Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York at the Museum of the City of New York

Art & Culture
"Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York at the Museum of the City of New York"

Bilingual Exhibition Traces History of New York Salsa From Local Dance Movement to Global Phenomenon


The Museum of the City of New York presents its highly anticipated bilingual exhibition Rhythm and Power: Salsa in New York. The first ever museum exhibition to trace the history of salsa – a quintessentially New York cultural development – from a local dance movement to a worldwide phenomenon, Rhythm and Power illuminates how the diversity of New York City gave rise to salsa, an up-tempo combination of percussive Latin music and poly-rhythmic, Afro-Caribbean infused dance. A multi-ethnic network of New York musicians and dancers, mostly of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, developed this distinct genre by experimenting with a fusion of musical traditions from the United States, Cuba, and throughout the Americas.

“The Museum’s mission is to celebrate and interpret New York City, so we often highlight how the city’s unparalleled diversity gives rise to unmatched creativity,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “The rise of salsa might just be the most fun and vibrant example of New York’s diversity that we’ve ever put on display, and I am thrilled to welcome New Yorkers and tourists alike to join us and explore the rhythms of our city here at the Museum this summer.”

Salsa was born on dense city streets, where an artistic movement arose amidst the political and social activism of the 1960s. Ambitious artists soon infused the new sounds into New York City nightlife. The foundation laid in the 1960s and 1970s served as a basis for the changing artistic practices over the following decades, as salsa spread to dance studios and increasingly popular recorded music. By the 1970s, creativity met business, as savvy record labels and media outlets, led by New York’s Fania Records, marketed “salsa” as an umbrella term for related but distinct musical genres.

Rhythm and Power traces the musical genre from its infancy as a local movement to a global phenomenon. “Power” signifies the momentary liberation that dancing brings, as well as the immense popularity – and commercial success – that the genre generated. The exhibition also points to salsa as a powerful vehicle for multi-national, multi-ethnic solidarity inspired by the passionate lyrics of artists who evoke a reality where rhythm and fellowship are available to everyone. To celebrate and welcome the multiculturalism of New York as a city and salsa as a movement, the exhibition is fully bilingual, presented in both English and Spanish.

“The mercurial rise of salsa in New York was made possible only through the combination of an unprecedented cultural moment and the unbelievable diversity of the city’s musical scene,” said curator Derrick Léon Washington. “At a time when multiple Latino communities sought to assert themselves socially and politically, New York City provided a setting for different sounds and styles – including the musical virtuosity of the Cuban rumba; the raw energy of Puerto Rican bomba; the communal solidarity that arose in the charged spaces of the plena from Ponce, Puerto Rico; the velvety smooth harmonies of Latin boogaloo; and the growing presence of Dominican palo – to fuse together and become a new creation that would change the course of music history.”

Rhythm and Power is built as an experiential exhibition, with all the sights, sounds, and even steps of salsa on display. The intricate interplay between music and dance – an essential aspect of salsa – will be shown through a silhouette projection created with local dancers to teach the basics of New York style “on-2” salsa and invite visitors to join in and move with the music. Selections from a video of salsa legend Eddie Torres instructing dancers will offer more advanced lessons, and specially programmed iPads will allow guests to explore the sounds and rhythms that make up New York salsa.

The exhibition brings the history of salsa in New York to life through a collection of nearly 100 objects and artifacts such as vintage photographs, posters, and magazines; album covers and memorabilia from record companies; mementos from the Palladium Ballroom; garments worn by Celia Cruz, Eddie Torres, and Tito Puente; Eddie Palmieri’s 1975 Grammy Award – the first ever awarded for Latin music; Marc Anthony’s microphone stand; and instruments used by legends of the genre, including:

  • The iconic Tito Puente’s timbales, cowbells, and cymbal
  • Marc Anthony’s microphone and microphone stand
  • Congas belonging to Puerto Rican born, Brooklyn raised, Grammy winning artist Jose Madera
  • Maracas used by Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, sometimes known as the “Cuban Louis Armstrong”
  • Bongos belonging to Jose Luis Mangual Sr., also known as “Buyú”, the forebear of arguably the most prolific family of bongoceros (bongo players) ever to come out of New York City
  • Jimmy Bosch’s trombone

Rhythm and Power will be accompanied by extensive interactive programming at the Museum, from professional development workshops to family dance celebrations. Upcoming events include: In the Steps of Salsa, a walking tour of East Harlem, the barrio of salsa; Sketch & Sip: Salsa in New York, a drawing lesson based on the exhibition meant to be experienced with a drink in hand; and When the People Dance: Salsa, Power, and Performance in New York City, a conference about the rhythms and power of salsa.

The Museum will offer bilingual Group Tours of the exhibition throughout its time on view, led by Museum scholars and offered in both English and Spanish. Please visit http://mcny.org/museum-tours for more information.

The exhibition is presented by the Museum of the City of New York in collaboration with Ballet Hispánico, El Museo del Barrio, the New York International Salsa Congress, and SummerStage.

The Museum gratefully acknowledges the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s support of exhibition curator Dr. Derrick León Washington’s fellowship, which made his work on Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York possible. This exhibition is made possible in part by Monica Voldstad.


About the Museum of the City of New York

Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. To connect with the Museum on social media, follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @MuseumofCityNY and visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/MuseumofCityNY. For more information please visit www.mcny.org.