The Musical Essence of Salsa

The Roots of 'Salsa'

Salsa music is a fusion of traditional African, Cuban and other Latin-American rhythms that traveled from the islands (Cuba and Puerto Rico) to New York during the migration, somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s, depending on where one puts the boundary between "real" salsa and its predecessors.

The Term 'Salsa'

There has never been agreement precisely on how the term ‘salsa’ was invented, or by whom. However, the term ‘salsa’ has often been attributed to a Venezuelan radio host by the name of Fidias Danilo. In 1966, the Venezuelan radio DJ, launched a show called ‘La hora del sabor, la salsa, y el bembe – the hour of flavor, sauce, and soul. The word ‘Salsa’ had arrived as a convenient cover for a whole raft of contemporary Afro-Cuban and similar music, particularly in the Americanised style. It is said that he presented music acts with the preamble: "A continueción escucharemos la salsa de... ("now we will listen to the salsa of..."), then adding the name of the next act. While this is the one known explanation, few have tried to research the issue or even found out why he might have used the term salsa in that way. The term "salsa" continued to circulate in the late 1960's to describe the unique genre, born of many distinct musical influences from many parts of the world. By the end of the 70’s, a cocky young Puerto Rican New Yorker called Izzy Sanabria had made the word ‘Salsa’ virtually synonymous with the sound of Latin New York being released through Fania Records (described below). He designed their distinctive and brilliantly coloured album sleeves; he pioneered the magazine ‘Latin NY’, in which he constantly used ‘salsa’ to describe the music he was covering and he was MC to the legendary Fania All Stars super group. During these shows he would frequently bark outthe word ‘salsa’ to wind up the audience and to drive on the musicians. Simply stated, it could be said that "Salsa" is primarily a commercial tag for contemporary Latin pop music that connotes a feeling that sums up the variety of redefined and reinterpreted styles at its roots.

New York & La Fania

The Rise of Salsa is undoubtedly tied to Fania Records, which was founded in 1964 by Johnny Pacheco, a bandleader with Dominican parentage and Cuban musical tastes. La Fania started out as a fledging independent label, with Pacheco distributing records to area stores from the trunk of his car. From 1967, La Fania, then headed by Italian-American lawyer Jerry Masucci, embarked on anaggressive and phenomenally successful program of recording and promotion.

Willie Colon & Fania Records

Particularly influential was composer-arranger Willie Colón, a Bronx prodigy. Colón's early albums, with vocalists Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Miranda and Ruben Bládes, epitomized the Fania style at its best and captured the fresh sound, restless energy, and aggressive dynamism of the barrio youth. The 1970s were the heyday of salsa and of La Fania, which dominated the market.

Today, Fania Records continues to generate contagious enthusiasm among Salsa music aficionados. A few years ago, The NY Times published an extensive history of the label, The Return of Fania, the Record Company That Made Salsa Hot, which offers an excellent window into the world of Fania Records.

A Deeper History

SalsaBlvd is a website celebrating the classic salsa from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's. As such, we have endeavored to provide only a brief history of the origins of the dynamic contemporary music that is Salsa. For anyone wanting to know more about the genre, we have included references and links here: Books & Reference