This is part one of a series of articles, where Jeff will try to explain what salsa is, its origins, its ambassadors around the world, and how its culture has influenced dancing worldwide.
Salsa, meaning sauce in Spanish, is as varied and diverse as its namesake. It is considered a true dance of the people: changing and adapting across different cultures and landscapes. It is played by artists in countries from France to Japan, paired up with music styles from pop to jazz, and can range from being energetic and explosive to intimate and romantic. It has become a world-wide phenomenon because it is so malleable, and the music… wow, the music…
To get us started, put on your headphones and check out a few of the different forms that salsa music can take:
1. Joe Arroyo – Rebelion – One of many, many classic salsa songs.
2. Luis Enrique – Yo No Se Mañana – A popular contemporary salsa song, often played in clubs and salsa socials
3. Fatal Mambo – Problem – A French salsa band, with their unique take on salsa music!
In order to appreciate how far salsa music has traveled, one would first need to know where it came from. The truth is, salsa’s beginning is just as messy as where it is now – involving a collaboration of music styles across multiple cultures and continents.
So what’s the origin of salsa? The typical short answer you’re likely to hear is, “salsa is from Cuba, and originates from the Cuban son and afro-cuban music.” In reality, it’s much, much more complicated than that.
Salsa music came from Cuba, yes, but salsa is actually a mixture of multiple sources of dance and music: the country dancing of the English and the French, brought into Cuba by the French fleeing from Haiti, mixed with traditional African dances (Guaguanco, and Yambú, to name just two), and finally combined with the local Cuban dancing (Són), which came from the Spanish troubadours, driven by African drumbeat and Latin clave.
With this many contributors, it quickly became obvious (especially to me as I was writing this), that the origin of salsa is likely to be a hot topic for dispute, and a definite conclusion will never be reached. Which country played a bigger part? In what order did the music styles come in? And who, in their moment of mad brilliance, decided to mix them all together? We will never know. Even Tito Puente, one of the great Latin musicians, avoided the controversy when asked what he thought of salsa music: “I am a musician, not a cook.”
What we do know though, is that the term “salsa” was finally coined in the 1960s in New York, when musicians from all over Latin America came to New York to perform, resulting in a cross pollination of different music influences and styles, particularly with Jazz in the States. This hybridization continued back and forth, between North and South America and the Caribbean, from Colombia to Puerto Rico, from L.A. to New York, resulting in distinctive forms of salsa music from every country (and even region!).
Obviously, something this good can’t be kept in one place for long, it eventually exploded across the world stage, picked up by artists from countries as far as China and Scotland – such as the examples below:
Salsa Celtica – Pa’l Rumberos – A wonderful salsa band that uses Celtic instruments to create salsa music!
Mandarina China Band – A collaboration between Chinese and Latin musicians!
Today, salsa is celebrated as a music style of the world, it is so well recognized that is it often identified as its own subgenre in the world of Latin music. It is listened to and danced to by people all over, and most importantly, it brings a flicker of joy and passion whenever we invoke its name.
With salsa becoming as big as it is, we salsa dancers now enjoy the wonderful privilege of sharing a new common language – the language of dance. No matter where you are, as long as you know your basics, you will have no trouble dancing with someone across the globe! Have salsa, will travel!
At Azúcar!, we are committed to introducing you to as many different types of salsa music as possible. If you’d like to learn more about salsa, please come and see us!