There Is An Orchestra In Spanish Harlem

Download Audio

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Salsa, jazz and a lot of great energy. We’ll hear their sound.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra at a recent tour performance. (Courtesy Spanish Harlem Orchestra)
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra at a recent tour performance. (Courtesy Spanish Harlem Orchestra)

In the 1950s, 60s, 70s, “salsa dura” was huge in New York.  In Spanish Harlem.  Crisp, hard, irresistible music for dancing.  Not the softer, romantic salsa of today, but the driving, percussive salsa you could have heard any night down at the Palladium Ballroom.  These days, Spanish Harlem Orchestra keeps it hot and alive.  Old school.  Still irresistible.  This hour On Point:  the music of Spanish Harlem Orchestra and bandleader Oscar Hernandez, with salsa dura.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Oscar Hernández, bandleader and musician with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR's AltLatino. (@felixatjazz)

From Tom's Reading List

Pollstar: The Man Behind Spanish Harlem Orchestra — "t’s part of what Latino culture was experiencing in those years as a new generation in New York.  Music was a big part of it. Cultural exposure, Latinos finding their identity in a new city, a new country.  The music from that time is very raw, very organic, full of energy and, basically, was dance music that people used to party to.  Obviously, It’s Afro-Cuban based, so if you go back further than that, it comes from Cuba."

New York Times: Founts of Classic and Progressive in a Straight Ahead Way — "The pianist Oscar Hernández is the musical director, spreading the duties around into a collective. There are three singers (Ray De La Paz, Marco Bermudez and Carlos Cascante), but you will find yourself drawn to the design and scaffolding of some of the world’s most complex dance music. Three tracks were arranged by Gil Lopez, who died last year, and whose career traced back to the 1940s mambo era."

CBS News: Spanish Harlem Orchestra Celebrates Grammys — "When Spanish Harlem Orchestra snagged its second Grammy award, it was a victory for the old school salsa sound over tough competition from Latin music's new guard."


Producer's  note: the newest Spanish Harlem Orchestra album is not available on Spotify. As such, those songs are not included on the playlist embedded below. Our apologies.

This program aired on October 10, 2014.


More from On Point

Listen Live