Salsa is 1950s Cuban son montuno and rumba dance music mixed with Puerto Rican bomba and plena, and Harlem swing by Caribbean musicians in 1960s and 70s New York City. It jumped to Colombia and then went global.
Basically the clave of El Barrio East Harlem mixed with the swing of Harlem across Fifth Avenue and we got la salsa.
Salsa is characterized by TICO Records (1948-1974) and FANIA Records (1964). The music jumped to Colombia at Disco Fuentes (1934) and went global in the 1970s. Celia Cruz is the “Queen of Salsa.” She was never allowed to return home to Cuba, so she planted salsa everywhere else around the world. Tito Puente is “The King of Latin Music.”
Because Cuba was isolated by the U.S. blockade, the music evolved differently there. The music of the Havana street is Timba played by incredible musicians, many of whom trained in Cuba’s world-class classical music schools. When things opened up a little and Cubans heard what was going on in New York, some wondered why we were still playing the old 1950s music of their parents.
New York Salsa News
MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
“El Barrio” East Harlem
Opens Friday, June 11, 2021
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021 🇩🇴
Salsa Festivals NYC
Summer in New York City is filled with salsa flavor. Though SummerStage is not a salsa festival, it always programs some salsa, especially in August.
Labor Day Weekend
Sat-Wed, August 24-28, 2019
Thu-Sun, August 29-Sep 1, 2019
Times Square, NYC
A week of dancing in spots all over Manhattan ends with a weekend of salsa workshops, performances and dancing to live music by Tony Vega, Moncho Rivera and Doug Beavers
National Puerto Rican Day Parade Weekend
Saturday, June 8, 2019
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Salsa legends Willie Colón, Victor Manuelle, Jerry Rivera, La India, Grupo Niche, Eddie Santiago, Tito Rojas, Lalo Rodriguez, José Alberto “El Canario,” Fruko y sus Tesos and more
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
Friday-Monday, May 24-27, 2019
NEW YORK HILTON MIDTOWN
A salsa and bachata dance festival of workshops, shows, and dance parties
Dance Salsa in NYC
These are places to listen or dance to salsa. Can you listen to salsa without dancing?
GREENWICH VILLAGE, NYC
Mexican restaurant with dancing to live salsa bands on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and some Thursdays too.
SALSA 1st Saturdays
Toda la Noche
TANGO 2nd & Last Saturdays
All Night Milonga
New York Salseros
These salseros work in or are from New York City.
Thursday, September 16, 2021 🇵🇷
Part 1, June 30, 2020
Part 2, July 7, 2020
Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) YouTube & Facebook channels
Lower East Side, NYC
Thursday, April 2, 2020
GONZALEZ Y GONZALEZ
Greenwich Village, NYC
Puerto Rican Golden Age salsa for dancing. ¡WEPA!
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
One of New York City’s best Cuban dance bands
Saturday, December 14, 2019
JEROME PARK, The Bronx ~ Celebrate Christmas like we did in 1971 with the Latin Christmas album “Asalto navideño”
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
MIDSUMMER NIGHT SWING
Damrosch Park Lincoln Center
These salseros are from outside New York. This is a tough call because everybody travels back and forth between New York and the Caribbean.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Saturday, July 31, 2021 🇵🇷
Saturday, August 21, 2021 🇵🇷
Sunday, January 16, 2022 🇵🇷
Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 8pm
SUMMERSTAGE ANYWHERE SOCIAL CHANNELS
Friday, March 20, 2020
LA BOOM NYC
The Puerto Rican salsa romántica singer is joined by Colombian Vallenato group Binomio de Oro.
March 12, 2020
Madison Square Garden
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Passaic, New Jersey
One of Puerto Rico’s legendary salsa bands. “Moreno soy,” “Hacheros pa’ un palo,” “Fuego en el 23.”
LEHMAN CENTER Jerome Park, The Bronx | Saturday, March 7, 2020
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Montclair, New Jersey
“El Niño Bonito de la Salsa” is joined by Tito Rojas, Ray de la Paz and Willie Alvarez for a Danceable Salsa Concert
Friday, July 26, 2019
Clason Point, The Bronx
If you like Michael Jackson and Salsa, you will love this.
From New York, we are missing Ray Barretto, Charlie Palmieri, Frankie Ruiz, Joe Cuba. From Puerto Rico, we are missing Hector Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Cheo Feliciano, Tommy Olivencia. Many artists made La Salsa what it is today.
Monday, November 1, 2021 🇨🇴
Friday, December 3, 2021 🇨🇺
Saturday, February 12, 2022 🇵🇷🎵
Wednesday, April 20, 2022 🇵🇷
The Salsa World
Salsa is loved everywhere in the world now, even in places where you would least expect it like Eastern Europe.
Have to say, the most beautiful salsa dancing we’ve ever seen was at La Fiesta de Santiago Apostól, the patron saint festival (local Carnival) in Loíza, Puerto Rico in June. It was soft, smooth, and profoundly connected. The quality of salsa in Loíza makes New York Salsa on 2 look like a bunch of clowns. (Sorry, but true.)
La Placita, Santurce, San Juan ~ Dance salsa on the street for free, Fridays-Sundays. This is where most Puerto Ricans in San Juan go. The later you go, the younger it gets. Sundays after about 6:30pm is a nice grown-up crowd. (January, 2020)
La Factoría, Old San Juan ~ Dance salsa in one of the “World’s 50 Best Bars” Fridays-Saturdays. (No cover. January, 2020)
24th Salsa World Congress (Congreso Mundial de la Salsa) ~ San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday-Saturday, March 5-7, 2020.
Día Nacional de la Zalsa ~ A concert of Puerto Rican salsa legends hosted by radio Zeta 93 at Estadio Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan on Sunday, March 8, 2020.
Cali, Colombia is the “Capital of Salsa.” It is cultural in Cali. A stage form of salsa dancing has developed there. Caleños give their children salsa dance lessons. Caleños are famous for the quality of their dancing. In Colombia, if there is a Caleño or Caleña at the party, everybody wants to dance with them.
Cali Fair Salsa Festival (Feria de Cali) ~ The whole city come out to dance salsa, Friday-Wednesday, December 25-30, 2020.
Spanish Bantu, La Sonora Matancera, Arsenio Rodríguez, Machito, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, FANIA and Celia Cruz
[We are not musicologists, but this is our best understanding at the moment.]
Son cubano rose in the mountains of eastern Cuba in the late 1800s. It blends Spanish guitar (in the form of the Cuban tres) with Bantu rhythm, call and response, and percussion. The Bantu language comes from what is now Cameroon, just south of Nigeria, but spread across central Africa.
There is some connection between salsa and Carnival celebrations because in the days of human enslavement Carnival was the only time Africans were allowed to celebrate our own culture.
Early bands were small. They expanded to sextetos in the 1920s. La Sonora Matancera, which became one of the most iconic Cuban bands, was founded in 1924. The partnership of Celia Cruz and La Sonora is one of the great stories of Latin music. Matanzas, Cuba, where they originated, is one of Cuba’s more African regions.
In the 1930s, trumpets were added, creating septetos. El Manisero was recorded by Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra for Victor in New York City in 1930. The romanticized peanut vendor’s pregone introduced Cuban music to the wider world.
A pregone (as in Pregones Theater or El Cantante) is a seller’s song (like Hot Cross Buns in the English-speaking world). New York City street vendors used to sing songs to advertise their wares. They are like the chimes of an ice cream truck. It’s beautiful to watch a child react to those chimes. You can’t help but buy the kid an ice cream. The only place you can still hear a pregone in New York is on the fruit and vegetable market street in Chinatown (in Chinese of course).
Salsa lyrics often have this playful bragging, selling element in them. It doesn’t matter whether you are selling peanuts or trying to sell yourself into a hot night. It’s very Caribbean. It has roots in the troubadours of medieval Europe. This boastfulness shows up later in hip-hop and Latin rap. Troubadours of Puerto Rico do battles just like rappers.
In the 1940s blind Cuban tres player Arsenio Rodríguez revolutionized son montuno. He expanded the band into a conjunto with piano, congas and more trumpets. Rodríguez also standardized the song structure. Basically he orchestrated son cubano.
The Cuban Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo formed his band Machito and his Afro-Cubans with music director Mario Baúza in New York City in 1940. This was the first band to actually say that they were Black. Before then, you had to sort of hide it for commercial reasons. The most successful artists have generally been light-skinned, but the blues, jazz and salsa are African music.
Machito is important because Mario Baúza’s song Tanga (1942) is considered to be the first song with all the elements that make modern Latin jazz. It’s funny because “tanga” is an African word for weed and also Spanish for a g-string. Those things go together with Latin jazz really well. Try making love where both you and your partner are in clave. ¡WEPA!
Uptown, people crossed Fifth Avenue both ways. Tito Puente would sneak out of his mother’s house on 110th St to listen to Chick Webb’s swing band at the Savoy Ballroom where swing dancing was created. Tito dreamed of playing drums like Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman’s drummer, the artist who brought the drums front and center and helped standardize the modern drum kit. Tito did the same thing with timbales. Because he was originally a dancer, Tito was very entertaining. He would act nuts on stage just like Gene Krupa did. Maybe he wasn’t acting, he just let the music flow through him. That’s what stage artists do. They open up on stage, we copy it emotionally, and opening up feels real good.
Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie would sit in with Machito’s band. When Dizzy decided he wanted congas in his band, he asked Baúza who introduced Chano Pozo. From this we got legendary jazz standards like Manteca and Tin Tin Deo. Jazz is Caribbean music from its very beginnings, but Dizzy and Chano brought Latin percussion back into mainstream jazz in a way it wasn’t before.
The Palladium Ballroom was failing so they opened a Latin night and it just took off. It was the first place that people of color and light-skinned people were allowed to hang out together openly. The big-three Palladium bands were Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and Machito. The mambo dance craze that crossed the United States began at the Palladium Ballroom in 1948. In the 1970s, Latin kids in the Bronx added their parent’s Palladium dance moves to what became break dancing. Black and Latin just keeps crossing back and forth. If you can get over yourself, we are one and the same.
What we now call salsa started forming in New York City in the 1960s. On the recommendation of Celia Cruz, Cuban singer La Lupe started working with Mongo Santamaría in New York and then Tito Puente. She charmed the Latin world with the wild style of her charismatic performances “Ay, Ay, Ayyyyyy.”
La Lupe’s song Oriente with Tito Puente says a lot. She starts singing about being born in Oriente, meaning eastern Cuba where son Cubano originated. Then the song shifts. La Lupe sings about Tito Puente (whose parents were from Ponce) and calls out Ismael Rivera, one of great Black salsa singers from Santurce, Puerto Rico. She calls out Celia too. That’s the main story, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Tico Records with Tito Puente was a big force. Tito was a New Yorker, but many great salsa musicians are originally from Santurce, or Ponce, Puerto Rico. Originally a lot of the music came up off the street, but Tito was Julliard School. Celia Cruz studied in Cuba’s famed classical music schools. Talent is key, but education makes a difference.
Eddie Palmieri grew up listening to Cuban music on the short wave radio and running the jukebox at his family bodega El Mambo Candy Store near St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. A bunch of kids who used to hang out there became salsa musicians. In his legendary band Conjunto La Perfecta, Palmieri changed his trumpet line for a trombone line and gave salsa a big fat sound that Willie Colon mastered with “El Cantante” (the singer) Hector Lavoe.
The Dominican Johnny Pacheco co-founded FANIA Records, the Latin Motown, to bring the sound of La Sonora Matancera to the United States. Pacheco is credited with coining the term “salsa” because the music is a mix of so many things, like the sauce.
Out of New York, salsa traveled to Colombia through artists like Fruko, Joe Arroyo, Grupo Niche and the Latin Brothers. The whole thing went global in the 1970s. If you were born after that time, it seems like salsa has always been there, but it wasn’t until once upon a time in New York City.
Many great artists helped develop salsa (more than we have time and energy to name), but perhaps more than anyone Celia Cruz popularized the music around the world. Celia, “The Queen of Salsa,” could sing like nobody else. That is still true today. She is naturally a rumba singer, but she could never go home to Cuba, so Celia just kept singing and singing and singing all over the world.
Celia started her career with La Sonora Matancera in Cuba. Her love story with La Sonora trumpeter Pedro Knight is one of the great love stories. In New York Celia sang first for Tito Puente, then for FANIA and then for all of us under the banner of la salsa. “La negra tiene tumbao” (the black woman has a natural swing) and “La vida es un carnival” (life is a party). We love you Celia and all the artists who put their heart into la salsa. ¡Azúcar!
Drumming and clave can create a transcendent healing experience
Salsa is built on clave, the Spanish name for the 5-beat syncopated bell patterns of Sub-Saharan Africa. The whole thing is built on syncopation, emphasizing the upbeat instead of the downbeat. Syncopation is perhaps most obvious in reggae which is also built on clave. Though in reggae the 5-beat pattern is only implied, it is still there. You can clap it out Pa-pa-pa+Pa-pa or Pa-pa+Pa-pa-pa. Clap it out to some salsa music where clave is more obvious.
The original rhythms were from religious ceremonies intended to connect people with God. Classic salsa of the 1960s and 70s is filled with coded West African religious references. Even many Spanish speakers have no idea what they are dancing to. Anyway, it’s religious music from west Africa, just like classical music began as religious music in Italy. Both are meant to raise your spirits.
Syncopation is important because it is meant to lift you up, get you to transcend your normal existence. There is a moment when dancers connect with the drummers and the energy in the entire room rises. Watch a dance floor and you’ll see it. It’s like somebody hit a switch. The energy of the people in the room just starts to float.
Simple syncopation already floats the music over the downbeat. On another level, the 5-beat clave pattern floats over 2-beat or common 4-beat time. 5 over 2 or 5 over 4 gives you endless possibilities of rhythm and movement like the expanding and interacting ripples of rain drops on a pond.
This transcendent experience became even more important in the time of human enslavement. When daily life is dehumanizing, you need something to restore your humanity so you can make it through another day. The African music on which salsa and the blues are based, served this purpose during and after the Colonial Period.
African drums are healing instruments. Slavers must have been perplexed that anyone could survive their inhumanity and keep on smiling. We are not idiots, we are survivors who found a way to transform the pain and sorrow of life into joy. Everybody wants some of whatever it is we are having. Ha, it’s just la salsa.
The music still does this. Letting your body and spirit float with a salsa can be a transcendent experience. That’s probably why today people around the world love salsa, whether they have an African heritage or not. Human nervous systems respond to similar stimuli in similar ways. If you don’t respond, maybe your robot needs a tune up.
Puerto Rican New Yorker Eddie Torres created New York Salsa On 2 for dancers by adding even more syncopation to the dance steps and hustle (disco) moves to the dance. New York salsa is linear and filled with turns and shines. Caribbean salsa is much more relaxed and more circular. Now there is great confusion. Is your salsa on 1 or 2 and if it’s on 2, does your style start forward or back? Just dance.
Salsa dancing is most often a social dance, but in Cali, Colombia, a stage form of salsa has become a Caleño cultural tradition. “Las Caleñas son como las flores.”