met at a party here.

S12: Ed Morales is a music critic and author of several books including Latin X the new force in American politics and culture.

S14: He says salsa was born here and in the Bronx as different immigrants met in New York in particular Puerto Ricans Cubans and African-Americans and they formed a kind of a melting pot among themselves which was part of the creation of a Latino identity in New York and the Latino identity New York has always been more diverse than other Latino populations of different cities like for instance in the West Coast were dominated by Mexicans and Central Americans. That melting pot led to lots of music mixes in the late 50s came Mambo which combine jazz with Cuban rhythms. In.

S8: 1959 Cuba had its revolution. The last point I got to go over the cultural relations between U.S. and Cuba chilled.

S15: And they began to lack access to all of this Cuban music that was coming. So then they were forced to try to make their own kind of music that first kind of music they made was Boogaloo. Made. I. Been.

S16: Yes. That’s the song that Cardi B is Tampa.

S17: Dallas. I like dumb. I like studied.

S18: I like. But I digress.

S8: In the 60s salsa mixed all of those rhythms with a little bit of rock and added a very important instrument. The trombone. They wanted to create the sound and the trombone sounds. Kind of.

S14: Not as pleasant. It reflected the difficult reality of Latin immigrants at the time. And Eddie Palmieri had the idea of using two trombones and putting in the front.

S8: By the time Ruben Blades moved to New York salsa was booming his family left Panama because of political issues and he already had a law degree then.

S12: But in New York his diploma was worthless. Blades had recorded songs before so he called up a contact he had at funnier records.

S11: Can I go there and sing or write for you and they said no we don’t need you. And then right before I hung up I said Do you have anything there. And then he said. There’s a job in the mailroom that just opened today.

S5: He took that job once their blades found his way into writing and recording songs Ruben Blades was 30 years old when he recorded Sambora. It was his third album. The record was so different that you test the waters. He says funnier records started promoting Sambora abroad first in places like Venezuela Mexico Puerto Rico. The album became.

S11: A smash. I mean a Beatles size type of. Success abroad.

S5: It was the first salsa album to become really successful outside of New York City. And that’s because Ruben Blades was talking to the whole region that had never been done in that way.

S13: On a popular record at the time. Nobody talked about Latin America. Things were about barrio the neighborhood maybe Puerto Rico but you weren’t addressing Latin America as a whole. And the fact that we are Latino we had a minority I mean you know go in that Latino off what an auto you know don’t exchange your dignity for for material things. Latin friend brother had a model that was. That have not been presented in that context before so many people identify with it.

S5: Latin America was going through big political turmoil that might be done that many countries like my native Brazil were under military dictatorships. The political songs of Sambora spoke to them and their success abroad pushed the album Back To The New York airwaves. Percussionist composer and music professor Bobby Sanabria was study music in college. Then he grew up in the Bronx and he says it was an exciting time for salsa.

S19: There was a lot of competition there were about 100 bands performing in the tri state area and competition breeds what excellence in terms of Rubin he pushed that envelope with supreme lyricism and thank God he did. And as Willy as a producer of very innovative as well nobody gives him the credit that he should rightly deserve. Very innovative in his production techniques mixing techniques. So he’s the other half of the secret to that album.

S5: So nobody remembers listening to somebody from the very first time when the album came out in 1978. He was surprised to find himself drawn to the words as a musician usually you pay attention to the music first.

S19: When I opened up the album sort of as I started paying attention to the lyrics and as a new Eureka my Spanish was not the best. You made friend DoCoMo this this. That means he can get by. But it was like it just was like Shakespearean poetry on wax.

S5: Another thing that struck sonata right away about Sambora was the beginning of the first track. He was a disco beat so somebody was a subset of.

S20: Those little band. He was oh this is gonna be a son Simon Oh say wait a minute wait a minute. They might have just said hey what is this. You know maybe I bought the wrong album here a disco beat. And then all of a sudden it breaks into a mumble whatever.

S21: And he starts talking about what the song is about. About the phoniness of many times that we take upon of ourselves when we go out to the nightclub. And just go out to a party where we should be thinking about what’s happening around us with the government how they’re exploiting us. When they meet at the. Plastic those.

S12: Plastic means plastic it’s a song that is critical about the cult of appearance and consumerism not a topic of your typical salsa most hits were about love lust having a good time but the audience went crazy in Venezuela.

S22: One time they were they were like they were almost knocking the bus over when we got to the stadium.

S5: Vasquez is a trombone player who was part of the recording and touring of samba in conscious in Mexico.

S22: People asking you to sign their T-shirts is crazy. It was a high high moment in Latin music. See the beautiful thing about that music was that that was what you what you heard on the record is what you were going to get when you went to go see the band live. Well yeah. It was as organic as you get. And why why is that. Because everybody you have the same instrumentation is playing on the recording is in a play live. Well it’s got.

S12: Must come the way Abba is also one of the most popular songs on the album. It literally means searching for a fruit but it’s not really about a fruit. It’s about itching wanting something more. It’s one of the most danceable songs on the record and it used to be a favorite for cultural critic. Catalina Gonzalez but I think that. Today in 2019 My favorite is the title song.

S23: Yeah. Because you know I started getting all philosophical about it and you know the idea of look at the seeds that you are planting and you will you know and you’ll see what comes up. You know be careful of the seeds that you plant and you will see what comes up. I mean right now that hits really hard you know in both senses both in the sense of all the terrible things that are happening are from seeds that have been planted for a long time but also how we’re gonna get out of that is going to come from seeds that. We are planting and that we have to nurture.

S8: Gonzalez says Sam.

S24: But I also created a blueprint for future generations of Latin musicians of how do you take these thoughtful philosophical intellectual ideas that have you know a thought of social justice but also integrate it with different genres that are more populist or popular. And so once Rubén and Willy said that blueprint it’s been a lot easier for other people to follow. So like I mean anybody like a at work. I get that essay or Hooli at the Venegas or anybody like that. They’re all following this playbook. So there. Is something. Out there. That. Say. That that. Goal by.

S25: Their. It been assumed that ruined C D guy you design. That. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You’re going to see everything. That’s obviously. I said you guys meaning. Ruben Blades recorded this song to a bachelor with the popular Puerto Rican group Kiryat Tracy in 2008.

S8: He released part of the group she says recording with blades was like working with an uncle because she grew up listening to samba to a home and I loved that album.

S26: It’s part of the I don’t know this s culture Ruemmler. This was someone that changed the perspective of salsa I think and it gave a different message and but he was something that we need to hear that we needed to hear and it’s something that he has also a lot to do with with nowadays. Like older songs that they were sending their own message from their own time but you hear it nowadays and they have a connection as well. So that album is My has blossomed and Jonah say I don’t know how to say that in English but my majestic Mavi Ely also has a solo career as a singer songwriter and she says her political songs are inspired by the message of Scimitar here in Puerto Rico that is a small island. You feel the emptiness a lot more so it frustrates me and makes me sad as well to feel that people are indifferent to reacting.

S5: And now we need reaction and we need each other a lot more similar not only instigated Latinos to push for social change but it also catapulted the political careers for both Willie cologne and Rubin blades cologne run for U.S. Congress and for New York public advocate in the 90s. He lost both elections and ended up serving as an adviser to Mayor Bloomberg. Ruben Blades was even more ambitious after graduating from Harvard Law School in the 80s. He ran for president of Panama in 1994 but he lost that as well. Then a decade later he was appointed that country’s minister of tourism. He says it was his success that pushed him into politics.

S11: You know what happens is that there’s a contradiction that arose in my life. I mean on the one hand I am doing music and singing out loud. People were having difficulties social. Economic difficulties and in the process I became a wealthy person. And there was a contradiction there. Because all of a sudden now I’m singing about Roberto but I’m not him anymore. In the sense that I can choose he can’t.

S5: He’s thinking about another run in Panama may be in 2024. The album’s Sambora also changed the relationship between Ruben Blades and Willie Cologne when the record came out. Cologne was the most famous of the two but with Sambora blades became a huge star and he has since won 17 Grammys between regular and Latin Grammys. He also became a doctor and has done many films and TV shows that success drove Kahlon and blades apart and they ended up in tangled into legal disputes that turned him from friends to focus on the 25th anniversary of Sambora. They did a concert together in Puerto Rico but weren’t paid what they expected. Cologne sued blades claiming he had kept some of his money cologne declined to be interviewed for this story but he eventually dropped the lawsuit. Blades says that battle ruined their relationship.

S27: I think he’s one of the best producers that business has ever known.

S11: It’s business and he’s got a great sense of humor and he’s you know he’s a one of the icons. Other than that I don’t work with him anymore and I will never work with him again.

S5: Forty one years after Sambora was released so Sam no longer dominates the Latin music charts. That’s all about reggaeton hip hop pop but salsa is still a popular dance form in concerts draw a large crowd like a recent Salsa Festival at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

S28: I like salsa because it makes my heart beat faster. I said Oh is that what that’s that’s a good thing I don’t hold that music.

S8: Just make your body go one of those attending the concert is salsa families said Alvarado. She’s in her 20s but she says she loves songs from the 70s and there’s no question about what her favorite. Yes.

S28: Yes. Geena Yeah. But yes but it’s been.

S29: Fun.

S9: I mean I lost my nose but it lost. Just this so go. Back and I’ll say it in one day just jam union. Songs. Show. It. All day. There may. Be somebody gets the same problem. For low.

S4: That was reporter just rugged tall with help from producer Sandra Lopez Mansoor. You can find and listen to our dozens of other American icon stories at Studio 360.

S9: Dot com want this. Why does that guy gain a. Finding that quarterly ends. Up on.

S30: Someone. I said that I don’t mean that. Can be awful but. At. Some point this must see for. Laughing. In. My. Bed make up my. Mind but. Then. I. Been. A song. Well. He. Got. Me in trust got me. I love this game has been.

S4: Thanks for listening and you can subscribe to Studio 360 wherever you get podcasts.