Salsa is feeling. Salsa is fun. Salsa is life!
During the last years a real salsa-wave swapped from the two Americas over Europe, starting in Spain and now reaching the most northern parts. Even among the so called stiff germans there are more 'Salsa-Aficionados', here in Aachen we also like to use the word 'Salsaholics'.
For those who've seen 'Dirty Dancing' the music and dance might seem quite similar to mambo. That's not pure coincidence: Salsa (spanish, meaning 'sauce') was created in the USA out of different latin rhythms and dances - including mambo.
The many latinos living in the states, especially those of caribbean origin (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela etc.), mixed sounds and dances of their countries and added some new elements, creating a really tasty new 'sauce'. Salsa is a very vivid kind of music, there are people who specialize on the classic style of salsa, others create new sounds like salsa rap or techno merengue (à la Proyecto Uno).
El Barrio, New York's latin quarter, is said to be the birthplace of salsa. From there artists like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz started the world wide triumph of latin music - and also opened many doors for salsa. In the late sixties and early seventies artists as Joe Cuba, Willie Colón, Rubén Blades, Ricardo Ray and Eddie Palmieri began to accept the commercial term salsa to describe their musical concept. Many still don't do - like Tito Puente ("Salsa means sauce but everyone likes calling mambo by that name").
Those of us who became salsa-fans during the last years might be surprised to hear that salsa originally quite ambitious in social and political interests - regarding that today's salsa is dominated by schmaltzy love themes. Willie Colón and Rubén Blades are two of the few artists who still write ambitious lyrics for their songs. In the beginning years salsa lyrics mainly were about the problems that moved the people living in the Barrios all over Latin America, like social struggle, discrimination, financial needs and dreariness. So it's no wonder that many lovers of this 'good old salsa' look down on most recent productions with despise. A peak on in this development to ever sweeter song and simpler arrangements is called Salsa Romantica and Salsa Erotica. But nevertheless this kind of salsa can also be fun, especially while dancing - and that's what most of us are looking for, isn't it?
Today salsa isn't only danced all over the world - it's also made in many different countries. For example there's a really famous salsa orchestra from Japan (Orquestra de la Luz) and we also have quite a lot of salsa bands here in Germany (Conexion Latina, Salsa Picante, Ritmo y Clave, Salsa Caliente; just to mention a few). Conexion Latina's CDs are even available at Descarga, New York! Most of todays salsa comes from New York, Miami and Latin America
Here in Germany the term salsa is mostly used in a quite general way for different styles and dances like cumbia and vallenato. Even though merengue is not included to this generalization, I've never seen a place where they dance salsa but no merengue. Sometimes they throw in some 'fashion dances' like Meneíto or Macarena.
After all I have to admit, that salsa can't really be explained, it has to be felt. Although I try to help everyone interested to learn a bit about salsa, I can't give you that feeling via internet. You'll have to go to a good salsa disco ('salsoteca') - and suddenly you feel like on a holiday trip!
I'd like to thank Mr. Willie Colón for his valuable suggestions and corrections.
Copyright Klaus Reiter (firstname.lastname@example.org). Last updated: 9.02.99.