Picks and Pans Review: Routes of Rhythm

updated 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Fri., June 15, 10 P.M. ET)

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Okay, take off that pith helmet and place it in the middle of the floor. Now we do the Mexican hat dance. Olé! We'll also be doing the rumba, the conga, the cha-cha and the mambo as Harry Belafonte hosts this superb three-part exploration of Latin music, a journey which is at once scholarly and riotously colorful. Whether you're a gaucho or a groucho, the rhythm is definitely gonna getcha.

The first program traces this rich and vibrant form of musical expression back to Africa, citing West African drum patterns more than 500 years old, and to Spain, with its post-Moorish troubadours and Gypsies. These strains met in the crucible of Cuba when Spanish colonialists brought in slaves to work the plantations. The second and third programs (airing on successive Fridays) document how that musical synthesis has evolved and the ways in which it has enriched our own culture.

In acknowledgment of the music's populist nature, we see all kinds of folks singing, playing and dancing in living rooms, on docks, in town squares—everywhere people congregate. Spicing up the proceedings are clips of a wide variety of professional musicians, including Desi Arnaz, Miami Sound Machine, Xavier Cugat, Celia Cruz, Los Van Van and Ruben Blades. I can't think of a musical form that has gotten a more devoted examination on television than this, nor one that is more fascinating.

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