Elena Martínez

Folklorist, film producer, co-artistic director of the Bronx Music Heritage Center
Headshot of a woman.

Photo by Francisco Molina Reyes II

Music Credits:

Excerpts from “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T, from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive. 

Excerpts from the film “From Mambo to Hip Hop: A Bronx Tale.”

Excerpts from “I Like it Like That” composed by Tony Pabon and Manny Rodriguez, performed by Pete Rodriguez, and “Subway Joe” written and performed by Joe Bataan—both from the cd We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo.


Jo Reed: Welcome to Art Works, the weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed.

You just heard an excerpt from the 2006 award-winning film “From Mambo to Hip Hop: A Bronx Tale,” an exuberant documentary that tells a story about the creative life of the South Bronx, beginning with the Puerto Rican migration to the neighborhoods in the 1940s and ‘50, the adoption of Cuban rhythms by musicians, the creation of the New York salsa sound. and then the rise of hip hop. All this creative energy happening in the same small neighborhood in the Bronx. Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and aired on PBS stations, the film was directed by Henry Chalfant and was the brainchild of producers Steve Zeitlin and Elena Martínez from the organization City Lore. Let me tell you a little about City Lore because it’s important to this conversation. Founded by Zeitlin in the mid-1980s, City Lore is the center for New York City’s Urban Folk Culture. And if you think urban folk culture is an oxymoron, City Lore is here to tell you different. From the lower east side to the barrios of the Bronx, City Lore documents, explores, and presents the rich and diverse cultures created by the different peoples that live in New York. Folklorist Elena Martínez has been with City Lore since 1997 focusing on material culture, Puerto Rican culture and folklore, and Latin Music. But after “From Mambo to Hip-Hop,” music has been taking center stage: she also became co-artistic director of the Bronx Music Heritage Center and producer of the 2015 film, “We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo.” Another musical documentary about the Bronx …. But while both Mambo and Boogaloo are filled with glorious music, they are not your typical music documentaries. Rather, they explore that music as urban tradition, created and embedded in the Latino community very specifically in the South Bronx; both films unpack that music’s history, and show the significance of it to the people in the neighborhood… as street culture, as urban folklore.

Elena Martínez: Yeah.  And City Lore, I think, has been really in the forefront of expanding the boundaries of what we define as folklore also.  We think of the material arts.  We think of traditional music and dance.  But then City Lore for has been able to create programs whether it’s poetry, whether it dance and music.  And sort of like able to expand those boundaries and bring together people that we might not have always thought of as traditional artists.  And I think of the documentary we did ”From Mambo to Hip-Hop” it sort of epitomizes that.  It was looking at popular forms of music, but how can you look at these popular forms of music through the lens traditional genres or traditional methodology.

Jo Reed: One of City Lore’s programs is Place Matters.  And one of the things you did through Place Matters was the South Bronx music project.  And out this came the documentary “From Mambo to Hip Hop,” Walk me through the trajectory of that.

Elena Martínez: Yeah, I think, to me that just epitomizes that project what City Lore has done.  And so Place Matters has always been looking at vernacular architecture, presenting, documenting, doing advocacy work for vernacular architecture and small businesses around New York City.  But then we started working with some folks who had done a lot of work with the Latin music scene, and especially in the Bronx. There was this circuit of great clubs and dance halls that I would say the mainstream didn’t know it.  People who grew up in those places knew about them because they were the hottest dance halls in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.  But, you know, people maybe outside didn’t know about this circuit and this scene.  So we just started interviewing musicians, people who ran the dance halls, the dancers themselves, and just sort of like just collecting a lot of oral histories from people who were part of this, who grew up in this era, who danced, who played music, music store owners, people who were part of this network.  And while we were doing that project it had many components.  First it was just, you know, collecting the interviews.  And then we do public sector folklore, so we have to do public programs.  So we’re like, okay, let’s put some panel discussions, have people talk about these places that they remember as a kid or the dance forms and the music forms that they practiced and maybe how did they learn them.  And we started doing public programs.  We created a map.  We created this great map that went along with it the talked about the people and the places all throughout the Bronx and part of this one area, the South Bronx.  We did a concert because there was one school in the South Bronx it’s now MS-302 but at the time it was PS-52 back in the ‘50s.  And all these amazing musicians, if you’re into salsa, all the most amazing musicians when they were in middle school went to that school, when they were young adolescents went to that school.

Jo Reed: Including Eddie Palmieri, jazz master.

Elena Martínez: Yes, he went there. Ray Barretto, Joe Quijano, all these guys went there.  And so we realized wow. And the people in the neighborhood knew this.  So it’s not like, again, it was one of these things like we come upon it and we’re like, oh, wow, this discovery.  But people knew this in the neighborhood. And there were activists in the neighborhood who actually cleaned up a park across the street, and they created a stage there to present Latin music concerts every summer based on this knowledge that all these great legends went to this school and lived in this neighborhood as kids.  So we partnered with the park, the small grassroots group that ran the stage in the park.  And we put on this concert where we asked all the alumni who were around to come to perform at this concert.  So it was an alumni concert.  And the only one who didn’t make it, actually was Eddi.  He couldn’t make it for some reason.  But all of these others, Ray Barretto came.  Manny Oquendo.  And we filmed it with three cameras.  We wanted to make sure this was a historic moment.  And after we filmed it we were like, wow, this looks great and there’s a great story here.  And it was an amazing-- the documentation was amazing.  And we knew it was a great story.  So we’re like, okay, let’s make this into a larger documentary. 

Jo Reed: Well, “From Mambo to Hip Hop” is a great documentary, but it’s not a typical music documentary. It certainly has a lot of music in it, but it’s about the social context in which that music was produced, and the geographic place where it was produced and how the music was shared. I think the film makes clear these are traditional art forms.

Elena Martínez:  Oh yes. We’re dealing with mambo, people who practice mambo music.  And, this is the same neighborhood where a lot of young kids who were into hip-hop at the time lived a generation or so later.  So we were looking at hip-hop and mambo.  And these were not traditional musical forms usually thought of.  They’re popular forms of music.  What we were looking at is not maybe the form themselves, not like a mambo that Tito Puente recorded on an album somewhere.  But the way the young kids, whether it was from the generation in the ‘50s if they were into mambo or the generation of the ‘70s who were the emerging hip-hop culture…

Jo Reed: And salsa.

Elena Martínez: Yeah.  Yeah.  And that’s sort of like the middle-- that sort of bridge in the middle, all those generations, a lot of them learned how to play drums in the street.  They learned how to play drums in the park from other musicians or other younger people.  The young kids who were part of the hip-hop generation-- that was like such a traditional form of transmission-- young kids were just teaching each other all laying down cardboard in the streets or parks and just teaching each other.  There’re no schools or anything involved. 

So we realized that there was this traditional element that we as folklorists like to look and document.  And we’re like this is the way the community came together, processed it, transmitted it, this is really interesting, engaging.  And so that’s sort of the angle we took.  These earlier generation maybe in the mambo era, a lot of their families were coming over from the islands, you know, from Cuba, Puerto Rico, dealing with migration.  And, of course, the Bronx later had a lot of economic problems.  So the children of the hip-hop generation are growing amid like economic hardship, you know, devastation of the landscape in the Bronx.  But through all these issues of discrimination, economic issues, this devastation of the buildings and the landscape of the Bronx and fires there was always this like cultural thread that kept people going.  And it was important to the communities and which they themselves were keeping going in different ways.  And so that to us was the story.  I think maybe that’s what gives it power, I think, for a lot of people because I hear so many people tell me, “God I just saw that movie and I loved it.”   And we won awards for it at the time, but it’s been so long.  And then when people still come up to me and say that was so moving I think that it must resonate. Right?  Whatever we’re saying about the community has to resonate people.  So I mean that’s what I’m very proud of.

Jo Reed: Oh, completely. Yeah, I think you should be.  I think it’s a fabulous movie.  And everybody should stop listening to us now and go watch it.  And there’s so much about that film.  You know, the hotbed of creativity, the way that people just need to create no matter the circumstances I think was something I certainly came away with in that film.

Elena Martínez: Yeah. these are kids who started hip-hop, you’re talking about 15-year-old kids.  And actually, even in the mambo and salsa era some of those guys making music were like 16 years old.  And they didn’t have access.  These young kids, Grandmaster flash, all those guys growing up in the Bronx they didn’t have access to music classes because the schools were going bankrupt.  They didn’t have access to lessons from formal training and from music teachers, but they were able to cobble together technology and create scratching and create ways to make new sounds and to create a new dance. And, it comes from the Bronx which is probably the global symbol, at that time, of urban failure, urban blight and everything.  But then this culture from there goes world what is now worldwide and goes global.  So it’s just an amazing story.

Jo Reed: I completely agree.  Since place is so central to folklore, you’re from New York but tell me about your neighborhood and your background and where you came from?

Elena Martínez: I’m actually from the Bronx, so that’s why when we started doing this project, the South Bronx Latin Music Project I was like oh great I’m going to get to go back to the Bronx and start interviewing people.  And I still have family in the Bronx.  But it was great working on the project with the South Bronx Latin Music Project because some of the earliest musicians I would interview-- I interviewed Benny Bonilla this great timbales player, who was like a side man for many different bands, most well-known for playing timbales on the Pete Rodriguez song “I like it like that” which is like-- I’m sure the new generation knows it because Cardi B’s recording cover of it.  But, you know, when I started interviewing him and found out he grew on Simpson Street where my father grew up on.  And he hung out with my uncle, my dad’s older brother.  So it intersected with the work that I do with sort of my background and, you know, personal family and stuff.  So that was really nice.  So being from the Bronx and working on that project for so long that’s when it became a real emphasis in a lot of my work. When “From Mambo to Hip-Hop” came out the film documentary and we started getting a lot of traction with that and I started doing tours--I would take people on tours of the neighborhood and talk about the musical history.  And people really loved that.  And so a lot of my work really started being focused in the Bronx.  And then I was able to start working with a group the Women’s Housing and Economic Developments Corporation-- their main service is affordable housing.  But around affordable housing they do a lot of other things because the vision and the mission of the organization WHEDco is not just to build buildings for people.  You build community.  So how do you build community?  Not only do you give people a good place to live, but they need schools for their kids.  They need places to shop.  Good food.  They need access to good jobs. They have all these different things.  But one of the branches they wanted to branch out in was in the cultural sector.  They wanted to have like a little cultural center. So myself and my partner who’s also he’s a jazz musician, he worked on the film with us “From Mambo to Hip-Hop”, Bobby Sanabria, we were asked to be the artistic directors.  Well, first, we just asked to start curating some of events at this place, this Bronx Music Heritage Center which we did that in partnership with City Lore.  So from then on, my work had been really focused on just music, a lot of music, and music of the Bronx.  And through their we’ve been working, curating stuff at the Bronx Music Heritage Center but also, we became the artistic directors.  And now WHEDco just built a third building of their affordable housing complex, and they created a theater in there.  And the theater should be open very soon.  With the pandemic and stuff some delays but that should be open soon so we’ll be running that.  But I’m still at City Lore even though most of my time is in the Bronx. I'm sort of maybe City Lore’s sort of like Bronx output in a way because my work is basically there all the time.

Jo Reed: I’m curious. Do you play music at all? I don’t mean professionally but as a hobby?

Elena Martínez:   What’s really also interesting is I’m not a musician.  So before all of this, I was really more interested in the material culture.  But then once the film came out and all my work was working with musicians and putting together panels or programs with musicians or concerts or researching music history.  So that’s probably more of what I'm identified now.  I'm not a musician.  I don’t read music.  But interested where the buildings where they perform, the social history of the music.  And also the people who were involved in the music scene who weren’t just the musicians themselves.  But all the people who support that scene to make it happen.

Jo Reed: Will you give me an example of that?

Elena Martínez:   Okay. So, another great project that is an offshoot of the work “From Mambo to Hip-Hop”, I was able to interview the record store owner Miguel Angel Amadeo, Mike Amadeo, who runs this record store Casa Amadeo.  And it’s the longest continually run Latin music store in New York City.  It was founded in 1941 by this woman entrepreneur from Puerto Rico.  She was a sister of one of the most famous Latin American composers, Rafael Hernandez.  But she ran with it and became very well-known with her store.  And Mike bought the store from her in 1969.  So it’s been going continually through then.  He’s still running it now.  And we at City Lore were also able to get the building where that store is on the National Register of Historic Places because of that store’s history.  And it’s the first Puerto Rican site on the mainland to be nominated to the National Register.  Again, that’s sort of like the South Bronx Latin Music Project has sort of all these offshoot projects with the documentary, the walking tours which still go on, the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.  So the work has had these many offshoot and branches.  And, again, like I said I’m not a musician, even though I’m working with all these musicians.  But it’s more so maybe documenting and working with folks on more of the social history of the music.

Jo Reed:  Aside from the fabulous music that goes straight through “From Mambo to Hip-Hop” I really, really appreciated the social and historic and cultural context in which you place that music which was, you know, it was just eye-opening. And you did the same thing again in a film you produced in 2015, another music film, “We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo”.  I want to know what inspired that film?  But before you tell us that explain for people who might not know what Boogaloo is.

Elena Martínez: Boogaloo is a form of Latin music.  We think of the 20th century all these different forms of Latin music that became popular forms of music, mambo, of course there was the mambo craze in the 1950s and cha-cha-cha is part of that.  There was a short-lived thing called the Pachanga which usually you play with a charanga band with flutes and stuff in the early ‘60s. And Boogaloo in the mid to late ’60s was this form of music that was sort of like a mix of some R&B rhythms with Afro-Cuban rhythms.  But sometimes it was sung in English.  Sometimes it was sung in Spanish. It’s sort of the perfect mix of that generation’s music because the musicians who were making mambo music like Tito Puente, Tito Rodriquez, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie’s older brother in the ‘50s they were sort of the kids of the immigrants so they were singing in Spanish.  They were taking those old the Afro-Cuban rhythms and making the music to them.  But now you have the next generation that’s born here, born here in New York.  They’re not really Puerto Rican. A lot of us identify ourselves as Nuyorican.  If you grow up in New York and when you grow up in New York you might be of Puerto Rican descendent but your Spanish might not be as good.  You speak Spanglish.  You hang out with a lot of African-Americans so you’re listening to funk and R&B and the Beatles and everything else.  You know, you’re part of New York City as part of your culture as well.  And so the Nuyoricans were like they’re children of that generation, too.  So they’re not just going to listen to the old-- to them mambo music was my parents’ music.  No one as a teenager wants to listen to their parents’ music even though mambo is a hip form of music.  But when you’re 17, 16 you want to listen to what’s hip and new at that time.  And Boogaloo was a style of music in the late 60s that sort of like brought together the sort of African-American influences with Afro-Cuban rhythms. And, again, because you have a generation that not from the island, wasn’t born on the island so Spanish isn’t their first language.  So there was a mix of languages, English and Spanish.

 So it’s sort of like with the perfect music for that generation.  And they were very young.  Some of the proponents of that were very, very young.  And what happened is that some of the older established musicians realized that they were doing really well and so like in the film it talks why it didn’t really last that long as a genre even though now it’s coming back.  These young kids they weren’t formerly trained.  Tito Puente went to Julliard.  He was formally trained.  He was a great musician.  These younger musicians, you know, they couldn’t keep clave.  In Latin music there’s this thing called clave that five beat and they didn’t follow that.  It would drive the older musicians insane.  But it was fun, and people just danced to it.  And that was the thing.  It was the 1960s.  People were having fun.  It wasn’t like- you didn’t have to be all formal and dance with a couple in a more complicated mambo dance.  You could just go and dance however you wanted to with Boogaloo or, you know, all the music of that era.  So it was really fun music.  And I think also, you know, speaking of the social history I think it does talk to that generation that grew up at that time.  And also at that time when they were growing up these Nuyorican generation of growing up is also this time of like ethnic politics.  You’ve got the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, American Indian movement.  The so there’s all this political stuff going on.  And so I think it speaks to shifting identities and conflicts, generational conflict of that era and the music spoke to that.

Jo Reed:  Give me the story of the second documentary, “We Like It Like That.” How did that one get started?

 Elena Martínez: So we’re really lucky Mathew Ramirez Warren, the filmmaker, who did that he had started working on this already.  And he liked “From Mambo to Hip-Hop” but he was really interested in Boogaloo.  And he had been working on this and he did all these great incredible interviews.  And then he came to us and see if we would like to be the conduit, City Lore could be the conduit which we do for a lot for a lot of filmmakers, for documentaries.  And for us it was great because for PBS, “From Mambo to Hip-Hop” we had to keep it to a certain length.  So we had to leave a lot out.  Boogaloo we had to leave out completely.  So we kind of just skipped over that music.  We went from the mambo era, talked a little bit about salsa and then went into hip-hop.  So to me when Mathew came forward with We Like It Like That it was like a bookend.  It sort of book ended “From Mambo to Hip-Hop.”  It complemented it.

Jo Reed: The missing piece.

Elena Martínez: That was that missing piece.  And it was great.  And, you know, Mathew is a great film maker.  He did such a great job with that because he had done all these interviews on his dime like going to interview people, these musicians in Florida, different places.  And then we were able to get some funding and finish it.  And we were able to put some of our contacts.  And another really funny thing is where my personal life intersects with work is that one of the musicians, Pete Rodriguez who we talked about, was his band did “I Like It Like That” which is sort of one of the defining songs of the Boogaloo era, Pete Rodriguez did a little work for a little while during the Boogaloo era but then dropped off. No one had heard of him for like decades and decades.  But I found out that my aunt, my uncle’s wife, her cousin was married to Peter Rodriguez.

Jo Reed: Only in New York.

Elena Martínez: It was so weird. So when I found this out my cousin is like well, you know, I send him a Christmas card every year, here’s their address.  Try it.  So I remember, actually, I had even tried, I think, to get him for “From Mambo to Hip-Hop” and I didn’t hear anything back. So I was like let me try again.  And luckily his wife Nikki, everyone knew her as Nikki, luckily, she was like-- he was really shy.  Pete was really shy so that’s why he never got back to me.  But she wasn’t.  So she finally called me and said, “You know what, you can come here and interview him.”  And we interviewed him. And when people saw him in the film they were like oh my God I haven’t seen him in like 40 years.  And in one of the screenings we did early on we had Benny Bonilla, who I said was that timbales player, he was in the screening, and we didn’t tell him that Pete was coming, and they saw each other at the screening and they just ran to each other in the audience because they hadn’t seen each other in like years and years and years.  So that was really nice.  And I think he got a little bit more of fame again.  People were calling me to try to interview him when Cardi B came out with her cover of it.  The music keeps coming back.

Jo Reed: It does.  And that film ends with this wonderful concert that the musicians give --the park is packed and it’s really a triumphant moment.  But I was so moved in that film when Joe Bataan talked about breaking into the church when he was a kid so he could play the piano that was in the basement.  I mean oh my God.  I just found that so moving that he had the music in him so much that he would break into the church and go to the church basements to play.  And then the piano was still there which was so cool.

Elena Martínez: A couple of things.  First of all Joe Bataan is like a folklorist interviewer’s his dream.  He’s a great storyteller.  You’ve probably have interviewed people who are like yes, no.  He has stories.  So he’s always a great interview.  He’s fun.  Tells great stories.  And then when Mathew took him out that day they were just walking around East Harlem just to point out, oh there’s the first place I played, there’s where I grew up, just to like, you know, get a sense of the neighborhood.  And that really was totally not planned.  You know, they just happened to walk by the church, yeah, that’s where I played piano.  And the priest was like, okay, let’s try to get in there and see if it’s still there.  And it was.  It was a really serendipitous moment in filming.

Jo Reed: Tell me a little bit more about the work you do at the Bronx Music Heritage Center.  What are the programs that you present there?

Elena Martínez: The Bronx Music Heritage Center our mission is to provide a stage, a platform for all things Bronx, all things that are musically part of the Bronx.  And you know, of course, the Bronx is known for two things especially it’s the birth of hip-hop.   And it’s also called the borough of salsa, el condado de a salsa, the borough of salsa so people think of that music.  We present those forms of music.  But there’s so much and it’s such an incredible place. It is an immigrant neighborhood.  There’re so many different groups that move in and that contribute to their communities are growing in the Bronx.  There’s like one the largest Ghanaian communities from Africa is in the Bronx.  There’s a growing Gambian community.  There’s a large Bengali community.  One of the largest Garifuna groups, communities outside of Central America have their home in the Bronx.  So there’s so much amazing music and musicians and artists to work with.  And so our thing is to present programs.  But for me my goal has been I come out of folklore.  The other artistic director is a jazz musician.  So that informs a lot of the work that we do, so you know, in terms of jazz and folk and traditional music.  And what’s really interesting in that now in that a lot of jazz that we’ve seen-- you know, the Bronx also has an incredible jazz history There are 6 NEA Jazz Masters right from the neighborhood where I work.  And there was an area a lot of jazz clubs.  So that music has a history there.  But in terms of like Latin music, Latin jazz, you know, for a long time what was considered Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban music and rhythms have really been the basis for a lot of what people are familiar with Latin jazz and Latin music.  But that’s changing.  There’re young musicians from all over Latin America that are adding their traditional rhythms to jazz.  What Machito and them did in the mambo era add Cuban rhythms to big band jazz, now you have a lot of musicians from all over Latin America adding their own rhythms whether it’s joropo from South America or cumbia from Columbia and Mexico there.  They’re adding those rhythms to jazz and fusing and creating new things.  So that’s been like an interesting thing taking how jazz has been sort of like a good platform for traditional musical forms different places.  And people are using that and making these new fusions.  I think it’s really important for us the traditional music and with the jazz elements it’s really important for us to present. Because I think the traditional music is still so much represents really the heart of communities.  There’re so many groups that are like Garifuna from Honduras and Belize and Nicaragua.  They use traditional musical forms all the time to sort of help people learn the language to make sure their language stays viable.  And so it’s very important for them to use traditional forms. And that’s why I’m so glad to have City Lore is still our partner in this, and that folklore is still really central to that work even it doesn’t have to be.  It’s not my main emphasis.  We’re not all folklore organization but we’re always going to keep the work with grass roots artists, traditional music as sort of like central to the mission. I want to showcase the stuff that you’re not going to see on the radio that’s a thriving part of the community but not on the radio.

Jo Reed: How did you program during the pandemic?

Elena Martínez: We had to go virtual like so many people did but we had a learning curve.  Some things were better than-- more well-done than others.  People learned really early that playing music over Zoom doesn’t work because of that delay.  So that was like out.  But what we did, we started doing-- having artists we work with make videos in their home.  You know, wanting to get artists out there to give them a place to perform, to do something.  But, you know, having to deal with the technical issues.  But we started doing which worked out a little bit better, we started the series called Percussion Discussion because Bobby’s a drummer, so we did workshops.  We would maybe do mini workshops, how to play the cha-cha-cha rhythms on timbales, or how to create maracas, you know, that you use in bomba music, different workshops.  But then we started doing a lot of interviews. And the interviews have just been nice because it’s so much easier when you’re just interviewing someone, you know, less technical things to worry about.  But what we do is there has to be an interactive process We’ve actually done a lot of Latin music musicians recently reset like Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez.  We just interviewed Ronnie Puente, Tito Puente’s eldest son. And in these interviews, we open it up.  We take live questions.  People ask their questions on Facebook, and we can have the musician answer them right there.  And we really get a lot of responses.  During the event you get dozens and dozens of people commenting and asking questions.  And I think to me, that’s important.  There has to be some sort of way to like engage and know each other.

Jo Reed: That makes perfect sense.  Are you beginning to do live performances?

Elena Martínez: Oh, yes, we started a couple, just have the bands inside our venue last summer just a couple of times.  We just had like a livestream, no audience, just the band.  And it was really wonderful like musicians were like oh my God it’s so nice to be around other musicians to not have to do those like things where everyone is like videotaping themselves and someone mixes all the stuff together. But then this last spring, our new space Bronx Music Hall that we’re waiting to finish the indoor theater, but it has an outdoor plaza, a really nice outdoor plaza.  So we’ve been able to do outdoor programming since the spring.  And that’s been really nice.  And really, we actually give a shot to the NEA funded us for this great program. Interestingly enough, this was before the pandemic we got some funding to do a series about traditional forms of music that people wear masks for different celebrations.  So we were like looking at the vejigante mask like from Puerto Rico and then the Wanaragua dance they do that they wear this beautiful big, netted masks in the Garifuna.  So we had this series of the mask ceremonies and mask traditions that we put together for these programs.  And it came out, you know, we were using that funding during the pandemic.  So we talked a little bit about the importance of masks. In many different settings now, the masks have taken on this whole new sort of relevance.  So we were able to do like a bunch of them in the outdoor plaza which was really nice and some of our other programming as well.  You know, it’s nice for us as staff to get to work with people again.  The musicians love working with other people.  And even the first couple of times we were on the plaza, the audience was like it’s so nice to be around people again.  So I think, little by little people are coming out. And I think really enjoying that music and being with other people.

Jo Reed: And I think that’s a good place to leave it. Elena, thank you so much.  Thank you giving me your time.  Thank you for making these wonderful films and for all the work you do for my beloved New York.

Elena Martínez: Thank you Jo. This was really great.  Thank you so much for asking me.

Jo Reed: Not at all.  I really enjoyed speaking with you.  Thank you.

That was Elena Martínez. She is a Folklorist at City Lore and is also currently the Co-Artistic Director of the Bronx Music Heritage Center. She’s the co-producer of “From Mambo to Hip Hop” and the producer of “We Like It Like That”. You can watch “From Mambo to Hip Hop” for free at Folkstreams.net.  You can get information about how you watch “We Like It Like That” at latinboogaloo.com. You can find out about City Lore at citylore.org and the Bronx Music Heritage Center at thisisbronxmusic.org

You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.


Folklorist Elena Martínez is a producer for the documentaries “From Mambo to Hip Hop: A Bronx Tale” and “We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo.” What makes these documentaries stand out is, of course, the fabulous music. But the perspective or point of view of both films is just as important.  The films examine the music through the lens of urban folklore—music created by and for the people in the neighborhood, a small stretch of the Bronx often known for urban blight and not much else.  Well, as the films demonstrate, there is a lot more- the sound of Mambo which adopted Cuban rhythms and Puerto Rican traditions, a Latin beat joined up with R&B and funk which gave birth to Boogaloo, the creation of the New York salsa sound, the rise of hip hop. And astoundingly, all this creative energy happening in the same small neighborhood in the Bronx. In this podcast, Elena Martínez talks about the making of “From Mambo to Hip Hop” and “We Like It Like That”  She takes us through the exuberant Latino musical traditions of the Bronx and its impact on the people who live there. Martínez is an enthusiastic guide to some fabulous urban music traditions.

“From Mambo to Hip Hop”

“We Like It Like That”

City Lore

Bronx Music Heritage Center