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The Secret History Of Chicago Salsa
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The Secret History Of Chicago Salsa


Finally this hour, a snapshot of a small but vibrant music scene in 1970s Chicago - salsa. The scene was centered around the neighborhood of Humboldt Park. At the time, Chicago salsa was rarely heard outside northern Illinois.

Well, now a new compilation aims to bring the music to a wider audience. Oliver Wang has this review.

OLIVER WANG: Carlos Ruiz arrived in Chicago from New York in 1950. The Puerto Rican native was a dancer by training and saw a need for a cultural and social venue to bring together the city's growing immigrant community.

So he founded The Puerto Rican Congress of Mutual Aid, originally housed in a basement a few blocks north of the stretch now known as Paseo Boricua: the Puerto Rican Promenade.

(Soundbite of music)

LA JUSTICIA (Music Group): (singing in foreign language)

WANG: By the late 1960s, the earliest salsa sounds from New York began to reach the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, then the second-biggest in America. Ruiz's Congress had become a local institution. So it was only natural that when a young band named La Justicia needed a place to play, the musicians approached Ruiz.

(Soundbite of music)

LA JUSTICIA: (singing in foreign language)

WANG: This seed grew when Ruiz decided to record some of the bands. Ebirac Records was born, one of the only labels anywhere devoted to Chicago salsa.

(Soundbite of music)

LA JUSTICIA: (Singing in foreign language)

WANG: The U.S. salsa scene was dominated by Puerto Rican musicians. In New York, they drew heavily on Cuban styles such as the guaguanco and son montuno, but in Chicago, the local community turned to Puerto Rican influences, especially folkloric dance rhythms like the plena.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language).

WANG: If Chicago's salsa history is largely unknown, it's partly because the major Latin labels in New York and Miami took little interest in the city's bands. On the one hand, that meant Ebirac could command its own empire.

On the other, its resources were limited, so most of its recordings were sold direct to fans at performances and had almost no national distribution.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language).

WANG: The new anthology "Boricua Salsa de Chicago" offers an exhaustive set of liner notes in large part because it was compiled by the Numero Group, a label based in Chicago. The notes summarize a massive interaction of musical, cultural and political movements.

The CD's 15 songs can only skim the surface of that dense history, but at least they document an era that otherwise may only have survived in people's memories. Chicago may be more famous for its blues, soul and house scenes, but this new compilation reminds us that other musics have been vitally alive in the city, especially along the Puerto Rican Promenade.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, runs the audio blog, and you can hear more Chicago salsa at

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