A Short History of Salsa

Cuba Dance Tours

Ever wondered where salsa originated? You might think it originated in a country in the Caribbean Sea. It didn’t. It actually emerged right in the middle of New York City in the 1950s. 

During this time half a million Latinos in “El Barrio” of East Harlem, most of them Puerto Rican, wanted to make themselves heard as a new generation. In the 30s, Cuban’s and Puerto Rico’s political restraints forced them to flee to the US. Through the years they grew bored of the traditional Latin music and the young post war generation decided to add spice to the current music and transform the culture. 

At the dance halls you’d watch the synchronised choreography of the R&B band The Temptations and the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley, get down with his groundbreaking dance moves. By mixing R&B and Rock n Roll with traditional Latin music, Boogaloo emerged. This particular combination of rhythms and instruments (trumpet, bass guitar, timbales, etc.) was a mix of all the sounds Nuyoricans (Puerto Ricans located in New York City) grew up with. Musical components included Cuban mambo, Puerto Rican bomba, African American rhythm and blues and some New York Latin Jazz. The fresh sounds and simplicity of the Latin Boogaloo compared to the sophisticated mambo from the past attracted new musicians into the business. 

Many of these Boogaloo songs you know in their newer versions, such as “I Like it Like That” by Pete Rodriguez or the never dying “Bang Bang” by the Joe Cuba Sextet, one of the most significant songs from the era.

Then, in the late 1960s, Fania Records, known for signing legendary singer and queen of salsa Celia Cruz, appeared adding even more spice to the mix. Wanting more from the upcoming genre and inspired by the Cuban music with its flutes, violins and bongos, it made the already revolutionary Boogaloo even more diverse. With this new sound, Fania Records guided this surging genre even further into its distinct sound, breaking selling records all over the world like New York, Puerto Rico and South America. 

In 1971, the label directors put together its best talent in a former skating rink in Manhattan called Cheetah. Its rehearsal was an utter disaster! No one had even done this before, mixing cha cha cha, danzón, huaracha, tons of different instruments and various notorious musicians and vocalists. It seemed nuts! The typical salsa song had only one lead vocalist, that night there were 6! When it came down to it, to the producer’s surprise, it was a total hit! Creating a never before heard sound that moved the bodies of hundreds of people from numerous different backgrounds and ethnicities. African American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican and every Latin and South American nationality was present that night. That night marks the birth of the single Latin sound of the 70s known as salsa.

Now, here’s a question, how did salsa define its dance? The African rumba, the French and Haitian danzón, the Cuban són, Dominican merengue, and numerous other dance styles fused into a one-of-a-kind dance. If their sounds were combined, why wouldn’t their moves be too?

Salsa (both the dance and music) is a mix of many ethnic backgrounds and elements from various countries. Its background is inclusive of all countries, instruments, musicians and dance styles. With such an eclectic background, it is no surprise that no single country can take credit for the creation of it. While no one can take sole ownership of it, many have made it their own in their own unique way.


Want to experience Salsa for yourself?  Book a Solo Salsa Holiday with Vamos Cuba. Find out about our tour offerings here: https://vamoscuba.co.uk/dance-holidays-in-cuba/solo-salsa-holiday/  


This post is part of Follow Me Friday at Feet Do Travel  

Follow Me Friday by Feet Do Travel

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