SALSA: A BRIEF HISTORY

SALSA: A BRIEF HISTORY

Salsa is a tropical music form with roots in the Afro-Cuban tradition. In the early 1930s Mario Bauza’ (Machito’s brother-in-law) traveled from Cuba with Don Azpiazu’s band to New York City and settled in Harlem after the other members returned to Cuba. Later Machito, Chano Pozo and other Cubans joined him in New York and began playing with the great American jazzmen. Bebop was a very popular style being played by many of the big bands at the time. The influence of Cuban musicians, particularly the percussionists, and the intricate clave rhythm gave rise to a hybrid style called Cubop.

Interestingly, in Mexico at about the same time other Cuban musicians like Beny More’, Perez Prado, Humberto Cane’ and many others were gathering there because of the tremendous artistic opportunities provided by Mexico’s film industry. Mario Bauza’ in New York and Perez Prado in Mexico City are credited with a parallel development of Mambo. The Mambo was developed in the late 1940’s.

In the 1950s, the rhythms of Mambo, Cha-Cha and Rumba were the rage. Latin dance bands were very popular. The Latin style of music was showing up everywhere including Hollywood films and American television. Dance studios were teaching their students how to move to the sultry Latin rhythms.

Due in part to the tremendous influence of the British Invasion of the 1960s (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.), the popularity of Latin music experienced a serious decline. A new style called Bugaloo emerged made popular by Pete Rodriguez, Joe Cuba and others. An example of Bugaloo is the Pete Rodriguez song, I Like it Like That made popular recently by Tito Nieves in the Burger King commercial.

The 70s saw a resurgence in Latin music’s popularity. The Fania record label and its executives played a large role developing and marketing tremendous music in both New York and Puerto Rico. New York and Puerto Rican orchestras developed a hard driving, heavy hitting style of music that Salsa purists consider some of the best music recorded.

The 80s gave way to the birth of Salsa Romantica. This style was characterized by a more moderate tempo and by lyrics that were love and sex related. This style remained popular especially among females who many times purchase more music than their male counterparts.

We also saw at this time the emergence of the “pretty boy” lead singer. The handsome faces were a great marketing tool. At times the quality of the music suffered in order to accommodate greater sales.

The 90s have been a time when Salsa has enjoyed an incredibly increased popularity on a global basis. Salsa is no longer a purely Latino domain. It is embraced by many peoples and cultures around the world. Musically speaking, in many ways the 90s have become a time in which song structure is predictable with not much to distinguish one group’s style from the next. Much of the music sounds the same. Many agree the music has become diluted. However, toward the end of the decade a trend seems to be developing leading back toward the style of the classics. Recent Salsa converts are being introduced to the classics by knowledgeable disc jockeys and are loving what they hear. In addition, remakes of classic tunes do much to revive interest in the more pure style.

Cubans gave birth to the origins of what today is referred to as Salsa. However, the Puerto Ricans embraced and advanced this musical style. The Colombians remain true to the musical tradition while other more recent artists continue to experiment with and modify the style.

Salsa continues to evolve, develop and garner large numbers of fans. Salsa is not a fad or a passing phase. It is being embraced and accepted by non-Latinos around the world. This time, Salsa is here to stay!

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