El Mensajero (English)

Posted: February 16, 2011

Last Updated: June 16, 2011

Music plays many roles in community

By Javier Rivera

What is music? To many, it is a way of life. The Chinese philosopher Confucius recognized the importance of music in people’s lives, saying "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without."

Music is not just a combination of sounds. To some it is therapy to the body, soul and mind, the cure from our chaotic world of noise. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. Music is so powerful that when we hear a particular tune we can be transported in an instant back to a special moment in our lifetime.

Since the beginning of time, music has been an integral part of every culture. From the simplest beating of a pair of sticks to the complexities of a full group, music is the badge that identifies people. Music also can bring together as one people with different ideas, idiosyncrasies and ways of life. Music is also a timekeeper. It’s amazing how we can look back and -- thanks to music -- we can trace a particular lifestyle. For example, say the word "disco," and right away images of go-go boots and big afros come to mind.

Music not only can categorize people but bring people together. Music is the universal language. How many people have seen Japanese people dancing to the beat of salsa music, Australians dancing to the beat of Tango, or Chinese singing country music? Music destroys barriers! Music can be also used as a tool. How many times have you used "Jingles Bells" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to remember answers for a test? Music is a powerful force of nature -- yes, nature -- because even animals make music. An obvious example are birds singing. Just thinking about the image of birds singing at sunrise brings a calm feeling.

In our case, music is a bridge, a bridge that will take us back to where we came from. Some of us came here looking for a better way of life while others, because of political instability, arrived looking for a free way of thinking and expression. But one thing they all brought with them was their music. Music is that piece of our homeland we carry in our hearts. The people you will read about in the next issues of El Mensajero came to Rochester from different backgrounds, bringing with them the music taught by their parents or grandparents.

But before we begin, it is imperative to talk about how our community began and how it influenced our musical talent.

When we talk about the golden era of Latin music in Rochester, we need to go back to the early ‘50s. A Puerto Rican community of roughly 8,000 people was well established in the area of Brown Square Park. Part of a large migration of Puerto Ricans coming to Rochester, braving the harsh Western New York winters, they looked for ways to stay closer to the island.

Many of these recently arrived residents came with just their clothes on their backs and a guitar to calm their sorrows. With jobs on the nearby farms of Geneva, Egypt, Newark and many manufacturing factories popping all over Rochester, many of these new arrivals found work and saved up to bring the rest of the family from their homeland. Some of them came because they already had family here in Rochester and they took the risk of making it here.

In the coming issues we’ll feature these brave souls and how music was a way not only for them to entertain the community but also to bring the community back to its roots and to ease the pain of living in a new environment.

Rivera is CEO of Latin Roc Entertainment and host of Esencia Latina on Jazz90.1 FM/WGMC-FM radio from 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and on www.jazz901.org. Contact him at latinroc@gmail.com.

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