Thursday, September 15, 2016

Salsa and the Mambo

Salsa on two, (New York) Back in the Palladium
By Aristides Raul Garcia  aka El Intruso

In his essay "Is it Mambo or Salsa? Only the Clave knows" Mike Bello claims to have been at the Palladium. He is not really lying; he is telling a half truth, and that is the problem in dealing with this "slippery cat", they don’t really lie; they just tell you the part of the truth that fits their purpose. Of course Mike Bello probably went to the Palladium which opened in the 80’s on East 14th Street as a normal North American Disco, and as time went by introduced Salsa Nights (not Mambo nights, by the way) on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, I really don’t remember.

"Football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport –
dancing is a contact sport."

But Mr. Bello was never at the Palladium of Mambo-fame; the one I’m going to describe. Not even the famous Eddie Torres has ever claimed to have been there. And anyone trying to tell you that in those days the drinking laws were more relaxed, or that the bouncers at the doors would turn a blind eye if one was under age, is simply lying or living a fantasy; they were very strict, and in the early 60’s the Palladium had to be very careful, because the Police Department was keeping an eye on the joint looking for any excuse to close it down.

"Hazlo Bonito" por El Coronel

The Palladium was for a very specific group of people. The average Latino was not going there. It was show time at the Palladium; battle of the bands, battle of the dancers, and eventually battle of the bouncers. It had very little to offer to the average Pedro y Juana. They were, and still are, reluctant to spend their hard earned pesos to stand on the sideline listening to virtuoso solos, which seem to go on for ever, or watching super dancers take over the dance floor. They appreciate both things, but only to a certain point; what they really want to do, above all, is to dance themselves. So they were simply going to other clubs, and left the Palladium to the "hip crowd"

"Ven Devorame Otra Vez" por Azucar Moreno

The problem with that was that when the middle class fled to suburbia in the early 60’s, slowly the crowds at the Palladium started to get smaller. Then the famous and the curio seekers also started to disappear. There were nights at the Palladium when the only people present were the mafiosi (and their bouncers), the musicians and their friends, and the great dancers all looking at each other wondering what was going on. Good bands were not so willing to play there anymore. The Mafia running the joint grew restless and aggressive.

Today’s newcomer to Salsa is aware of Tito Puente, EL REY DEL MAMBO, and there was another Tito who also was one of the big legends from the Palladium. His name was Tito Rodriguez. Legend has it that T. Rodriguez started to play more uptown than downtown; that he also had his eyes set on the Latin American market; that he saw the Mambo thing coming to an end. He felt comfortable playing anywhere.
"And we should all know, when the crowd gets too hip anywhere,
it is not for us ordinary dancers."