The word “salsa” is a generic term that designates both a music of Cuban origin, but also (and above all) a dance with a lively and popular tempo, known all over the world.
There are different types of salsa: Puerto Rican salsa, Colombian salsa and Cuban salsa.
It is this last one, the most famous of them, that we propose you to discover here
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The emergence of the term “salsa”
Salsa (which literally means “sauce” in Spanish, but also “charm”, “spicy” in the figurative sense) refers to a musical genre and a dance with Cuban roots.
It is commonly believed that the title of the Cuban sound (a musical genre) Echale Salsita by
Ignacio Pineiro’s Septeto, released in 1928, is the origin of the word “salsa”.
However, the word “salsa” did not take on its meaning as a dance and musical genre until much later
In the title of Ignacio Pineiro’s Septeto, it has only the original meaning of the Spanish word “salsa”: sauce.
At that time, the word “salsa” was also widely used by the audience to call for the orchestra to “warm up” their instruments: they would then yell “salsa, salsa!” In the 1940s Cubans called musicians belonging to certain music groups “salseros.”
But the word “salsa” still does not take on its current meaning as a musical style.
At the time, it was referred to as “Latino music,” although some musicians are slowly beginning to use the word “salsa” to refer to their music.
The term “salsa” was not adopted until 1973, when Izzy Sanabria (the illustrator of the covers of the label Fania) used it in the magazine Latin New York to refer to Latin music, and the label took the term in turn.
Since that time, salsa has continued to gain notoriety: in the 90s salsa, dance in particular, became known to the general public and has since continued to make new fans.
The origins of salsa Music
The term “salsa” is very broad: it refers to a whole range of musical styles, such as timba, son, etc.
Salsa music has its origins in Cuban son (pronounced “sonne”), a music that appeared after the Cuban War of Independence.
It is even more particularly linked to the musical sub-genre called “son montuno”, a mixture of rumba and son.
The Cuban son is strongly influenced by the culture of the Caribbean and West Africa, and in particular by the mengon.
Until the 1940s, the son will be the dominant musical style in Cuba.
Although technically we can already speak of a form of salsa, the term does not yet exist.
As we have said, it will be necessary to wait until 1973 to speak of a salsa style.
But Cuban Music has it’s own outstanding vibe !
The Salsa dance
(still called at that time “Cuban sound” or “Latin music”, do you still follow?) will also change with time and the original rhythms will be influenced by American jazz with, among other things, the introduction of instruments such as the trumpet.
Indeed, salsa was mainly listened to and diffused by the Latino community of New York, coming from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic.
It is in the U.S. that salsa will be enriched.
In Cuba, the word salsa is very little used to talk about music in those years.
It will be used only gradually when the salsa will be enriched by incorporating instruments and structures typical of the mambo or cha cha cha.
Salsa is therefore the daughter and cousin of a group of music of Caribbean origin, between African percussion, Spanish guitar and brass.
This process of transformation and enrichment continues even today, and gives birth to new genres (such as timba) that integrate new instruments and styles of music (funk, disco, hip-hop).
Salsa in practice
Salsa can be technically described as a general term for all music structured around a rhythmic cell called a “clave”.
This rhythmic structure is maintained throughout the piece.
It is made up of a “strong” bar containing three notes (also called tresillo in Spanish) and a “weak” bar containing two notes.
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What is Cuban salsa?
Salsa is an improvised dance made up of basic steps, usually danced by two people and where the man traditionally leads the woman.
Salsa can also be practiced alone, or in groups: in a line (comparsa, salsa suelta), with several couples (rueda de casino), or with a leader and two or more partners.
Cuban salsa steps
The basic principle of the steps consists in alternating the left (l) and right (r) steps, the steps being reversed between the partners.
There are several basic steps.
The most practiced is the step known as “L.A”, which takes place, for the rider, in the following way:
- Time 1: he moves the left foot forward then takes off the right foot
- Time 2: he rests the right foot
- Time 3: he brings back behind the left foot
- Time 4: he pauses
The other four times are reversed:
- Time 5: he moves back the right foot and he takes off the left foot
- Time 6: he rests the left foot
- Time 7: he brings back in front of the right foot
- Time 8: he marks again a pause The partner does exactly the opposite, thus starting with time 5.
Best Video for Learning True Cuban Salsa
Other famous steps are: the “salsa step”: the principle is behind/behind instead of behind/front as in the L.A. step. the “cross step”: almost identical to the salsa step, the principle is behind/behind but the “main foot” is shifted to the side at the same time as it is moved back.
the “rumba step” (or side step): the feet are moved to the sides (left/right instead of right/left)
advanced/reversed (front/back) -the “walking step” very close to mambo As for all dances, but this is even more true for salsa, it is essential to master the basic steps and especially to know how to listen to the music in order to recognize the measures.
The timing must be perfectly respected.
The other styles of salsa
In addition to the Cuban salsa and the steps mentioned, there is also the Puerto Rican salsa and its three styles (Los Angeles, New York and Palladium) as well as the Colombian salsa especially in Cali.
If you want to understand the differences, we suggest you take a look here.
Where to listen and dance salsa in Cuba?
- The 1830 (Thursdays and Saturdays)
- The casas de la Musica
- La Gruta
- Jazz café
- In Santiago de Cuba
- Patio los Dos Abuelos
- Casa de la Trova
- Casa de las Tradiciones
- Casa de la Musica
- Casa Fisher
Best Videos for learning Salsa
Here is the best site ever for learning Salsa Casino a la Cubana : https://www.salsaville.com/salc/video_clips/salc_demo.htm#
The style of the is a bit old fashion, but don’t hesitate to buy the few series of dvd’s if you want to get the real Cuban Style