Note: In November 2020, Port Of Harlem will celebrate 25 years of publication. As we countdown to our birthday, we will republish some of our most popular articles from our print issues. Thanks for subscribing and inviting others to join you in supporting our inclusive, diverse, pan-African publication - - now completely online. We originally published this article in the May 2001 – October 2001 print issue.
“Why do you listen to that old Spanish music?” That was the question my fellow African-American high school classmates would ask me upon discovering my interest in mambo. While the past 20 years have brought increased awareness, many African-Americans still allow Spanish-language lyrics to obscure the fact that salsa, mambo, plena cha cha cha, and other Caribbean genres flow from the same African root as jazz, blues, gospel, hip-hop and other Africa-American musical styles.
Not long ago, in the 1950s, a generation of Washingtonians and other African-Americans made a ritual of dancing at mambo clubs like the Casbah on U Street. Dancers such as Roland Kave performed for years on TV shows such as WTTG’s “Capitol Caravan” in the nation’s capital. New Yorkers went freely back and forth between the Palladium Ballroom and the neighboring jazz club, Birdland.