Everything You Need to Know About Salsa for Your Upcoming Trip to Cuba

There are many versions on how salsa was born. But at least in one they all agree: the progenitor of salsa is the Cuban son, the rhythm that arose at the end of the nineteenth century in Cuba. In general, Afro-Cuban music, to which salsa dance belongs, has its own interesting history, as it was born as a result of a symbiosis of two cultures – European (Spanish-Arabic) and African.


From the Spanish the Afro-Cuban music inherited stringed instruments, melodic and poetic form, and from African slaves (mainly Bantu, Yoruba and Karagali), drums and various percussion instruments, the manner of singing and a peculiar style of performance, at which the choir repeated several times estribillo (chorus). 


A History of Salsa in Cuba


Looking at the  history of Salsa in Cuba,  the  musical flow has started to gain popularity since 1892 thanks to the artist Nene Manfugas (Nene Manfugas), who performed it together with his band, Montuno, at the carnival held in Santiago.


The instrument on which Nene played was a wooden box with three strings and was called tres. The very chorus, which is a repetition in different variations of the key phrase of the song, began to be called montuno. The main instruments used in the performance of the son at that time were the previously mentioned tres, a guitar (as the legacy of the Spaniards), bongos, maracas, clave (the last two usually used by a soloist), and finally a marimboul and a botiha (later replaced by a double bass).


In 1909, son spread throughout Cuba, and in the 1920s, the quartets, performing son, were transformed into sextets. A new sound at the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, the rhythm acquires when a pipe joins the standard group of instruments, and the sextets become septets. This happened, for example, with the famous “Sexteto Habanero”, which became a septet, although the name remained the same.

In the 1930s, Caribbean rhythms exert a tremendous influence on son, then, as it spread to the Americas and North America, North American and Latin American, gradually bringing it to what we now call salsa. Thus, salsa itself is an alloy of rhythms, such as:


Cuban: son (base), danson and its derivatives, rumba;
North American: jazz, rock, swing;
Caribbean: bomb, captivity, cumbia;
South American: samba, tango.


There are several versions of the origin of the name “salsa”. It is well known that salsa means “sauce”. According to one of the versions, in one small club of Miami the group performing Cuban music performed one evening, and this music was so “brought” by the people present that all unanimously began to shout: “Salsa! Salsa! “, Meaning that the music was as sharp and hot as the sauce, which was seasoned with the dishes in this club.


In accordance with another version, the name came from the very popular “Echale Salsita” son at the beginning of the century. According to this version, in the late 60s in the US Madison Square Garden hosted a grand concert organized by Fania All Stars, in which Latin American performers presented their “new invention” – the boogaloo rhythm was nothing more than a modernized Cuban dream mixed with merengue, bossa nova, kumbia, cha-cha-cha, mambo and boogie-woogie.


Watching people from different parts of America dance themselves in a new rhythm, Tito Puente, remembering the words of the old dream, pronounced “Esto es una gran salsa!”, Which literally translates as “Magnificent sauce!”. The great sonero meant that, like in sauce, different ingredients mixed in rhythm, giving rise to an unusually “tasty” mixture.


The word was perceived better than the original name, and quickly spread throughout America. Currently, under the influence of modern rhythms, salsa is also undergoing changes. At the end of the twentieth century, in particular, there were two such directions as “salsa dura” and “salsa nueva” (after “tango nuevo” and “nuevo flamenco”).


cuba, A History of Salsa


In 1928, Cuban Ignacio Pinheiro pronounced the words “Echale salsita!” (“Let’s add a spark!”) And made them the name of his new song. Soon this phrase was transformed simply into “salsa” and the eponymous dance became insanely popular. “Salsa” in Spanish – also “sauce”. Until the early 1970s, the word “salsa” was a mixture of a variety of Latin American styles and rhythms, including guarachu, cha-cha-cha, pachanga, rumba, mambo and much more. A simple catchword has become a trademark of Latin American dance music.


Later, after the music appeared, the dance became popular as well. Salsa is a mixture of different musical genres and dance traditions of the countries of the Caribbean, Central and Latin America. Its rhythms and figures combine the whole color of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Puerto Rico and Cuba, which is considered the cradle of Salsa. It was there that in the beginning of the 20th century these melodies were born.


Salsa is a slower and more elegant version of the rumba, in which the dancers almost never come into contact – was formerly loved by the Latin American white bourgeoisie.


Everything changed in the 1940s. It happened in New York. At that time, the Latin American community conquered the west of Manhattan. It was New York’s South Americans – Puerto Ricans, Panamanians, Cubans, Colombians – who mixed Salsa with the rhythms of jazz and blues. The new genre, entitled “Salsa-Metro”, in the 1970s was “taken out” from New York and spread with frenzied success across the planet, becoming the most popular dance of Hispanic origin.


The nature of salsa is manifested in its basic step. It arises due to the immobility of the upper body and the transfer of emphasis on the legs and waist. The movements of the feet are extremely important, since they set the hip movement – characteristic of salsa.


Salsa, combining different directions of Latin American dances, do not differ in complex techniques. The main requirement is not to be indifferent, but to express your emotions and feelings openly. Salsa is not just a mechanical execution of movements: there is an element of intrigue here. Too close are partners to each other, emotions and feelings emerge, the dance becomes a game: there are elements of courtship and refusal, seduction and passion, but in any case, the dance becomes the creativity of two people, there is intimacy, and in this regard, each dance is unique. You can know a few movements, but each time, with another partner or partner, a new melody will be born with something unique, unique, with its emotions and passions. Dance and music is a huge part of Latin America, and Cuba especially!

About Nia McKenna

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Nia is an Associate Editor at The Fairytale Traveler and self diagnosed travel junkie. Having traveled to 5 of the 7 continents, her love of good food and culture is a force to be reckoned with. When she isn't off adventuring with her husband, which she writes about on her blog CircaWanderlust, she can be found with a good cup of tea cuddling her pups and taking pictures of her food. She loves black and white movies and could listen to Elvis on repeat.

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