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Listening to Salsa

Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures

Frances R. Aparicio

Publication Year: 2010

For Anglos, the pulsing beats of salsa, merengue, and bolero are a compelling expression of Latino/a culture, but few outsiders comprehend the music's implications in larger social terms. Frances R. Aparicio places this music in context by combining the approaches of musicology and sociology with literary, cultural, Latino, and women's studies. She offers a detailed genealogy of Afro-Caribbean music in Puerto Rico, comparing it to selected Puerto Rican literary texts, then looks both at how Latinos/as in the US have used salsa to reaffirm their cultural identities and how Anglos have eroticized and depoliticized it in their adaptations.

Aparicio's detailed examination of lyrics shows how these songs articulate issues of gender, desire, and conflict, and her interviews with Latinas/os reveal how they listen to salsa and the meanings they find in it. What results is a comprehensive view "that deploys both musical and literary texts as equally significant cultural voices in exploring larger questions about the power of discourse, gender relations, intercultural desire, race, ethnicity, and class."

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture

Listening to Salsa

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Music / Culture

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Title Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xxi

This book originally emerged out of my desire to give personal and cultural meaning to academic work, that is, out of a profound need to reclaim the knowledge about Puerto Rican culture that had been denied to me through a colonial education. But to limit the impact of this interdisciplinary...

Part I. The Danza and the Plena: Racializing Women, Feminizing Music

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A Literary Prelude

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pp. 3-7

In 1975, when Rosario Ferré first published “When Women Love Men” in the journal Zona de carga y descarga, the story “caused a terrible scandal” because it honored the memory of Isabel “La Negra” Luberza, a famous or infamous black prostitute from Ponce, also Ferré’s hometown, who had...

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1. A White Lady Called the Danza

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pp. 8-26

The Puerto Rican danza is a particular dance form that evolved from the English and European country dance (contradanza) and became transculturated in the Caribbean. While the term danza in Spanish usually refers to dance in general, in the Caribbean the danza is closely associated with the...

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2. A Sensual Mulatta Called the Plena

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pp. 27-44

If the feminized and racialized danza was the national music of Puerto Rico by the turn of the century, the Afro–Puerto Rican plena, along with the bomba, was historically and discursively marginalized, erased, and dismissed as música de negros (music of Blacks). This opposition, which...

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3. Desiring the Racial Other: Rosario Ferré’s Feminist Reconstructions of Danza and Plena

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pp. 45-61

As a woman writing from the same class location as that of Manuel Alonso, Salvador Brau, Antonio Pedreira, and Tomás Blanco, Rosario Ferré appropriates the discursive tradition on music, race, and gender analyzed above, rewriting and subverting it from her own multiply inflected subject position...

Part II. The Plural Sites of Salsa

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A Postmodern Preface

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pp. 65-68

“Puerto Rico es Salsa,” an evening concert at Expo 92 in Seville, Spain, was the culmination of a day of festivities honoring the National Day of Puerto Rico on June 23, 1992. Yet behind the curtains of a successful stage performance by Alex de Castro, Tony Vega, Andy Montañez, and El Gran...

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4. Situating Salsa

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pp. 69-82

In Puerto Rico and other Caribbean countries, such as Venezuela, salsa music has emerged as a marker of race and class differences. The cocolorockero dichotomy based on musical taste permeated youth culture in Puerto Rico during the 1980s. Cocolos, an African-derived term, refers to...

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5. Ideological Negotiations: Between Hegemony and Resistance

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pp. 83-103

Puerto Rican historian Angel Quintero Rivera has identified several structural elements of salsa music as symbolic sites of liberatory values and of freedom. First, the “free and significant combination of forms” that salsa represents, as illustrated in Ruben Bladés’s hit “Tiburón.” This song is characterized...

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6. Cultural (Mis)Translations and Crossover Nightmares

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pp. 104-117

In her lucid analysis of “Women Dancing Back,” Leslie Gotfrit refers us to dance as an activity that contests the split between “body and mind” that has ensued from the binary logic of Western culture. Unlike the mind, the body is “crucial to any oppositional politics,” and dance allows for the possibility...

Part III. Dissonant Melodies: Singing Gender, Desire, and Conflict

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Theoretical Pretexts: Listening (as) Woman

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pp. 121-124

What follows here and in the fourth part of this book is an exercise both in Listening Woman and in listening as women, concepts based on critical discussions of women as readers informed by the convergence of feminist studies with reader-response theories. In the context of popular music...

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7. Woman as Absence: Hetero(homo)sexual Desire in the Bolero

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pp. 125-141

A working-class Latina from Detroit acknowledged during my interview with her that “cuando estoy en un baile y escucho salsa, no le presto mucha atención a las palabras . . . pero cuando es un bolero sí le pongo atención” [when I go dancing, I don’t pay much attention to the lyrics of salsa music...

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8. Patriarchal Synecdoches: Of Women’s Butts and Feminist Rebuttals

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pp. 142-153

La Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s most famous septeto (septet) whose singers included Daniel Santos, Celio González and Celia Cruz, popularized a hit called “Las muchachas” (The girls) during the 1940s and 1950s. Analogous to the Beach Boys’ hit “California Girls,” “Las muchachas” maps women’s...

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9. Singing the Gender Wars

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pp. 154-171

The increased mobility and integration of Latin American and Puerto Rican women into the work force and their growing access to the public spheres has had a destabilizing impact on the power of patriarchy in Latin America. New gender values and subjectivities among women have indeed...

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10. Singing Female Subjectivities

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pp. 172-183

Postmodern critics and feminists have identified a new era of women’s participation in high and low cultures. This is clearly evident, for instance, in the emergence of “women-identified music” recording studios in the United States, a countermovement that arose against the misogynist lyrics...

Part IV. Así Somos, Así Son: Rewriting Salsa

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pp. 185

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Listening to the Listeners: An Introduction

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pp. 187-190

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, the very institution of salsa music [la institución de la salsa] as a Puerto Rican man reminded me, released their record album entitled “Aquí no se sienta nadie” in 1979. Out of the hundreds of albums they have recorded in their thirty years of existence, this particular...

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11. Así Son: Constructing Woman

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pp. 191-218

The male-centered discourse of the song “Así son” originates from the conjunction of two musical traditions: the bolero and the salsa. As in the bolero, in many salsa songs the woman’s absence functions as the pretext for the expression of man’s desire. El Gran Combo’s song, “Así son,” clearly fits...

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12. Así Somos: Rewriting Patriarchy

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pp. 219-238

Patterns of listening to El Gran Combo’s song “Así son” show different ways of producing meaning, not only between men and women but also between the Latinas from the University of Michigan and those from Detroit. These differences in listening practices, as individual engagements in cultural semiotics...

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pp. 239-245

Throughout this book, I have identified and analyzed discursive traditions in the terrains of Puerto Rican music, literature, and culture that have served to legitimize and naturalize the asymmetries of power between men and women and have led to what Anglo feminist critics of mass media have termed the...


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pp. 247-280

Index of Songs and Recordings

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pp. 281-282

General Index

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pp. 283-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780819569943
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819553065

Page Count: 302
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Music Culture