Salsa Spice > Restaurants/Clubs > Puerto Rico
Early 1970s Latin magazines in New York City coined the word salsa. But the music itself originated long ago and far away, in the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of the Spanish islands. Puerto Rico has a complex musical tradition that goes back centuries. The European music of the Spaniards evolved into the waltzlike danza, popular in dance salons of the 1800s. Africans arriving as slaves established the most powerful musical legacy. Among African-inspired folkloric music are the bomba, a highly rhythmic “contest” of dancers, drummers and chanters, and the plena, a sung story set to rhythm. The melodies of the danzas and the percussion of the bomba and plena came together to produce the origins of salsa music.
In the 1940s, big bands made up of Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians played at the Palladium and other venues in New York. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the New York music scene came to be dominated more by Puerto Ricans than Cubans. Some of the biggest names in the early age of salsa include Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, El Gran
Combo and the Fania All-Stars with Héctor Lavoe.
Most people think of salsa as a catchword for any number of Latin, particularly Cuban, styles of dance music, from cha cha chá to mambo to merengue. But it is actually a very specific music with origins in the New York City Latin music scene of the 1970s. The modest clave, a pair of flat wood sticklike instruments that marks the beat, takes center stage. In addition, any salsa band worth its spice has bongos, conga drums, timbales, güiros, maracas and cowbells. A generous sprinkling of horns adds a brash touch to the driving rhythms of authentic salsa. Top it all off with a velvety-voiced crooner, throw in a piano and you have the makings of great salsa music.
In recent decades, salsa has shown a more romantic side and a greater universal appeal as it incorporates Latin jazz and other sounds. Salsa congresses and workshops are held as far away as Israel and Japan. San Juan has been dubbed the reigning capital of salsa. Elaborate salsa competitions take place on the Island; most major hotels host regular salsa evenings; and several venues feature instruction in the arts of salsa dancing. As the music continues to evolve, it will please aficionados for decades to come.