Turn on the radio and listen to the story of Miami. It's your own story, and it's right there in the danceable grooves, the colorful vibes, the tropical drums.
Latino cultures -- whether Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Caribbean -- have had an irrevocable influence on American musical traditions, whatever the genre. Miami has been one of the biggest players in this game of sonic fusion, and "American Sabor," the latest exhibition at HistoryMiami, curated by the Smithsonian Institution, EMP Music, and the University of Washington, takes a hard look at these regional contributions from the '40s into the present era.
And thanks to support from the Ford Motor Company, the interactive exhibit is open now through Sunday, Oct. 26, for everyone to enjoy.
"It was a no-brainer," said Joe Avila, community outreach manager for the Ford Motor Company Fund. "We believe and know that art, music, and culture helps to build communities, and also helps to connect families and generations. I invite you to walk around this exhibition and know you're going to find something to relate to."
The exhibit, the first to inhabit HistoryMiami's newly renovated third floor, highlights the immense contributions of Latinos through the tales of five major cities; San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio, New York, and Miami. It's almost impossible to break down decades of creativity, but curators spent years on the project and chose to highlight "elite pioneers," those artists, labels, and genres with the greatest lasting impact who truly innovated and paved the way for generations to come.
A study such as this has in fact never been conducted, but it has never been any less important.
"Musicians create their music. It's about their creation, it's not about the history of the creation," says Evelyn Figueroa, project director at the Smithsonian Institution. "There are very, very few museums that have dedicated themselves to collect about Latino music.
"The Smithsonian is trying to open the door to have a place where we can document, through the exhibitions that we do, important histories in this country that are fundamental to society, and then have them deposited in a public archive like the Smithsonian has, where it is accessible and free to everybody," she continues. "'American Sabor' and all of the information that is in there is extremely important."
The exhibit isn't just a bunch of placards. Music is about vibrance, it's about movement and life, and "American Sabor" reflects that movement with various interactive modules. Visitors can hear each artist, genre, and style at various listening stations throughout the exhibit, while also learning more about their history. They can play at a sound board, learning to distinguish instrumentation and creating their own tracks, bit by bit.
There's even a working jukebox and a dance floor featuring hits from all of the featured artists, and visitors are encouraged to move their bodies and teach each other about different cultural dances.
"If you're in Miami why would you not want to do 'American Sabor?'" said Ramiro Ortiz, president and CEO of HistoryMiami. As a regional partner of the Smithsonian, Ortiz and his crew jumped at the chance to host the traveling show.
They even expanded on the exhibit, seeking out historical artifacts from the careers of our local "elite pioneers." Visitors will enjoy sneaking a glimpse at Emilio Estefan's original accordion, a flashy dress work by Celia Cruz, the flamboyantly Miami jacket Willie Chirino wore on his first album cover, and more.
"We're very proud of the Miami sound, so we've enhanced the exhibit with a piece on the Miami sound."
No matter who you are, whatever your age, whatever genre of music you like best, Latino culture has played a big role in your life. It doesn't matter if you realize it or not. That's because it's shaped all of our lives as Americans, and "American Sabor" wants to get you in touch with those cultural roots.
"Many of the older generation will find here memories that will touch their soul," Figueroa said. "Many from the younger generation will find inspiration. When you hear the stories about these musicians and what they did, it's really inspiring to see that they weren't thinking about themselves but about their music and how can their music could make life better. That's something important that we need these days. We live in a very challenging world, and the new generation needs to start learning about the past so they can understand their future and be able to decide what is the best way to continue."
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"American Sabor" at History Miami, 101 W Flagler St., Miami. On display now through Sunday, Oct. 26. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $5 for children 6 to 12 years old, and free for kids under 5. Call 305-375-1492 or visit historymiami.com.
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