Rock-and-roll music springs from Latino roots

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EL PASO — From rumba to mambo to cha-cha-cha, Latin music rhythms played an important role in the development of rock-and-roll music, strongly influencing songs like Rock Around the Clock and Tequila.

“I would consider rock-and-roll music a Latin genre because there are so many Latin connections to it and Latin music was part of it from the very beginning, ” said Dr. Roberto Avant-Mier an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. His book Rock the Nation: Latin/o Identities and the Latin Rock Diaspora explains how Latin rhythms form part of the foundation of rock-and-roll music.

Born and raised in El Paso, Avant-Mier told UTEP students and faculty recently that Rock around the Clock by Bill Halley was a song based on the clave, which was a Cuban rhythm. Scholars believe this rhythm came from Africa and is a foundation for Cuban music.

Since racism has played an important role in the history of the United States, one of Avant-Mier’s aims is to let people know how Latinos have been labeled and categorized. “Rock-and -roll in the 50’s was really multicultural and was a critique of race and racism,” said Avant-Mier.

Professor Avant-Mier at his office at the Department of Communication at UTEP. (Adriana Macias/Borderzine.com)

Professor Avant-Mier at his office at the Department of Communication at UTEP. (Adriana Macias/Borderzine.com)

Avant-Mier said he hopes to change the idea that rock music is only white music since many Hispanic artists have contributed to the new rhythms of rock music. In a city like El Paso, where a large percentage of the population descends from Mexican-American roots, a diversity of race and culture is seen every day through language and music.

“The book critiques the notion of race and how we view Latinos in the United States and the constructions by which we define Latinos.”  For example, Andy Russell who had many popular hits during the early 1950’s such as Besame Mucho, was a light-skinned blue-eyed boy whose parents where Mexican immigrants and who lived in California. He changed his original name, Andres Ragabo Perez, to Andy Russell.

Dr. Frank Perez, Chair of the Department of Communication at UTEP, said that works such as Avant-Mier’s book should be recognized. “Dr. Avant-Mier is one of the few Latino scholars looking at something very important like the history of Latino influence on pop culture,” Perez said.

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