The Salsa Festival and its Fascinating History
Are you into salsa? I’m not talking about taco topping here! I’m talking about the dance craze sweeping the world: salsa! The BIG (Baile Internacional Grande) Salsa Festival in San Diego is happening from January 30 to February 3. Are you going? It will be a great opportunity to see amazing performances, attend live concerts, and dance the night away at Latin dance parties. Jose “El Canario” Alberto will play the Friday night concert. The festival also offers salsa classes for dancers of all levels of experience.
With all this buzz about salsa dance and the salsa festival, it made me wonder, where does salsa come from and why is it so wildly popular? As it turns out, salsa music and its accompanying dance have deep Caribbean and African roots. Its influences include everything from Spanish guitar music to African drums rhythms to Cuban and Puerto Rican dance moves. Today, salsa is a fun and lively music genre with hip-swinging movements that is easy to learn but difficult to master.
In addition to festivals, most major cities offer salsa dance nights throughout Latin America, across the United States, and even in Europe and Asia. Let’s learn a little more about the history of this spicy dance form!
How did salsa come to be?
Born in New York City in the 1970s, salsa is a relatively recent phenomenon. It emerged from the cultural combination of the Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants living there who mixed the dancing and music of their home countries with the disco style that was wildly popular in the US in that era.
The Cuban Influence
The roots of salsa originated in Cuba and date back to the early 20th century, when the elements and rhythms from various musical styles were experimentally combined. The two main components of salsa, Cuban son and Afro-Cuban rumba, incorporated a wide range of instruments to create the foundation of the rhythm that would later be called salsa.
This new rhythm finally arrived in Havana in the 1950s. In the hoppin’ Cuban capital, salsa continued to evolve by absorbing yet more influences, namely other local music and North American jazz. As a result of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many musicians relocated to the US, especially to a region of Manhattan known as El Barrio, better known as Spanish Harlem.
The Rise of Salsa
A record label established in 1964 called Fania Records was primarily responsible for the rise of salsa and its entrance into mainstream pop culture. Fania Records began releasing hit after hit. The “Fania All-Stars” included major names in the salsa world like Cheo Feliciano, Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, and Héctor Lavoe, among others.
Fania Records revised the rhythms imported from Cuba, making them sound catchier and thus be more easily accepted by the Latino market in New York. As a marketing strategy, Fania coined the term “salsa” for this innovative new sound. It refers to the dance’s hot and spicy hip gyrations as well as the dance’s mixture of influences—much akin to the many ingredients in salsa (as in salsa picante).
The Rise of Regional Salsa Styles
When some of the “founders” of salsa started to move out of New York, they took salsa dancing with them. Salsa spread from its New York roots like wildfire and it gained popularity in nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and festivals worldwide. It swiftly evolved into various styles, including Salsa Casino (Cuban and Miami styles), Afro-Latino style, and Cali style (Colombian Salsa).
Instruments of Passion
The level of theatrics and the level of complexity in footwork varies among the styles, although the deep passion that all salsa styles exude is out of this world. The musical instruments employed also change a bit from style to style. Salsa’s most common percussion instruments are bongos, congas, timbales, maracas, and cowbells. Its string instruments include guitar (acoustic or electric), piano, violin, and bass guitar, while salsa’s brass instruments are typically trumpet, trombone, flute, and saxophone.
Dance, Dance Evolution
Salsa continues to evolve as passionate dancers invent new steps, spins, dips, and lifts. Various salsa dancing competitions occur annually, including the annual World Salsa Championships and the World Salsa Open. Just about anywhere you go, you can find salsa dance clubs and lessons nearby.
Do you salsa?
If you’re into salsa or any other Latin or Spanish dance, check out this Spanish Academy TV video in which one of our own HSA team members learns to salsa dance. See how it easy and fun it really is!
Comment below with your opinion on salsa music and salsa dancing. Or, sign up today for a free class and discuss salsa with one of our fabulous teachers. ¡Bailemos!
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