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Thursday, November 19, 2009 (read 1589 times)


by Lauren Somers

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Although many Spanish speakers out there will recognise this word as meaning "sauce", it is more widely recognised for its other use, which is to describe a music and dance genre. Salsa music has taken the world by storm and is recognised by its up-tempo beats and fast-footed dance steps. Although some argue that it is a type of music in its own right, others claim that it is a generic term for a number of Latin American dances, including the mambo and the cha-cha-chá. It is a "tag that encompasses a rainbow assortment of Latin rhythms and styles, taking on a different hue wherever you stand in the Spanish speaking world" (Sue Steward, world music author).

Due to the varied nature of salsa and what it encompasses, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint its origins as so many countries claim the honour of having created it. However, the basic structure of a salsa song is based on the Cuban "son", beginning with a simple melody and followed by a "coro" section in which the performers improvise. They key staples of salsa's origins were "the use of a trombone as a counterpoint to the vocalist and a more aggressive sound than is typical in Cuban music; the trombone carries the melody while rhythm is generally provided by bongos, congas and timbales" (Ed Morales). This has been adapted and influenced by almost all Latin American countries, and even some places in North America, meaning that no two salsas will ever be the same.

Alongside the uncertainty of its origins, there is also a certain degree of mystery surrounding the use of the word "salsa", which actually means "sauce". Some people accredit the Cuban musician Ignacio Piñeiro with coming up with the term after his song in 1933 entitled "échale salsita" (Throw a little sauce on it), which introduced the trumpet for the first time. Or perhaps it was the 1930s vocalist Beny Moré who would shout out "salsa" during his performances to "acknowledge a musical moment's heat and to celebrate the "hotness" or "spiciness" of Latin American culture" (Morales). However it began, salsa has become a word metaphorically associated with taste, happiness, and force of life.

It seems that the popularity of Salsa rose in New York in the 60s and hit the spotlight in the following decade, developing in the Hispanic areas of the cultural and economic capital of North America, New York. Although it may seem strange that a Hispanic phenomenon would spring out of New York, we have to bear in mind the continuous musical relationship that existed at the time between North America and Caribbean music, especially and notoriously Cuban music. During the peak of the Big Bands during the 40s and 50s, artists had been keen to accept and incorporate the new rhythms born in Cuba into their music. Even the blockade could not put a stop to the Cuban influence on music in New York, and so the music that arrived in the Big City or even Miami contributed to what we now know as Salsa. The Havana was full of North American tourists in bars and hotels run by Mafia clans looking to avoid taxes. At the same time, fans of Latin music flocked to their Mecca, the Palladium Dancehall on 52nd street New York, which also attracted many famous Latin American dancers and singers. Salsa became a "representation of Latin identity in New York" (Morales).

In the early 70s Salsa rapidly expanded to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico among others! The trend was also influenced by Latin rap and expanded to Europe and Japan, where it was made popular by the famous Orquesta de la Luz, "Orchestra of the Sun". In the 80s a new form, the "salsa romantica" developed in New York, involving slow melodies and lyrics based on love, dreams and pleasures. This soon evolved into "salsa erotica" which involved a more melodic salsa with lyrics that contained abundant references to love and eroticism. However in the 90s this new thread began to decline in popularity, mainly due to the strong influence of other Caribbean rhythms such as the Dominican meringue and the bachata.

Nowadays salsa is a rhythm recognised by people all over the world, and has been adapted into many forms so that everyone has a chance to move their hips to the addictive Latin beat!

Keywords: spanish latin culture,spain,latin america,latin,havana,diaries,cuba


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