The Salsa Club and its dancers nurture a healthy interest in the musical cultures that created the dances they so enjoy: salsa, bachata, and cha-cha. Learning more about their histories fosters a deeper appreciation for the music and provides each dancer with a richer dancing experience.
Peeling back the layers and exploring the origins of son, bolero, mambo, salsa, timba, bachata, cha-cha, boogaloo, cumbia, reggaeton, merengue, bossa nova, rumba, tango, and samba, this brief aural tour provides an entry point into the ever-expanding world of Latin American music.
Son and Cuban Son
Formed in eastern Cuba in the 19th century, son combines Spanish and African flavours into one of the most mesmerising music forms around. The genre is deeply rooted in the country’s history and forms one of the foundations upon which many Latin American music genres are based.
Se Quema La Chumbambá, Para Ti Nengón, and Obsesión De Amor— Kiki Valera and La Familia Valera Miranda
Bolero and Bolero Son
Influenced by traditional Cuban son, this musical expression also hails from eastern Cuba. Its definitive artists include the likes of Los Panchos, Los Tres Diamantes, Benny More, Tito Rodriguez, and singers from the legendary Cuban band La Sonora Matancera: Daniel Santos, Bievenido Granda, Celia Cruz, and Celio Gonzalez among others. The genre enjoyed popularity in the 1970s when a new wave of romantic singers from Latin America music world sought new balladic inspiration.
Cuba De Mis Boleros—Boleros De Colección
Danzon and Mambo
1930s Cuban music had danzon as its core influence; it was developed by two brothers, Orestes Lopez and Israel “Cachao” Lopez, both members of the Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas band. In 1938, they produced a danzon single called “Mambo.” By using heavier African beats in their music, this new type of music became known as danzon mambo—it was later influenced by jazz and big band music. Damaso Perez Prado, a Cuban pianist, is credited with consolidating the definitive arrangements that made mambo music famous around the world with two of his most famous pieces: “Que Rico Mambo” and “Mambo No. 5.” Artists such as Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente continued to build on Perez Prado’s sound.
In the 1960s, a new sound coming out of New York City was starting to take over, built on son, charanga, and mambo rhythms: salsa music. Mambo also laid the foundation of cha-cha music and continues to be a feature of ballroom dancing.
Mambo No. 5—Perez Prado
As the most popular genre of Latin American music, salsa’s upbeat tempo was developed by Cuban musicians in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. The energetic music genre has distinctive features: the use of repeating patterns, lively percussion instruments (such as the conga drums, maracas, clave), and the integration of the piano, guitar, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. Its soneros—the singers and vocalists—are another hallmark.
Modern salsa music’s was popularised by Fania Records—the “Motown of salsa music”—through its domination of the genre in the late 1960s with artists such as Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe, and Tito Puente. The sound produced by this recording label came to be known as classic salsa.
As Fania Records and classic salsa’s popularity were waning in the mid-1980s, a softer salsa genre was taking off: salsa romantica coupled orchestral compositions and balladic love songs to a slower rhythms. Its detractors called it salsa monga (limp salsa) but it still has its fans today with artists such as Gilberto Santa Rosa, Marc Anthony, India, and Tito Nieves continuing the musical tradition.
Salsa dura (hard salsa) retains the basic characteristics of classic salsa: driving rhythms, call and response, montuno sections, and socially conscious lyrics. Salsa dura is energetic, with musical breaks, and blaring brass.
La Murga—Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe
Cuban salsa is built on the timba musical form. With a similar rhythm to salsa, it offers dancers the opportunity to cross pollinate their dancing with the same steps and patterns. Often classified as sub-genre of salsa, it has its own evolutionary journey. Salsa music in Cuba, under the Castro regime was quite insular since numerous broadcasts from outside of the country were discouraged. To innovate their music, Cuban musicians turned to older music forms resident on the island such as irakere formed by pianist and composer Chucho Valdes in 1973. Irakere incorporated jazz, rock and roll, R&B, and boogaloo as well as older African styles to create the rhythm that would later be known as timba.
Sin Susto—Papucho Y Manana Club featuring El Yera
The word “bachata” has gone through many translations in Dominican Republic history. First, it described traditional romantic guitar music. Second, bachata was also the name for informal Sunday afternoon parties where bachata music was played. Third, it was also the music used in entertainment cabarets (a polite term for brothels)—the stigma from this attachment is still felt today in Latin America.
In1961 with the dictator’s Rafael Trujillo’s death, bachata—then called bolero campensino (peasant music)—made its way to the capital, brought along by countryside’s working class population looking for better urban conditions. The bachata lyrics of this era focused on jealousy, rivalry, fights, and poverty—its dark themes earned it a unique title: the music of bitterness.
Bachata made a thematic shift in the 1980s with its lyrics being imbued with risqué innuendos. In the 1990s, bachata fused with the country’s dominant genre, merengue, with lyrical focuses on unrequited or disappointed love. Artists like Hector Acosta, Juan Luis Guerra, Aventura, Prince Royce, and Romeo Santos have spearheaded bachata music’s mainstream popularity and it is now enjoyed all over the world.
Bachata—Kay One featuring Cristobal
Also called the “cha-cha-cha”, this unmistakable dance and music genre originated in Cuba in the 1940s from mambo and rumba variants. The name is onomatopoeic in nature—it is derived from the sound the dancers’ shoes make as they shuffle around the floor. Cha-cha music is vibrant, light, and bubbly—these characteristics permit dancers to be flamboyant and playful on the dance floor.
Oye Como Va—Celia Cruz
Boogaloo, also called bugalú, originated in New York City and was developed as a fusion of African-American R&B, soul music, mambo, and son. It quickly became a dance favourite among Hispanic and Latino youth in the city because of its energetic tempo. A guaranteed party starter in the 1960s, Latin boogaloo songs were sang in English or Spanish with American Bandstand, a popular television show of the era, often credited with bringing it to mainstream audience.
El Nuevo Barretto—Ray Barretto
Originating in Colombia, cumbia music also claims Argentina and Chile as its ancestral homes. It is known for its combination of African and indigenous rhythms and uses instruments such as the gaita (a sort of flute) and the guacharacas (used for percussion).
Cumbia Del Caribe—Fruko Y Orquesta
Hailing from Puerto Rico, reggaeton is a blend of Latin American rhythms (merengue, bomba, plena, and salsa) and Jamaican dance hall. The percussive beat, called dembow comes from Trinidad and Tobago’s soca music and fuses electronic dance music, hip-hop elements, and Spanish or Spanglish rap to form a compelling, driving sound.
One of the Dominican Republic’s greatest exports, merengue (both a genre and dance style) is known for its tempo and sentimental melodies. With its roots in African rhythms, it is based on repeating a five-beat pattern called quintillo and uses instruments such as a diatonic accordion, a two-sided drum known as a tambora and a metal scraper known as a güira.
Tu Sonrisa—Elvis Crespo
João Gilberto, a Brazilian musician, is credited as bossa nova’s creator in the 1960s. The genre is a mixture of samba and jazz flavours. Utilising the guitar, the berimbau (a musical bow), drums, pianos, and vocals, bossa nova is known for its sophisticated, harmonic sounds.
Portrait In Bossa Nova—João Gilberto
Accompanied by two to three conga drums and sticks, rumba is a medium-to-fast paced Afro-Cuban style of music with its roots in Congo, in Africa. It is also a popular ballroom dance style.
I’m Not Giving You Up—Gloria Estefan
With Argentina and Uruguay being this music genre’s homes, tango is often associated with slow, sensual dancing. Its music consists of a traditional tango sextet which comprises a piano, the double bass, two violins, and two bandonéons (a type of concertina or accordion) that gives tango music is signature sound.
Tango To Evora—Loreena McKennitt
Brazilian popular music traces its origins to the 19th century when samba overtook choro as the musical dance of choice. The founding of samba schools to provide training in samba dancing made the genre more popular, and when it became the staple of Carnaval, its place in the Brazilian cultural imagination had been solidified. Today, various forms of music from Brazil have all been influenced by samba.
Chama Berenice—Grupo Arruda