Uptown Barbershop Trending Topic: Ismael Rivera

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Before we get into this, it is a must I provide a little context. My barbershop is the quintessential Dominican barbershop. Tons of people, music blaring, barbers dancing as they perform their duties. In short, a hive of activity; in many ways it is a place where a party is taking place and they just happen to cut hair. This is the kind of barbershop where you may find yourself being served little plastic cups of sweet espresso while you wait for your cut, as a whole host of street peddlers enter and exit the establishment to hawk bootleg DVD’s, clothes, sunglasses, watches. Maybe even furniture. Another thing that takes place at my barbershop and others like it is conversation. Straight up, loud, unfiltered, non-politically correct, sometimes anachronistic, man talk.

October 5th – This day, however, the barbershop was eerily soundless. Instead of the usual, over the top boom bap of the blaring Latin music, I walked into a graveyard-quiet room full of people utterly entranced by the multiple tv screens playing the same thing. I know what you are thinking, an Uptown barbershop full of Dominicans in October, they must be watching playoff baseball. But no, unbeknownst to me, this particular day was the 78th anniversary of the birth of the incomparable Ismael “Maelo” Rivera.

For those that don’t know, Ismael Rivera aka El Bruju de Borinquen or his more famous moniker El Sonero Mayor, is in my humble estimation the greatest of all of Salsa music’s many giants. While I absolutely adore Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe and the rest, you simply cannot have a serious discussion about Salsa without talking about Maelo. In fact, arguably the greatest Salsa band of all time, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, originally came about because of the unfortunate break up of Rivera’s and long time friend Cortijo’s band.

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