|WHAT IS 'SALSA'?|
By Joar Svanemyr © (joar @ salsacubana . no)
This a question raising many heated debates and there are as many opinions as there are salseros. However, there are a few undeniable facts: 1. The word 'salsa" has been used in Afro-Cuban music as an interjection since at least the 30s (cf. the song entitled "Echale Salsìta" by Enrique Jorrìn). 2. The first use of the term 'salsa' to designate a music genre seems to have occurred in 1966 when a radio journalist in Venezuela named Danilo Phideas Escalona started an emission he called "La hora de la salsa" ("The time/hour of salsa"). 3. The term became definitely known and established when the journalist and promoter Izzy Sanabria started to use the term in 1974 to promote the music of the Fania All Stars.
Very much discussed among others are the following questions:
- Who invented this music, where do we find it's roots, where did it come from?
- Which sub-categories and related genres should/can be included under the term 'salsa'. For example Cuban Son and Colombian Cumbia, is that Salsa?
- Is salsa just another word for what is actually Son, Mambo or Afro-Cuban music?
These questions are more or less related so the answer you give to the first question will have some bearing on the answer to the second and third. For some like the musician Willie Colon salsa is actually not a specific music genre but more like a certain "spirit". For others it is a term designating many genres from Latin-America with African roots. My personal point of view is a somewhat mixed one. The roots and origins are definitely Afro-Cuban. The 'clave' which is the heartbeat of the salsa was "invented" by the slaves of African origin in Cuba. However, I think it's right to say that salsa as a more or less distinct genre was created in New York in the late 60s and early 70s. When the Cubans brought the clave, the son and the mambo to New York, musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente first created the Latin Jazz in the 40s and 50s. Later in the 60s Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colon and others started to modify the orchestration and the structure of the Son and the Mambo and came up with something that had another feeling to it and which soon became known as Salsa. The Puertoricans also had in their repertoire rhythms from their own country like Plena and Bomba. It is often claimed that the Puertoricans in New York "invented" salsa but the clave, which is undeniably the central element, did come from Cuba, and Cuban musicians like Machito, Mario Bauza and Mongo Santamaria lived in New York and had a substantial role in the evolution of the music.
Today there's some discussion whether genres like Cumbia, Son and Timba can be sorted under Salsa. I my ears these three are so close to Salsa that they can be called sub-categories. On the opposite I think genres like Merengue, Bomba and Rumba are so distinct that they should not sort under Salsa. You can find songs that mix different kinds of rhythms. Crossover songs are by performers often given double designations like "salsason" "timbasalsa" or "rapsalsa".
To know more, please check out my lists of recommended literature, dictionary and links. In particular I recommend the book written by Sue Steward and Willie Colon: Salsa. (Thames and Hudson, 1999).