Soundtrack for the Puerto Rican Day Parade

Chicago PR Flag
Source: peoplesworld, Flickr

For me, June means beautiful weather, weddings and the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Since 1981, this ethnic parade celebrates the culture of the Puerto Rican diaspora that chose Chicago as their home, my family included. Nowadays the parade marches down Paseo Boricua, which is located on Division Street between the huge steel flags on Western Avenue and Sacramento Boulevard.

The festivities take place June 12-15 in Humboldt Park. There are carnival rides, food stands, artist displays and music tents to visit. There is also a main stage with live bands playing different genres of music, including bachata, plena, reggeaton and bomba, but salsa is still king.

If you are new to salsa music, a really good place to start is by listening to old-school classics. Fania All Stars is a supergroup of artists from many different Spanish-speaking countries, playing many different types of instruments, best heard on The best of Fania All Stars and Historia de la salsa. The group included Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe and Johnny Pacheco, just to name a few. They started in the late 1960s when salsa music was just starting to move into the American mainstream.  At their peak, they packed Yankee Stadium and had a tremendous show in Zaire, Africa, where they played to an audience of 50,000. You can find many performances from this show on YouTube.

Cheo Feliciano, a Puerto Rican member of Fania All Stars who recently passed away, continued singing well into his late 70s. He released an album called Eba say ajá in 2012 with Panamanian Ruben Blades, another member of Fania All Stars.

The festivities will also include a tribute to Ray Barretto, who passed away in 2006, by his son Ray Barretto Jr. He was a Puerto Rican composer and conga player; one of his famous albums is Barretto-power.

If you are completely new to salsa dancing or just a bit rusty, Chicago kicks off its 18th annual SummerDance in Grant Park on June 27 with, you guessed it, salsa! Learn to dance and to listen for the beat, and feel the tropical rhythm pulsate through your feet.