Latino Americans Blog
Stamped by our Heritage
August 23, 2013 10:18 AM by Soldanela Rivera
When I was growing up in Puerto Rico during the 70s, and 80s the Spanish pop ballad, salsa, and protest song were everywhere.
I remember Saturday mornings when my mother would hose down the patio and balcony and clean the house blasting Lucecita Benítez, Chico Buarque, Valeria Lynch, Amanda Miguel, Pablo Milanes, Isabel Pantoja, Silvio Rodríguez, Violeta Parra, Sandro, Joan Manuel Serrat, or Mercedes Sosa.
Going to a bank, mall, restaurant, or just being in the car meant Roberto Carlos, Juan Gabriel, Julio Iglesias, José José, FANIA, Jose Luis Perales, José Luis Rodríguez “El Puma” and in some circles, including my own, Charles Aznavour.
For every great English speaking songwriter and composer the American music industry exalted, Latin America had its counterpart or equivalent. It’s something like: Juan Gabriel=Barry Manilow; Violeta Parra= Joan Baez; Silvio Rodríguez=Bob Dylan; Sandro=Elvis Presley; or, Joan Manuel Serrat= Leonard Cohen.
By a strike of hereditary luck I grew up surrounded by actors, composers, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, painters, producers, singers, and writers.
One singer in particular deepened my understanding of not only Latin music but music in general. His name is Danny Rivera and happens to be my father.
His musical projects covered the gamut of genres from la danza puertorriqueña, to la serenata (serenade), to Puerto Rican folkloric music, to protest songs. Because of him I learned, loosely speaking, about the Latin American counterpart to the Great American Song Book with the likes of Don Tite Curet Alonso, Don Felo, Pedro Flores, Carlos Gardel, Cheito González, Rafael Hernández, Agustin Lara, Juan Morel Campos, Sylvia Rexach, and Daniel Santos.
He made beautiful albums like Alborada, Danza para mi pueblo, and Serenata, and Asi Cantaba Cheito González. I remember he dedicated an entire concert to Violeta Parra, circa 1978 in co-production with Teatro del 60, which played at the vanished Teatro Sylvia Rexach in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico. The concert, Gracias a la Vida (Fiesta en casa de Violeta) Danny Rivera Canta Violeta Parra is my first memory of a live concert. I recently found a draft of the original program where my father includes a letter that is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago. In it, he explains why he believed in Simon Bolivar’s dream of unifying Hispanic America. Today, Bolivar’s dream is, one can say, unrealized. There is a Latin American nation, no doubt about it, but as the “market” tries to capture it as whole, it falls through disconnected cracks of between political wars and historical inaccuracies. He relates Parra’s work to this unresolved unification and describes her compassionate lyrics as a yearning to assuage the suffering of a largely disenfranchised people.
His album Danza para mi Pueblo was an ode to the old Puerto Rican tradition of la danza. The album included his rendition of the original and banned Puerto Rican national anthem La Borinqueña, by the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió.
I hold fond memories of the production process of the album Alborada. Some of the tracks in that record are emblems of his musical trajectory. It is also an eerily timeless musical feast.
On May 6, 2010 he played his fourth concert as headliner at Carnegie Hall with the great Michel Camilo. Honestly he gave a real tour-de-force performance. Danny has this voice, this melodic way, this incredible range and way with music that is truly remarkable. He’s a crooner.
He began to be referred as the “national voice of Puerto Rico.” I’m not sure who pegged him with the nickname but it began to be used in the press many years ago. I believe his unabashed stance for Puerto Rico’s freedom and a unified Latin America had something to do with it. Why his career didn’t transcend to “higher” ground is a tale for another time and about industry itself.
Despite all the political controversy that precedes him, his musical catalogue demonstrates that he cares and is present to the whole artistry of Latin American music and its people. He’s a walking encyclopedic musical jukebox. His musical catalogue includes the genres of the Continent and he’s never turned his back to the emerging artists from this nation.
But, what does all this mean for Latinos in America? To me it means that we are stamped by our heritage.
When I came to New York City to live in 1990, alone, I soon learned that I had to hold on to something in order to stand as an individual. That’s when I realized that I had brought with me my father’s voice; the great men and women artists that I met, heard and was inspired by; the many songs that describe Latin America and which conjured feelings in me of pride, nostalgia and compassion; the contradictory identity I carry within for being a Puerto Rican and an American citizen; the projects that my father honed and did that addressed identity; his tears; my parents respect of culture; corners of Old San Juan streets; my school years; Piñones; the Caribbean; and seeing firsthand the sacrifice, with all its glory and scarcity, of dedicating life to music and culture.
These things have stamped me. They taught me that Latin America had produced profound literature, music, dance, theater, and visual art works. My cultural experience, being fully aware that there are others plagued in tragedy and suffering, make me feel very much a part of the sum parts of all the history that is told, untold, told wrong, and told correctly about us.
It’s like when I hear Mercedes Sosa sing Solo le pido a Dios, or Héctor Lavoe sing Abuelita or my dad sing el Villancico Yaucano I know that I belong to something beautiful and that art and culture does matter.
Soldanela is a dynamic and versatile entertainment professional with an eclectic and vast background with over two decades of experience as publicist, producer and artist. She has worked on national and international publicity and marketing campaigns for tour-concerts, theater productions, films, and special events with a specific focus in the U.S. Hispanic market. Sol graduated from Columbia University in 2005 with a Master of Arts in Arts Administration and received her BFA from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in dance. She has worked with notable Latin entertainment luminaries and veteran industry impresarios. Presently, Soldanela serves as Director of Communications of Hostos Community College of The City University of New York.