Dancing at the Salsa Project NYC at the Bronx Brewery in Port Morris, March 9th 2024. By Mariana Navarette Villegas.

Salsa is one of the heartbeats of the South Bronx, and if salsero Brandon Espinosa has his way, it will stay that way forever.  

A Bronxite with Cuban and Puerto Rican roots, Espinosa has returned with his popular Salsa Project, a rotating event that features music and dance hosted by different local venues around the five boroughs. 

He started the initiative in 2018, when he worked at the Bronx Brewery, a lively bar and social scene in Port Morris.

Since then, the Salsa Project has grown into a regular gathering of music and dancing enthusiasts in New York, and also spawned documentaries and apparel. It recently expanded its events to Cuba and Puerto Rico.

“It’s just been really something that has been a love letter that I’ve written to salsa and a passion that our community has adopted,” Espinosa said.

Brandon Espinosa, founder of the Salsa Project NYC standing in front of graffiti at the Bronx Brewery, March 9th, 2024.By Mariana Navarrete Villegas.

At his first event for 2024, held March 9 at the Bronx Brewery, some dancers took to the floor right away, tempted by the salsa stylings of DJ Jay Boogie. Those who felt shy hung back with their beer – at least for a little while. With the music and drinks flowing, it wasn’t long before dancers of all levels – and all ages – got into the groove. 

Anytime a song by Gilberto Santa Rosa or Hector Lavoe, two of Espinosa’s favorite performers, cued up, Espinosa ran to the dancefloor as well, singing and dancing to the music with his eyes closed. 

“That’s the beauty, I think of our events,” Espinosa said between songs. “This music is more than just a sound, right? It’s a narrative of our oppression, it’s a form of our movement and dance, right? It’s a language that you feel.” 

Some Salsa Project regulars come to the events to immerse themselves in the drumbeats that were originally from Africa and the rhythms developed in Cuba, and Puerto Rico. From there, the genre bloomed into a global phenomenon in the late 60s and 70s, fueled by the musical innovations coming out of the South Bronx. 

Reconnecting with salsa is a way for some attendees to get in touch with their roots, Espinosa said. Others, even those who may not fully understand the lyrics or understand them at all, are still willing to lose themselves in the music of his borough, he said. 

“The Bronx will always be home, it has a very special place in my heart,” said Espinosa. “I started this project as a way to preserve culture, tradition and history through music.” 

His love affair with salsa began with his parents, who met each other in the South Bronx. Espinosa’s mother, who worked at the famous salsa record company Fania, took him to live music events, mostly salsa, where he tended to be the youngest in the room.

“When I was looking around, I was like, ‘Man, how’s this music going to be preserved if there aren’t more young people being exposed to this genre of music?’” he said. “That always stayed in my mind.” 

As Espinosa got older, his father took him to events, too. They danced at Palladium nightclub, at places in the Meatpacking District, and the Caravana Club in the Bronx, among others. Still, the people enjoying this type of music were not of his generation and the question of whether salsa was going to be preserved was a consistent concern.

When Espinosa’s daughter was born in 2018, he decided it was time to do something for future generations – and the Salsa Project came to life. 

DJ Jayboogie next to the beer factories at the Bronx Brewery, March 9th, 2024. By Mariana Navarrete Villegas.

While the social event was first launched in the Bronx Brewery, Espinosa now takes the Salsa Project all over the city, inviting new communities to join in the fun. But he still brings it back to the Bronx as often as possible. 

His partnership with the Bronx Brewery will soon include a  Salsa Project beer to be released in May – the same time a live music series will launch in the backyard. Bands will appear on the last Friday of every month through August. 

Salsa Project will be back at the Brewery on April 20 for a second event, Espinosa said. 

 “For now, we will just continue to collaborate with our community, amplifying the work that we’re doing and making sure we’re staying true to the borough, that birthplace of salsa, which is the Bronx,” he said.

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