The Rada Film Group caught up with some of the female producers of the WGBH series LATIN MUSIC USA to talk about their experiences creating the episodes.
Today, Pamela A. Aguilar, co-producer of Episode One: Bridges and Episode Two: The Salsa Revolution, takes us behind the scenes and fills us in on the challenges of U.S.-side Latin music research, the enduring appeal of Santana and Graciela Perez-Grillo, the “First Lady of Latin Jazz.”
Rada: What surprised you the most about the music history you were exploring that you didn’t know or had other assumptions about going into the project?
Pamela Aguilar: I was most surprised about the lack of scholarship done in the U.S. on the subject –from Afro-Cuban Jazz to the Mambo, the Boogalu and Salsa, etc. – it was a difficult task to get a grasp on the rich history and really get down below the surface. Countless books and essays do not exist in the states. We did, of course, source Spanish books and writings on the topic but it was surprising that there was so little material readily available for research in the United States.
Rada: It seems like an entire series could be done just on the first episode of Latin Music USA. What elements were the most difficult to leave out of the film that you think would have been relevant to the Latino community?
Pamela Aguilar: Ha! How much time do you have? There are several elements in the history of Latin Music made in the U.S. that were left out of the final episode. Key figures that for many Latinos are household names were cut from the final film for many reasons, mainly not enough time.
However, deciding on a starting point was the most difficult. From the beginning we knew we only had an hour to cover nearly half a century of music –really about 54 minutes– and it was a struggle to figure out what point in time to start the film. Early on, we had the idea to bookend the film with Woodstock and Carlos Santana. Not only because he is an amazing Latino Superstar who introduced Afro-Caribbean percussion to what is referred to as mainstream America, but because as a filmmaker, in thinking about the final product we knew Woodstock would grab a wide audience and hook them into watching a historical film in which most of the talent is deceased. After all, we must not only educate, but also entertain. The direct story link to Carlos Santana became Mario Bauza.
In making that tough decision, we left out at least two decades of a vibrant and significant Latino music industry that had developed (and was growing) in ‘El Barrio’ / East Harlem some twenty years before our first character, Mario Bauza arrived in New York. It was that established industry made up of mostly Puerto Ricans that welcomed and embraced Bauza in the beginning. This part of the story is very relevant to the Latino community and the overall history of music New York City and it deserves to be thoroughly covered.
Rada: As a female producer, what is your take on gender dynamics present in the Latin culture and music you profiled and how did that reflect in your experience creating this episode?
Pamela Aguilar: As a woman, the gender dynamics present in the Latin culture and music profiled in Episode One did not come as a surprise –it [the industry] was mostly a man’s world and there is no denying it.
It was then, a wonderful surprise to learn that the “First Lady of Latin Jazz,” Graciela Perez-Grillo, Machito’s sister, of Machito and the Afro-Cubans, who is in her nineties was living in New York City as clear and vibrant as ever! I made it a mission to get an interview with Graciela, knowing that she played a pivotal role in the band as a featured vocalist and was a well-known artist in her own right from her days back in the early 1930s in Cuba, singing in the all-girl band Anacaona.
In my opinion, her presence in the film would have made a tremendous impact and it would have highlighted the talent of a living legend. Regretfully, after countless attempts to schedule an interview with her, it was not to be.
She then became one more name that would be left for a most needed follow up series to highlight not only other female talent but the amazing artists that we were not able to include in this episode.