By JON PARELES
Music and dance are inseparable — as they should be — at “Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York,” the exhibition that opened this week at the Museum of the City of New York. It is the museum’s first fully bilingual exhibition.
“Rhythm & Power” celebrates the Latin music that was forged in New York City from diverse Caribbean, Pan-American, African and European styles, and savvily marketed under the catchall term salsa. Musicians initially disliked the word; they preferred more specific designations like rumba or bolero. But using “salsa” could “put everything under one roof,” said the Dominican musician Johnny Pacheco, who was the chief executive and creative director of Fania Records, which popularized the term. Calling the music salsa blurred specific national origins, drawing a broader audience in the New York City melting pot.
Salsa in its heyday — from the 1960s into the 1980s — was simultaneously an outlet for immigrant traditions, an experiment, an evolving art form, a cultural bulwark, a commercial product and, at its most idealistic, a voice for social change. It was also purposefully irresistible dance music: movement for a movement. “Rhythm & Power” touches on all of those roles.