Halfway into the second episode, “Latin Music USA’’ compels – no, forces – you to sit up in your chair and wonder what rock you’ve been hiding under for the past 40 years. The salsa revolution, we learn, got a rip-roaring start in New York in the late 1960s, and watching the Fania All-Stars essentially dismantle a packed Yankee Stadium with blazing beats and ferocious energy is the equivalent of beholding Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.
But as actor Jimmy Smits’s narration points out, it was a watershed event that played largely to a Hispanic audience with little ripple outside the city’s barrios. That singular moment, spectacular for its musical and cultural impact, burrows deep into the heart and soul of “Latin Music USA,’’ WGBH’s new four-part documentary series.
The series, which debuts Oct. 12 on Channel 2, makes a startling case that its subject matter had been ignored for far too long. Divided into four segments, the documentary traces Latin music’s infiltration first in Harlem’s jazz clubs in the 1930s and its spinoff dance crazes, through the salsa explosion and regional movements that birthed Tejano and Chicano rock, to its eventual crossover into popular music.