‘American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music’
To fully enjoy this exhibit, bring a kid and watch him become ignited by the music
Reviewed by Belinda Acosta, Fri., March 19, 2010
'American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music'
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress,
Through May 9
To fully enjoy the "American Sabor" exhibit, take a child. Even the shy ones, if what was observed at a recent visit is any indication, cannot help but be ignited by the music featured in the
listening kiosks placed throughout the exhibit. It's one thing to hear the music, to take in the oral histories of more than 45 musicians, or to be tutored on how certain forms of music from Mexico and other parts of Latin America became infused into U.S. popular music, but it's quite another to witness the unguarded excitement music can unleash in a young person. The docent observed leading his young charges through "American Sabor" was challenged by their frothy enthusiasm but managed to contain their excitement long enough to take full advantage of the priceless teaching moment.
Originally a project of the Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, "American Sabor" is "the first major museum exhibition to explore the significant contributions of Latino artists in shaping post-World War II American popular music," according to the exhibit catalog. The original exhibition, which opened in June 2000, has been abbreviated for the road. While five major production centers for Latino music are highlighted (New York City, Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Miami), the traveling version also highlights the musical contributions of the Latino community in its host cities. So, alongside San Antonio's Steve Jordan, New York's Tito Puente, and L.A.'s Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos), Austin music lovers will note mentions of Ruben Ramos, Charanga Cakewalk, and Maneja Beto, along with recent events like Austin's 3-year-old Pachanga Fest and the Sound Is Brown/Latino Music Month, which all occur in May.
Music is a powerful language, no matter what its provenance. Its power comes from being translated through the body, and "American Sabor" demonstrates this directly and indirectly. Music, ephemera, text (presented in English and Spanish), and even a small dance floor where visitors can try their moves are all displayed against an appealing backdrop of tangy turquoise and melon, contributing to the celebratory nature of the exhibit. Yet "American Sabor" still manages to approach three serious questions on how Latinos influenced U.S. popular music: How did Latino youth in general and Latino musicians in particular cross racial, ethnic, and class boundaries? What is the role of immigration and migration in shaping U.S. popular music? And finally, how did Latinos assert themselves as Americans, sometimes during periods when the very idea of being American was being narrowly defined?
While older generations will recognize much of the music and the musicians, it is the hope of the exhibit curators that viewers will get "new perspectives on music that may already seem familiar" in order to come away with new ideas about "your own relationship to these songs, people, and histories."