‘Rhythm & Power’: A Little Bling, a Little Politics, a Lot of Salsa

Salsa was never short on bling. The exhibition includes Celia Cruz’s gold platform shoes, Marc Anthony’s microphone stand (with a big silvery crucifix built in) and Tito Puente’s red sequined tailcoat and his multicolored timbales, looking like psychedelic stained-glass windows. Other objects commemorate salsa milestones, like Eddie Palmieri’s Grammy Award for “The Sun of Latin Music,” the album that inaugurated the Grammy category for Latin music in 1975, and a 1973 poster for an all-star Carnegie Hall performance of Larry Harlow’s “Hommy,” salsa’s answer to the Who’s “Tommy.”

Shoes from Eddie Torres, who danced with Puente’s band before systematizing his knowledge and becoming a leading Latin dance instructor, have his name embroidered into their soft leather sides and holes worn into them, one syncopated step at a time. An instructional 1990s videocassette from Mr. Torres plays on a screen and through headphones, detailing steps and hip twists. Elsewhere in the exhibition, the music is analyzed, too, in an interactive video display by Stephen C. Phillips that lets visitors hear and combine the components of a Latin percussion section.

Underfoot in the exhibition’s main room is a gallery-length map of salsa’s global sources, traced back to rhythms and dances from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Togo and Ghana, and connected to the jazz and R&B that would give salsa its New York City brawniness. Like the exhibition, it packs broad historical ambition into its limited space.

The show concentrates on salsa’s past and on its New York City home turf; the music’s worldwide repercussions are beyond its scope. “Rhythm & Power” glances back to salsa’s New York City predecessor: the mambo craze of the 1950s, driven by an influx of Afro-Cuban musicians and ideas in the years before the embargo on Cuba. Salsa’s emergence was catalyzed by new migration — primarily the surge of Puerto…

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