A Brief Survey of Salsa

Salsa is a term that encompasses a variety of rhythmic styles and musical forms. "When studying the roots of salsa, we must turn to Cuba because of its unparalleled contributions to this type of music. "While the U.S. and Caribbean countries such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic have also contributed to the development of salsa, it is Cuba which serves as salsa's foundation. The term itself was commercialized in New York in the 1960's in order to publicize the broad appeal of this "hot", Afro-Cuban music. [In Spanish, the word "salsa' means "sauce". It also refers to hot sauce, a common ingredient in many Caribbean and other Latin American cuisines.] To understand salsa, we must understand something of Cuba’s music history, as well as the history of musical development and cross-cultural influences throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

Cuban music is a melting pot of African and European harmonies, melodies, rhythms and musical instruments. The fusion of these elements since the 16th century has resulted in a complex and fascinating myriad of musical forms, giving salsa a variety of aspects, including instrumentation, dance steps, poetic forms, structural devices, rhythmic and melodic phrases. A major factor in salsas devel-opment stems fom its deep connections to numerous drumming styles, most prominently in Cuba, where enslaved African peoples were able to maintain their sacred and secular drumming traditions. A unique element in these traditions is the bond between music and language, with the spoken word extending beyond song to the instruments themselves.

This integration of the drum into popular culture is perhaps the most pre-dominant factor in Afro-Cuban music - and all Afrocentric music. It is through the drum that many traditional customs were preserved in Cuba, and new customs have been created. For the serious player or composer of Afro-Caribbean music, this fact is a given: ultimately, we must all be drummers.

Salsa’s rhythmic legacy is directly linked to Cuba’s popular music. Of particu­lar importance in this regard are the forms known as rumba, son and danz6n, which represent the consolidation of religious and secular African and European elements.



Excerpt taken from Salsa Guidebook by Rebeca Mauleon