The legacy of salsa music knows no borders. From Havana to New York, San Juan to Barranquilla, Caracas to Dakar and beyond, salsa has circled the world.
While the name “salsa” was coined as a marketing concept for the urban Latin mix coming out of New York that was recorded on the Fania label in the ’60s and ’70s, its roots are indisputably in Cuba. Tito Puente, whose 1957 album Dancemania was a milestone in the evolution of the sound that would become known as salsa, routinely dismissed the term, saying that “salsa is something you put on spaghetti.” Celia Cruz, who was dubbed the queen of salsa after she left Havana for New York, would define it as “Cuban music with another name.”
While the sound we now recognize as salsa had been simmering for decades, it came to a boil in 1971 at Manhattan’s Cheetah Club, where the multi-national Fania All-Stars made history with a continuous jam that marked an ecstatic point of no return for the music. Artists in Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela made it their own; it was adopted by African musicians, who in salsa reclaimed the rhythms that had traveled with slaves to Cuba. In Cuba, salsa also completed a round trip with Cuban musicians developing their own “Cuban salsa” style in the 1990s. Over the years, salsa has gone from hard to softly romantic and back again. Most recently, salsa met reggaeton in collaborations with tropical and urban artists.
Salsa is by nature transformational. Multinational and multigenerational, it embodies the shared heritage of Latin music.
From its Cuban roots to recent hits, here are twenty videos following salsa’s evolution.