Help! Even the Voices in My Head are MaleAugust 24, 2012
A friend once joked that he was revoking my “black card.” He was simultaneously being playful and a little judgmental in saying that I wasn’t black enough because I hadn’t seen The Wiz – Motown’s answer to the Wizard of Oz.
On a more serious note, I’m hoping that my sisters in the struggle for women’s rights won’t pull my “feminist card” because of this next admission. Until recently, I was completely oblivious to the painfully obvious gender gap in Salsa music.
Now, I’m doing something about it — after all, that’s what we do here at AAUW. On Saturday, I’ll be at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum for a talk about the glass ceiling that women face in the male-dominated world of Salsa.
It is easy to name the mambo kings. For starters, there’s Tito Puente, el rey de los timbales (king of timbales); Oscar D’León, faraón de la Salsa (the pharaoh of Salsa); and El Maestro Johnny Pacheco. It’s a small group, but it’s a fraternity nonetheless. And yet speaking in plurals is barely possible when it comes to women in Salsa. There is only the Queen — La Reina — of Salsa, Celia Cruz.
While my Latin music collection includes La India, La Lupe, and La Reina, truthfully all of my favorite songs are performed by men — D’León’s “Llorarás,” Joe Arroyo’s “Rebelion,” Willie Colón’s “El Gran Varón,” and El Groupo Niche’s “Etnia.”
To expand that playlist, I reached out to experts to learn more about the interaction of feminism and Salsa. Carlos Quintana from About.com’s Latin Music Guide offered up a track by Son de Azucar, the female Salsa band from Cali, Colombia, called “No Soy un Juego,” which challenges the idea of the classic male “player” as in a man who plays with women’s hearts.
Frances Aparicio, author of the award-winning book Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures and director of Northwestern University’s Latina and Latino Studies program, mentioned Cruz’s “Usted Abusó ,” a tune that could be seen as addressing domestic violence.
Aparicio told me she was motivated to study Salsa because she felt these contradictions as a feminist listening to patriarchal and misogynist lyrics while having a strong need to remain connected to her heritage.
I’m not Puerto Rican, but I understand the draw to Salsa and the need to listen responsibly. So a big thanks to the Smithsonian for opening my eyes. And a shout-out to Baratunde Thurston, author of How to be Black, which was described by one critic as a hilarious blend of razor-sharp satire and a memoir —he has the “black card” application on his website. Gracias, bro. I may reapply.