Mr. Salsa’s Magnificent Return to Spanish Harlem

Artist, writer, actor, dancer, photographer, publisher, and comedian Israel “Izzy” Sanabria aka “Mr. Salsa” is a visionary. An original member and emcee of The Fania All-Stars since 1971, Sanabria helped make Salsa music a global phenomenon, taking it across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Japan.

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Salsa music, which draws from Caribbean, African, and African-American influences, hit its stride in the 1970s, as it embodied the Nuyorican experience. As Puerto Ricans migrated to New York, they brought the spirit of the islands to the North, while absorbing the vibes they discovered here. Sanabria was an alchemist, able to transform the music into a mesmerizing visual experience.


The mastermind behind album covers, posters, and advertisements for Salsa’s greatest performers including Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, and Willie Colon, among others, Sanabria created a look that spoke for the work, one that sung of the vibrant beauty, bold style, and dynamic energy of the music. Like Toulouse-Lautrec, Sanabria crafted a look of the times, one that drew people in with its promise of pleasure and joy.

In 1973, Sanabria created “Salsa,” a music-and-dance show on New York’s Channel 41, the Latino equivalent of “Soul Train.” In a time before music videos, Sanabria understood the value of bringing the music into your living room. That same year, he launched Latin NY, which went on to become the most influential magazine in the Latino community.

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Two years later, Sanabria debuted The Latin NY Music Awards, the first time Salsa music was honored and recognized. In doing so, Sanabria forced NARAS to create a Latin Music category in the Grammy Awards, revealing the power of one man’s determination to bring about real and lasting change.

In honor of his legacy, Hi-Arts Gallery, New York, presents Izzy Sanabria: The Visual Voice of the Salsa Generation, on view, now through November 22, 2016. Curated by Carlos Mare with additional support provided by Pablo Iglesias | Visual Clave Archive, the exhibition surveys Sanabria’s incredible contributions to the culture.


The exhibition features Sanabia’s numerous album covers, poster designs, and promotional designs bringing back an era that speaks truth to power and is even more resonant in retrospect. Sanabria’s creativity is unsurpassed, matched only by his drive to give Salsa music the honors it deserves. Taken as a whole Izzy Sanabria: The Visual Voice of the Salsa Generation is an inspiration to people from all walks of life, revealing the space where art is a political act, a celebration of the heart, and an homage to the culture from which it comes.

All artwork: Courtesy of Hi-Arts Gallery, New York.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.