Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies Edgar Paiewonsky-Conde has received a 2017 Community Visionary Award from the Hispanic Syracuse Coalition for his explorations of the music and literature of the Hispanic Caribbean, both in the classroom and to a broader audience via radio. He was presented with the award at a ceremony honoring Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) at Syracuse University’s La Casita Cultural Center.
Paiewonsky-Conde, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, says that his passion for popular Hispanic music dates back to a childhood spent listening and dancing to it. He also recalls the vibrant salsa boom of the 1970s in New York City. “I was very much involved in the birth of salsa in an experiential manner,” he says.
His love for the music finds regular expression in a course at HWS titled “Literature and Music of the Hispanic Caribbean,” which began as a survey of Caribbean literature. “I realized the amazing depth of artistry and inexhaustible vitality of this form of popular [musical] expression. This craftsmanship, rooted in the oral tradition, was at least equal, and often superior to, the actual high culture products of literature—so I restructured the course,” he says.
Paiewonsky-Conde also shared his knowledge of Hispanic music through a three-part series of radio shows presented on the weekly “Sabor Latino” program on radio station Power 620, Syracuse’s only R&B channel. The programs focused on the music of Puerto Rico, the explosive development of salsa in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the great composers of popular music in the Hispanic Caribbean. The series aired in 2015, but Paiewonsky-Conde has frequently been a guest on “Sabor Latino” since then to discuss Hispanic music.
“The programs are oral histories of Hispanic Caribbean music and culture dating back to the 1930s and ranging through the late 1990s,” says Paiewonsky-Conde. “Most importantly, I am trying to achieve a kind of rediscovery. I’m presenting music that the older generations grew up with, but I also want to enable the younger generations of Hispanics to discover and recover the cultural treasure that lies in this music.”
Fittingly, Paiewonsky-Conde received his award at the opening of an exhibit at La Casita titled “Fusión Caribe: The History of our Music,” which celebrated the history of Caribbean music from its Spanish, African and Taino roots to the present day. In presenting the award, La Casita’s executive director, Teresita Paniagua, spoke of his knowledge and commitment to the music of the Hispanic Caribbean, as well as his achievements in opening new pathways in experimental poetry.