New York is Getting a Salsa Museum & It’s About Time

While salsa music has roots in Africa and is a sound that originally came out of Cuba and Puerto Rico, many would say that the Puerto Rican community in New York City put salsa music on the International map

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Photo: Pexels/ Samson Katt

While salsa music has roots in Africa and is a sound that originally came out of Cuba and Puerto Rico, many would say that the Puerto Rican community in New York City put salsa music on the International map. Long before Daddy Yankee, Bad Bunny and Maluma began topping International pop music charts, New York-based salsa artists like Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz were making Latin music popular across the globe. They may not have ever achieved the mass appeal that today’s Latin pop stars have, but they laid the foundation and created a rich and ongoing history. Salsa is undoubtedly a pillar of Latin music that opened the doors for many artists  revered throughout the world.

Now a non-profit group is working to bring the International Salsa Museum to the Bronx, not only to honor those artists and many more, but also to preserve the culture and legacy of salsa music as a whole. “We get to be the ones who help preserve history – meaning Afro-Latinos, meaning people from New York, from The Bronx, from Brooklyn, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic,” museum board member Janice Torres told NPR. “We get to help preserve our oral histories.”

While the museum has yet to secure a bricks and mortar location, back in 2021, the organization announced that plans to build the museum were officially in the works and began fundraising for the project. In 2022, it hosted its first pop-up museum event in conjunction with the New York International Salsa Congress and has a second scheduled for Labor Day 2023.

Currently, the organization has its sights set on the Kingsbridge Armory building in the Bronx. Torres and museum founders including salsero Willy Rodriguez believe it’s important that the museum calls its home in the place where salsa was popularized.

“The origins of salsa came from Africa, with its unique percussive rhythms, and made its way through the Atlantic into the Caribbean,” Rodriguez told NPR. “It’s deeply embedded into our DNA as Latinos and as African Americans. There currently isn’t a salsa museum. If we don’t preserve this, we’re definitely going to lose the essence of where this music came from.”

If the Kingsbridge Armory is secured, it will allow the museum space not only for static exhibitions, but for things like a recording studio, a theater, classrooms and even a restaurant. But, founders realistically believe that won’t happen for at least several years, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

“There’s a museum for every genre – for rock, jazz. There’s even a museum for trap music in Atlanta. But yet there is no museum celebrating the roots of Latin music history,” Torres told NPR. But, we’re certain that with the love, care, and determination of this powerful and dedicated group of Latinos, it will all come to fruition.

In the meantime, with the help of both Tito Puentes’ and Celia Cruz’s estates, they are focused on spreading awareness and fundraising, with the full understanding that with or without a permanent location, the museum is accomplishing its mission.

“We fully exist already. We are doing and have been doing virtual events, pop-up events and showing up in our community, whether it’s a book bag giveaway or sponsoring a scholarship,” Torres told NPR. And they are attracting and recruiting legends in the salsa world along the way.

Icons including La India, Victor Manuelle and Eddie Torres Sr., have all worked with the organization on various projects and initiatives so far. And beyond that, it has also partnered with the NYPD youth program to foster community engagement and build relationships through music, per NPR.

We certainly can’t wait to see what the International Museum of Salsa brings to “El Condado de la Salsa,” in the coming months and for years to come, and hope to be among the first in line to visit that bricks and mortar location when it finally does happen, because we know it will and it will undoubtedly be something special.

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