The Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond is encyclopedic in its outlook, and comprehensive in its scope. Ed Morales has organized into one treasure-trove of information the various musicians and influences that have created the Latin explosion. This book is required reading, and a required reference book, for those enamored with Latin music, its present incarnations as well as its complex origins.
While The Latin Beat focuses at times on the pop stars of Latin music, from Shakira to Jennifer Lopez, from Luis Miguel to Ricky Martin, it also provides the reader with a detailed history of the various strands of Latin music. Morales takes the reader through the stages that led to the development of salsa, with its roots in Afro-Cuban music—especially mambo—and its flowering in New York. He also has chapters devoted to merengue’s importance in the Dominican Republic, and the growth of bossa nova in Brazil.
One of the book’s many strengths is its emphasis on cultural history. In the Dominican Republic, for example, Morales discusses the fact that merengue’s origins in African rhythms were denied by the cultural elites because of their Euro-centric views of the world. In Brazil, tropicalia music, as practiced by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, was, in part, political protest music against the military dictatorship of the 1960’s. In 2003 Brazil’s leftist president, Lula da Silva, acknowledged this past and made Gil his minister of culture.
Morales’s index in the back of the book is exemplary. If lovers of Latin music have a question about any kind of musical term (from ranchera to marimba to tango), or any musician (from Ibrahim Ferrer to Tito Puente to Carmen Miranda), they need only look at the eighteen page index and search out the reference in Morales beautifully written book. Morales has done a great service to the lovers of music from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and, above all, Cuba.