Audience at the Bronx Documentary Center Annex

Residents attend a screening of "Mambo to Hip Hop" at the Bronx Documentary Center

Latin festival explores the roots of Hip Hop

When one thinks of Latin music, most think about the familiar rhythms of mambo or Salsa. But there’s another kind of music whose Hispanic roots are less well known: Hip hop. 

Dozens of people crowded into the Bronx Documentary Center on Saturday to watch a screening of “From Mambo to Hip Hop,” the award-winning 2006 PBS documentary about the Latin influences on the Bronx’s most famous export. While most people know Hip Hop as part of urban Black culture, the documentary explores the Puerto Rican and Cuban influences behind the cultural phenomenon. 

The screening was the first event in the 6th Latin American Foto Festival, which is hosted by the Bronx Documentary Center in Melrose and will last until July 30. Six events in total are planned, including book launches and film screenings. 

This is “the first and so far only Latin American photo festival” in the South Bronx to focus on the works of Latin filmmakers and photographers, according to Sonja John, Exhibitions Assistant at the Bronx Documentary Center. Later this month, there will be panel discussions, film screenings, and a book launch. 

In addition, there are also exhibits of still photography at the documentary center’s two locations and outdoors throughout the Melrose neighborhood. 

The screening of “From Mambo to Hip Hop” was followed by a panel discussion featuring producer and Bronx historian Elena Martinez and some of the people featured in the film. During the Q&A session, the speakers highlighted the contributions of Spanish-speaking cultures to Black music. 

“Our contributions are completely ignored in the history of jazz,” said Bobby Sanabria, a Grammy-nominated drummer who is featured in the film. “Just like in Hip Hop, we were always there, we have always existed.”

Sanabria noted that New Orleans, the home of jazz, was also an important melting pot for Caribbean influences which have been largely omitted from mainstream histories of the art form. 

“When we are mentioned it’s like a footnote,” he added.

Some of those in attendance found the experience to be an eye-opener. “It blew me away,” said Nick San Martin, a 32-year old musician from Queens. 

“Hip hop and salsa were always something that was really dear to me,” San Martin added. “I never knew that there was a Puerto Rican influence in Hip Hop. ”

“From Mambo to Hip Hop” is available on Youtube. The Latin American Foto Festival will run until July 30. Here are the events that have been planned so far:

  • July 22, 7pm.
    • Book Launch: Zahara Gomez, “Recetarios”
  • July 25, 6:30
    • Screening “Faith in Blackness”
  • July 29,
    • 6:30 Screening “Sanson & Me”
  • July 30, 12-5pm.
    • Closing Reception & Block Party.

About Post Author