Friday, May 19, 2006


Upcoming documentary from Henry Chalfant...

Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Story features: Ray Barretto, Benny Bonilla, Orlando Marin, Manny Oquendo, Willie Colon, Africa Bambaata, Charlie Chase, Fabel, Luis Chaluisan (El Extreme), Kid Freeze, Track II, Trace, Bom 5, Sandra Maria Esteves, Bobby Sanabria and more.

The schools and lunch tables were our drums; we played clave with the spoons. -- Percussionist Manny Oquendo, student at PS 52 in the 1940s

The film presents a panoramic view of the music that blossomed in the latin community of the South Bronx from the late 1940's when mambo burst onto the New York cultural scene through the birth of hip hop in the 1970s. The film chronicles two generations who grew up literally on the same streets, and both used rhythm as their forms of rebellion - for the older generation it was the pulsating rhythms of Cuba; for their children it was the rhythms of rap. The film, designed for public television and possibly theatrical release, aims to bring attention to the Bronx neighborhoods and communities who, with few resources, transformed the world's pop culture.

In the post war years in an area of the Bronx spreading out from the Longwood/Hunts Point section, the music was in the air. Hundreds of Latino musicians lived there, including Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, the Palmieri brothers, Johnny Pacheco and many more. Most grew up in, or moved to the area from East Harlem or directly from Puerto Rico and Cuba. They rehearsed, jammed and played in apartments and courtyards, on rooftops and street corners, in social clubs, and dance halls. They transformed Afro-Cuban rhythms and styles like son, charanga, cha-cha-cha and mambo into the uniquely New York Latin sound that was later called salsa and which, even later, contributed to the development of the vibrant hip hop culture that thrives here today.

Dozens of ballrooms, clubs and theaters - such as the glamorous Hunts Point Palace (which in later years was used by breakers) and the Tropicana, the family oriented Teatro Puerto Rico, P.S. 52 which nurtured musicians and threw weekly dances, and the Casalegre and Casa Amadeo record stores - flourished in this area of the South Bronx. The waning of the music scene and the demise of the old clubs coincide with the era of the burning of the neighborhood and the emergence of hip hop. In the early seventies in the South Bronx, Black and Latino teenagers, like the salsa musicians before them, held parties and jams in schools, basements, parks and playgrounds. Tying their turntables, amps and speakers into the lamp posts for power, kids would gather to rap, spin records and break. So this is a story about resuorcefulness. Young people of little means made do with whatever they could get their hands on; in the case of salsa, they improvised on the hubcaps and fenders of cars, on cans and chain link fences; in the case of hip hop, a later generation of kids plugged into the street lamps and utilized their parents'old funk and salsa records as source material for new sounds.

Hip hop is commonly thought to be an African-american cultural form. Often overlooked in this view is the huge contribution of Puerto Rican and other latin youth have made to the development and continuing evolution of hip hop in all its forms. Alongside Kool DJ Herc, a Jamaican, and Grandmaster Flash, of Barbadian parentage, stood such Nuyorican artists as Rock Steady Crew's Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Mr. Wiggles and Fable; Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers, Devastating Tito and Master O.C. of the Fearless Four and the graffiti masters, Lee Quinones and T-Kid. Mambo to Hip Hop is about how creative expression helped to foster community in the Bronx, and about how people used and are using that as a resource for cultural and civic renewal. The film is also about conflicts and connections between generations; about how music helped Puerto Ricans become New Yorkers; Concluding its story in the present, Mambo to Hip Hop will explore how the people of the South Bronx, working with so little in the way of material resources, saved themselves and their community, and contributed so much to the world's popular culture.

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