Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean rhythm that is popular in many Latino countries. Salsa incoporates multiple styles and variations; the term can be used to describe most any form of the popular Cuban-derived musical genres (like chachachá and mambo), but is most often applied to a mid-1970s group of New York City-area Cuban and Puerto Ricann immigrants to the United States, and stylistic descendants like 1980s salsa romantica.

Salsa's roots can be traced back to the African ancestors that were brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish as slaves. In Africa, it is very common to find people playing music with instruments like la conga and la pandereta, instruments commonly used in Salsa, thus creating a sound similar to that of Salsa. Salsa most direct antecedent is Cuban son montuno, which itself is a combination of African and European influences. Puerto Rican plena, Trinidadian calypso, Jamaican reggae, American rock, Dominican merengue and Colombian cumbia are also major sources of musical inspiration during the 1970s-New York melting pot. Puerto Rico's predominent Spanish background mixed with Cuba's African, Andalucian and indigenous peoples to form the basis of salsa, beginning with Arsenio Rodriguez Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Perez Prado, Machito and Felix Chappotín, Aragon and Riverside in the 1940s.

In the ensuing two decades, the steady succession of chart-topping Latin styles like mambo, rumba, chachachá and charanga refined and evolved the elements of son montuno, achieving great popularity from the United States to Europe and Japan.

The growth of modern salsa, however, is said to have begun in the streets of New York in the late 1960s. By this time, Latin pop was no longer a major force in American music, having lost ground to doo wop, R&B and rock and roll. The influence of Latino immigrants, in particular Cubans and Puerto Ricans, to New York, and the need of these people to feel closer to home, brought about the growth of salsa. The New-York based recording company, Fania Records, introduced many of first-generation salsa singers and muscians to the world. Founded by Johnny Pacheco, Fania's illustrious career began with Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe's El Malo in 1967. This was followed by a series of updated son montuno and plena tunes that evolved into salsa by 1973.

From New York, salsa quickly expanded to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin countries. Singers such as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz became household names, not only in North American Latino homes but all over the Caribbean. Later, groups like El Gran Combo and The Apollo All Stars with Roberto Rohena among others, followed suit.

The 1970s saw a number of musical innovations among salsa musicians. The Puerto Rican cuatro guitar was added by Yomo Toro and Larry Harlow introduced the electric piano, while vocalists like Cheo Feliciano and Celia Cruz adopted Brazilian songs. Ray Barretto, Tipica 73, Conjunto Clasico, Rubén Blades and Eddie Palmieri were other important artists of the era, while Peregoyo y su Combo Vacano brough Colombian influences to salsa and brought the music to their homeland. By the 1980s, Fania Records long-time leadership of salsa was weakened by the arrival of TH-Rodven and RMM, while Joe Arroyo made Colombia a center for salsa.

The 1980s was a time of diversification, as popular salsa evolved into sweet and smooth salsa romantica, with lyrics dwelling on love and romance, and its more explicit cousin, salsa erotica. José Alberto's 1984 Noches Calientes is considered the beginning of this era, which was soon dominated by Puerto Rican stars. By the late 1980s, salsa had influenced Latin rap and found artists like Sergio George returning the music to its mambo roots and adding a prominent trombone section.

Salsa during the 1980s also expanded to Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Europe and Japan, where (Japan) it was popularized by the famous Orquesta Del Sol. Orquesta del Sol, or Orquestra of the Sun, became famous in many Latin American countries also. Colombia continued its salsa innovations through the 1980s, and artists like Fruko, Los Nemus del Pacifico and Latin Brothers added cumbia influences, while the 1990s saw Carlos Vives mix vallenato into Colombian salsa. Cuban-born Roberto Torres invented charanga-vallenata in the 80s, making Miami a salsa center. This status helped launch the career of Gloria Estefan, a mainstream American star, and others who helped invent the Miami Sound, a mixture of rock and pop. Venezuelan salsa has also become popular, especially Oscar D'Leon, while others, like Nelson Pueblo, added native llanera music influences.

Evolving out of salsa from Cuba, timba drew on songo rhythms and was invented by bands like Los Van Van and NG La Banda. By the 1990s, this form of Cuban-born salsa was known as timba and became popular across the world. Another form of Cuban salsa is songo-salsa, with extremely fast rapping.

Salsa has registered a steady growth and now dominates the airwaves in many countries in Latin America. In addition, several Latino artists, notably Marc Anthony, and most famously, the Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, have had success as crossovers, penetrating the Anglo-American pop market with latin-tinged hits, usually sung in English.

The most recent innovations in the genre include hybrids like mereng-house and salsa-merengue, alongside salsa gorda.


  • Steward, Sue. "Cubans, Nuyoricans and the Global Sound". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 488-506. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

See also:
Music of Puerto Rico, Music of Cuba, Music of the United States