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Photo by Ruth Morgan


Ramon Rodriguez and Louis Bauzo, Co-Founders

“Latin music is part of our culture, our belief systems and an emotional and physical release.”

—Ramon Rodriguez

Ramon Rodríguez and Louis Bauzo were teaching music to students in East Harlem and quickly realized their young musicians wanted and needed to read and learn Latin music arrangements along with the history of what is now called Salsa. By 1977, the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts gave rise to the pair’s dogged quest for collecting and teaching Latin music at the same level as a classical music conservatory. Once the late Tito Puente gave them charts for the workshops and ensembles, other leaders stepped forward.


Today, the Raíces (Roots) Latin Music Collection is New York’s largest compilation of materials tracing and documenting the Afro-Caribbean roots in New York City and its subsequent evolution to Salsa. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, Raíces proudly hosts more than 20,000 items including music, scrapbooks, costumes, instruments and a variety of memorabilia including photos and video.


Ramon & Louie have twice visited Cuba while curating and presenting eight exhibits. Their efforts have been profiled in the media from the New York Times to People Magazine.


But for Ramon, the heavens still open when a student finally understands the concept of clave, the metronomic heartbeat of salsa. “Latin music is part of our culture, our belief systems and an emotional and physical release. This music is harder to play than classical, yet it has always been handed down as oral traditions becoming part of our daily lives. We need to recognize this part of our legacy as we recognize classical, jazz or rock.”


At the Harbor where Ramon has served as Conservatory Director since 1982, his 60 plus faculty oversees some 1,100 students a year, including 300 adults. Three ensembles for children and five for adults include the Harbor big band, a rare twenty piece orchestra conducted by Latin percussion department head, Louis Bauzo. “Having students read arrangements, understand what a solo on congas entails, or improvise a poetic phrase at the moment is the compelling reason for why we collect. This music has a profound history centuries old that is directly tied to our culture, traditions and African Diaspora.”


For Ramon Rodríguez and Louis Bauzo, their roots are definitely showing. 



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