By performing at Saturday’s tenth annual Bushwick Pride block party on Grove Street, New York’s only outspokenly gay-friendly salsa band, Sonido Amante, accomplished one of its goals.
“Our dream is to play at Pride parades in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn,” said Tony Maracas, the founder of Sonido Amante, during a break between sets. His nine-piece band was relaxing behind the small stage that had been set up on Grove Street for the Pride festivities. Although the band was silent, the warm air rang with the sounds of air horns, sound systems, and loud cheers.
When the colorful Pride parade arrived after circling the neighborhood, the marchers were engulfed in the aromas from several barbecues, and a three-on-three basketball game paused briefly to let the procession through.
“We are trying to be the first Latin band to perform for Gay Pride in Manhattan on a float,” Maracas said. “I am dying to play for Gay Pride. But I am having a hard time finding a sponsor for the float.”
In the past, New York’s salsa music scene has not been entirely welcoming to gay music fans, Maracas said.
“If you were gay, and you liked Latin music, you had to go to a straight club and act straight, because of all the bias against homosexuals,” Maracas said. “I thought, ‘How about we bring the band to the gay community?'”
Benny Vargas, the lead vocalist of Sonido Amante, said the band’s mission was part educational. “We want to show the Latin music community, this is what is happening in the real world. We have friends in the gay community who used to have nowhere to go, but now they do.”
The Bushwick Pride event was arranged by Make the Road New York (MRNY), a civil rights organization whose headquarters are located on Grove Street.
“We started out working really heavily on immigration,” said Jerome, a MRNY member and one of the event organizers. “Then we branched out to work with all the problems facing the area, such as gentrification and access to fair housing.”
“The LGBTQ community in Bushwick is close-knit, and it’s getting more connected,” Jerome said. “We’re staying close and making sure to fight for what belongs to us.”
Natalia Aristizabal, Lead Organizer at MRNY’s Youth & School Partnership program, said that the major accomplishment of the Pride party was to increase visibility for the neighborhood’s gay community.
“We are trying to create a safe space in Bushwick,” Aristizabal said. “What we are trying to do is to make sure the community knows that we have a live and vibrant LGBTQ community.”