To promote Victor Manuelle’s first ever televised concert special, HBO Latino invited the HipLatina crew on a salsa music celebration. The uplifting and positive messages of his songs para que vengan tiempos mejores provided some much needed aliento just two days after the end of the divisive election campaign. Though the concert initially aired on HBO Latino on November 18, ¡no te preocupes! You can still catch the show, which includes both Manuelle’s earlier classic salsa songs as well some of his more recent urban infused hits, on HBO Latino and HBO GO.
With the help of The Ride NYC, the salsa celebration on a tourist sightseeing bus transformed into a dance party with disco lights and karaoke to Victor Manuelle songs. Rather than catching the usual sites in Midtown, we embarked on a tour through Harlem, celebrating the history of Latin culture, music, dance, and food in El Barrio. While this was a one-time offering from The Ride NYC, we wanted to share the places we visited with you so that you could recreate the tour. There will be plenty of stops along the way to get your fill of bebidas and baile, just like we did.
The tour started out at the Manhattan School of Music, where an unassuming Victor Manuelle sat in the back of the audience listening to the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in one of the school’s rehearsal rooms. Victor then got up and seamlessly joined in to lead the ensemble, encouraging the audience to participate and follow the rhythm as well. Upcoming events for the group are listed on their Facebook page, and you can check out their 2014 album, ¡Qué Viva Harlem! on Amazon and Spotify.
Bobby Sanabria (conductor of the jazz orchestra) led the bus tour and gave us a history lesson with a modern twist. A key point of interest for music aficionados was Casa Latina Music Shop. While now a one stop shop to find rare albums, videos, collectibles, and Puerto Rican instruments, it was initially one of the only places in El Barrio where performers could come for their musical needs. Be sure to stop by this 40 year old family owned shop run by Vicente and Christina Barreiro, for a more up close and personal salsa music history.
Before hitting the dance floor, Bobby made sure to point out restaurants where we could stop for a tasty Caribbean meal. Cuchifritos, which opened in 1961, has become a symbol of the Puerto Rican community and the evolution of Spanish Harlem. It was one of the first restaurants to open in the area as the Puerto Rican population grew and continues to serve classics from la isla. You can check it out before or after a night of dancing, as it’s open until 5 AM on weekends. If you want to hear some salsa music while you eat, head to Amor Cubano, which offers generous portions of comida cubana and 10 different takes on Cuba’s signature bebida, the mojito. Amor Cubano offers live music on weekend nights, and if you opt to come for weekend brunch they offer bottomless beverages with a Cuban twist.
We then made the journey to Midtown to head to the iconic Copacabana Latin nightclub. While it has changed locations over the years, its history dates back to when it first opened in 1940, featuring Latin music and décor even back then. On the way to the club, we passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Victor reminisced about performing Celia Cruz’s “La vida es un carnaval” during her funeral mass in 2003.
When we arrived at Copacabana, the rum was flowing and the music was bumping from the speakers. As the night progressed and more people stepped onto the floor, you could hear the gradual shift from salsa to reggaeton to keep the dancing going. If you aren’t yet ready to show off your salsa moves (I certainly was not!), you can head to Ailey Extension for beginner classes, recommended by Victor himself. The real question is whether I’ll be good enough to dance with Victor after the lesson…I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.