The History of Jews and Salsa


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Jews and salsa smaller
Rob Bernberg takes a participant for a spin during a salsa class at the Gershman Y. Photo credit: Luz Salas

Is it possible to become a proficient salsa dancer in just one hour? To anyone watching the transformation of 50 neophytes on July 7, the answer would have to be “si.”
In that 60-minute span, everyone inside the Gershman Y learned to use the wooden instrument called “claves” and keep a traditional 5-stroke Latin music beat — all while keeping their bodies in tune with the rhythm of the music.
As part of Siempre Salsa Philly’s week-long celebration of Latin music, these newly minted salseros and salseras were treated to a presentation from Rob Bernberg and Jesse Bermudez, who traced the roots of Latin music and its Jewish influences in “The Jewish Side of Salsa” at the Gershman Y.
Bernberg and Bermudez focused their discussion on five Jewish DJs from New York credited with expanding the reach of Latin music in America: Art “Pancho” Raymond, who co-owned Latin music label Tico Records, Joe Gaines, Dick “Ricardo” Sugar, Roger Dawson and Sid Torin, otherwise known as Symphony Sid.
And there was one other key Jewish figure: Larry Harlow, “El Judio Maravilloso” (“The Marvelous Jew”), a legendary musician particularly famous for expanding the instrumentation of salsa’s sound today.
“This music builds bridges between people and cultures from all walks of life,” said Bernberg, a retired lawyer who said Latin music is his “tzedakah.”
“This music is for everyone,” he said.
Bernberg, co-owner of Latin Beat Magazine, and Bermudez, founder of Philadelphia music education organization Artístas y Músicos Latino Americanos (AMLA), joined together with Carlos Sanchez of Orquesta del Barrio to create initiative Siempre Salsa Philly in order to introduce Philadelphians to the wealth of authentic salsa music at their footsteps.
Bermudez, who also owns 24-hour Latin music radio station, said he feels that Latin……
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