The traveling exhibit “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” ambitiously attempts to explore the roles of Latino musicians in five cities’ music scenes from the 1940s to the present. It largely succeeds, without tending toward excess simplicity or obscurity. Stowed away on the lowest level of the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center, the program offers a multisensory experience of music and dance from New York, San Antonio, San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles, highlighting crossover stars and lesser-knowns alike. Its New York section captures the excitement of the ’50s-era Palladium ballroom and the sound of Machito. Through footage of mambo dancers, interviews, clips from Dirty Dancing, and more, this long-gone era comes alive. The more obscure styles of ’40s pachucos and ’80s punks like The Brat and El Vez grab the spotlight in the Los Angeles section. But there are holes: Coverage of New York–associated genres like boogaloo, salsa, and reggaeton is not as thorough; insights into contemporary Texan music are spotty; and the Miami display is lacking overall. Nevertheless, “American Sabor” purveys enough inspiring rhythms, fascinating dialogue, and seldom-seen ephemera to keep visitors busy for hours.
The exhibit is on view 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily to October 9 at the Smithsonian International Gallery, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. Free.