Rhythms of salsa, merengue, boogaloo, and Cuban son will be drifting out of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts this summer as part of the Experience Music Project’s American Sabor, a traveling exhibit that celebrates the influence of Latino musicians on music and culture in the United States. The exhibit, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, explores the evolution of musical traditions since 1940 in New York, San Antonio, San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles—cities where music styles deeply rooted in Latino beats emerged and flourished. As it travels, the exhibition showcases music and artists from across the country, focusing on the musical contributions of the exhibit’s current city.
American Sabor tells a story of migration and cultural exchange, and “challenges people to think about the importance of respecting cultural difference as well as bridging cultural gaps,” says co-curator Marisol Berríos Miranda. As immigrants brought their traditions north, new music sprang from their experiences on U.S. soil.
A key exhibit goal is “to make people aware of the Latino styles, musicians, and communities that have shaped popular songs they know and love,” says Berríos Miranda. One of the ways American Sabor does that is through its interactive music stations that play popular U.S. songs alongside the Latin rhythms that inspired them. For example, Marvin Gaye borrowed signature riffs from salsa, while Richard Berry’s 1955 hit “Louie Louie” enthralled audiences with rhythms of the cha-cha-chá. Shania Twain built on the conjunto and Afro-Cuban beats that inspired the mambo.
The exhibit involves more than just looking and listening. At each of its locations, American Sabor includes an open space where visitors can try out a few steps while absorbing the music. An interactive website, www.americansabor.org, will feature tunes from Radio Sabor, an online jukebox that features all the artists and musical styles.