How the Puerto Ricans saved Afro-Cuban Jazz

Repeating Islands


The extremely quotable drummer, percussionist, producer and educator Bobby Sanabria speaks to Robin Lloyd for this report for KPLU.

“If it wasn’t for the Puerto Rican community of Spanish Harlem, of the South Bronx, Afro Cuban music would never have survived in this country, and expanded to the heights that it has.”—Bobby Sanabria from the film “From Mambo to Hip Hop”

Cuban musicians came to New York in the 1940s and 1950s to play jazz, and they gave their African-influenced rhythms to the jazz world.  By the late 1950s and into the 1960s, however, the flow of these musicians slowed to a trickle and then stopped.  Revolution, political upheaval and tensions between the Cuban and US governments made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to leave the island.

The Puerto Ricans, who from the 1930s on had settled in the South Bronx, in Brooklyn, and in Spanish Harlem had…

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