The Origins of Salsa

¡Hola! It’s Latinx Heritage Month, an important time to celebrate Latinx culture. In this article, I want to share with all of you a bit about salsa, one of the most popular forms of music and dance that originates from the Indigenous and African roots of Latin America. 

Salsa is a style of music and dance that originates from Cuba in the early 20th century. It derives from son cubano, Afro-Cuban rumba, mambo, danzón, and bomba — all Indigenous and African styles and rhythms. It’s important to recognize that salsa originates from Indigenous and Afro-Latinx roots, as Latin American history is often whitewashed. In the 1940s and 50s, there was a huge influx of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants into the United States, specifically to New York. Although they were apart from their countries of origin, their music and culture provided them with a sense of familiarity and home; this began the birth of salsa in the U.S. Many Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants began playing these Afro-Latinx rhythms and melodies before adapting them to American jazz, which sparked the rise of salsa in the United States.

Our spotlight for this article is on Celia Cruz, a famous singer from Cuba. Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, or Celia Cruz, was born in 1925 in Havana, Cuba. She was a singer of Afro-Cuban descent. Impressing many with her melodic voice, she replaced the head singer of La Sonora Matancera and began performing in nightclubs in Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution, Celia and her band left for the United States. She married the lead trumpetist, Pedro Knight. As she immersed herself in the salsa scene of New York, she rose to stardom. Throughout her career, she collaborated with many famous salsa artists, such as Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colón. Her voice, talent, and passion for singing, dancing, and music made her the “Queen of Salsa Music.” There’s a telenovela series about her entitled Celia that I definitely recommend. She paved the way for many Afro-Latinx performers.

Celia Cruz is clearly a favorite artist of mine. Here are a few salsa songs that I’d recommend you listen to. These songs are full of life and rhythm, and are very easy to dance to!

  1. "Guantanamera" (Celia Cruz)

  2. "Quimbara" (Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco)

  3. "Micaela" (Sonora Carruseles)

  4. "Oye Como Va" (Tito Puente)

  5. "La Murga" (Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Yomo Toro)

  6. "Buscando Guayaba" (Willie Colón, Rubén Blades)

  7. "Mi gente" (Héctor Lavoe)

  8. "Valió la pena" (Marc Anthony)

Salsa has grown into such a popular genre of music that it has developed different styles within itself. Some of these styles include Cuban salsa, New York salsa, and Colombian salsa, just to name a few. Music and dance are integral parts of many Latin American cultures. I hope you are able to gain an appreciation for salsa, one of the most popular music styles in history.