India and Stars of Salsa Get Feet Moving at NJPAC
Through the decades, salsa has moved from the streets to the clubs to the concert hall. On November 17, some of the brightest stars in the genre’s firmament team up for a SalsaPalooza at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark and may turn the clock back a bit by transforming the stately auditorium into a sizzling dance club. Salsa’s origins are found in the mix of African and European cultures in early 20th-century Cuba. Many believe the fundamental clave beat began when Cuban workers made rhythm instruments of the dowels that joined the boards of wooden ships. The music evolved between Cuba and the U.S. in the pre-Castro era, then the breakdown of Cuban-American relations cut off the musical exchange. The New York-based branch of the music was dubbed salsa in the 1970s and developed its own history in parallel to the Afro-Cuban sound in Cuba.
Salsa in the 1970s was fiery and experimental, but its popularity was eclipsed by the softer-edged salsa romantica that later dominated radio. As it spread globally, particularly among younger Latinos, salsa gave way to other sounds, such as reggaeton and hip-hop. Today Salsa Congresses keep the music vital around the world, even if big bands don’t play in clubs as often as in the music’s heyday.
One of the biggest stars of latter-day salsa is Puerto Rico-born, Bronx-raised Linda Viera Caballero, or India. She was named by her grandmother, who thought her dark features resembled those of the Taíno Indians of the Caribbean.
The Grammy-nominated artist is excited to be part of the tour, which also features vocalists Tito Nieves, Tito Rojas and Eddie Santiago. “It’s really fun,” she says in a recent interview, noting the lack of female stars in the salsa world. “I’m hanging with the boys and I’ve been hanging with the boys since 1991.”
After a foray into modeling, India began her musical career as a teen pop singer with the Latin freestyle band TKA. A meeting with the legendary Latin pianist Eddie Palmieri led to a career switch to salsa, resulting in her breakout hit album “Llegó La India via Eddie Palmieri” (1992).
India recalls her time with Palmieri: sitting in the studio, sharing cigars she brought, and musing about how the partnership realigned her with the music she loved, but had not performed professionally.
Back then, Palmieri pointed out that she was singing in a style more suited to her earlier music and that she needed to internalize the Afro-Cuban rhythm. While the two shared the studio, listening to the instrumental tracks on headphones, Palmieri tapped out the clave rhythm on her shoulder. “It was like the energy of the rhythm entered my body and I took control of it. Once I got up on that horse, I rode it to eternity,” she says.
“I’m more than happy,” India adds about her collaboration with Palmieri. “I’m grateful.”
Since that time, India has been a huge force in salsa, with several chart-topping hits. She was even dubbed “La Princesa de la Salsa” by salsa’s greatest female star, the late Celia Cruz. “She baptized me as the princess,” India recalls. “She said to me, ‘I see your passion. I see how hard you had to work.’”
India’s albums have been sporadic in recent years, her last being “La Unica” in 2010. She says she is working with Mexican singer and songwriter Juan Gabriel on a diverse adult contemporary album, as well as a salsa album. “We’re having fun,” she says, expressing her hopes that the albums will wrap soon. “I guess I have to be patient.”
For the upcoming SalsaPalooza, India says her sound will be a bit different due to her teaming with a new musical director, Bobby Allende. “It will be more calle (street),” she says of the vibe. “(Allende) likes to rehearse a lot and really be on top of his game. He’s an extraordinary musician.”
David Rodriguez, executive producer/vice president of NJPAC, says Prudential Hall has the “aesthetics and acoustics to lend the level of respect and honor appropriate to the music.” He mentions that the audience knows full well that when a clave beat is played, it’s a signal to get up and get moving. “We encourage dancing,” he adds.
Rodriguez notes this is the second time the SalsaPalooza show has played NJPAC and that it was part of a strategy to diversify the menu of offerings for New Jersey’s ethnic communities. “The whole idea is to build a sense of home,” he concludes.
NJPAC is at 1 Center St. in Newark. SalsaPalooza takes place on Nov. 17, 8 p.m., in Prudential Hall. Tickets are $39.50-$95, 1-888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722)