Music and Community: Salsa
Salsa is a music genre mainly based on Puerto Rican and Cuban well-known dance music. It was initially created in New York City in the 1970's, and it has been evolving since then up to date. It is a product of other music genres such as guaracha, Cuban son, and chachacha among others. Its popularity spread very fast, and now it is an ultimate global phenomenon. Thematic wealth and emotional depth of salsa, as well as my interest in this music, triggered my eagerness to gain more knowledge on this topic and this culture, in general. Marc Anthony has been my favorite artist alongside Celia Cruz and Gilberto Santa Rosa.
Initially, I was a passive listener of salsa in commercials and radios until one day when I heard some Marc Anthony playing live salsa. The melody and the rhythm touched me and lifted my whole being, and I just needed to be there and see more. I got his chance by the event flyer, which stated that salsa music moves one's feet and soul. Thus, my acquaintance with the music was triggered by love and desire to see, hear, and research more about salsa. It has been educative, symbolic, and revolutionary in many ways. The themes addressed in this genre such as ethics, values, identity, politics, love, gender, race, etc. have played a major role in my the formation of my outlook and social life along with its beautiful nature, which brings about enjoyment. Like any other music genre, salsa has a culture, and this study aims at discovering the cultural influence on salsa music, which helped me understand the Cuban immigrants in the United States who had originally brought it to the US.
This study is relevant to the academic world, as it will help many understand the relation between music and the society, particularly represented in salsa. It will also bring about the history of this music genre, the culture that has influenced its formation, as well as other important aspects that most people who appreciate salsa might not know. The work is also important, as it will stimulate the curiosity of getting into researching other genres of music and coming up with their inherent messages that many people are not aware of despite being the audience. In addition, the research will contribute to the appreciation of salsa music and its roots and culture without forgetting the Cuban immigrants who had founded the genre.
According to Salazar, Johnny Pacheco was the one who created the Fania All Stars, which introduced salsa music in New York. The members of Fania All Stars included Ray Barreto, Tito Puente, Willie Colon among others all of Cuba origin. The genre is popular across North America and Latin America including varying, multiple styles. Salsa music is modeled into polished, tight, and commercially fruitful sounds.
Salsa has several lyrics trends, which range from sentimental romantic lyrics, simple dance songs, and politically radical to risqué songs. The ways in which the lyrics are incorporated and the themes used usually depict a humble background of the artists as well as their origins. The lyrics tend to quote often the traditional Cuban rumbas and songs, which are about the religious beliefs of the Afro-Cuban people. This practice is common even in those artists who are non-believers or do not practice the particular religion. The themes involved in salsa lyrics are socially and environmentally conscious and nationalistic in that they appreciate the pride of its founders as well as the identity of the Black Latino.
Study conducted by Rojo shows that the unprecedented spread and popularity of salsa all over Latin America and globally has led to it embracing the preferences of the expressions of music styles displayed in the music of this area. Moreover, this music has helped in shaping and preserving the culture of the Afro-Cuban individuals because it manifests their collective identity, which when internalized, brings about personal identity, as well. The Cuban history, culture, emigration past, and the collective spirit of different generations have been modeled by salsa, giving them a sense of belonging and identity, which were unpainted from the African migration.
Safa H, comments that among themes in the focus of salsa music are racism, which was part of the Caribbean life, and slavery, as well as the Cuban migration. The soft, reflective, and spiritual lyrics bring about faith and intervene in matters concerning religion. It brings about the urge of belonging and respecting different religions at the same time preserving the educative aspects of the songs and the therapeutic effect of its melodic sound, which soothes one whenever disturbed.
Gil clearly shows that, Salsa music also brings about the urge to dance to the soft, slow motion, and the passionate and energetic lyrics contribute to the psychological calmness and physiological fitness of the listener. From the other side, the messages embedded in the songs tend to unveil several political, historical, racial, gender, social struggles, and other realities that are revolving around the world through the rhythms rooted in the traditional and cultural values.
Johnny Pacheco, who was born in 1935, created salsa in 1970. Pacheco is a composer, producer, musician, and a bandleader and more importantly, a celebrated figure in Latin music. He is also the one who coined the word "salsa" to denote a genre of the music. His parents had migrated to New York when he was 11 years, and his father was a devoted musician, which greatly contributed to the musical talent and skills of Johnny Pacheco. He began his music career by playing saxophone, flute, and an assorted percussion in the year 1959. In 1960, he managed to organize his own orchestra with which he released his first album and sold over 100,000 copies. He also went on tours throughout Europe, United States, Latin America, and Asia, which made him a renowned personality and a star. In 1964, he joined another artist Jerry Masucci with whom they created the Fania All Stars. The Fania Family released a hit record that made Salsa music gain fame and unforeseeable celebrity all over the world. Also, Pacheco has composed and recorded over 160 songs, and he has been an inspirational person to the young generations.
According to side dish of salsa, an article by Ernesto Lechner, Salsa music as a genre started in New York City in the 1970's and had been a recognizable label in the city for many years. After Fania, All Stars released their music that quickly spread to other destinations, leading to the expansion of salsa. Some musicians started coming up with several musical innovations and introduced new musical instruments such as the plucked string instrument and the cuatro. Celia Cruz, who was a talented in Cuban musician, also got endorsed in salsa in New York and was later named the queen of salsa. This genre evolved fast, and new technological instruments were introduced, such as the electric piano, to advance the music. Consequently, more bands started coming up, and salsa became more popular.
However, during the 1970's, North Americans started incorporating their rock, jazz, and funk in salsa leading to the diversification of the Cuban music as well as salsa at large. Nevertheless, despite this divergence, salsa preserved its originality and roots, and its fans celebrated it more than the mixes that were appearing at that time. In 1980,'s many Cuban refugees were brought to the United States, and surprisingly, many of them were musicians. The players thought of the music being old, and they dwelled more on incorporating jazz components to enhance their style. They realized modern Cuban trends and integrated the Cuban rhythms with those of jazz. This era brought about a lot of innovations and creations, and new bands were formed such as the Gonzalez brothers.
According to Rondon .C. and his colleagues, the 1980's generation expanded salsa to Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Japan and contributed to the diversification of new stylistic interpretations. Columbian musicians also have adopted salsa and came up with bands and performers who sang Columbian salsa such as Joe Arroyo. The diversification of this style was reflected in its evolving to smooth and sweet salsa romantic, the lyrics of which were based on feelings and love. The salsa romantic contributed to the creation of salsa erotica. It was characterized by highly poetic lyrics. It also emphasized on melodies over the rhythms including the use of percussion breaks as well as changes of chords, making the singers gather broad audiences.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, salsa romantic was highly criticized, and people referred to it as a diluted Latin music that was commercialized and did not give room to the original classical salsa and musical improvisation. The original classical salsa needed room to tell stories about day-to-day lives and make commentaries on political and social phenomena. They regarded the salsa youths who sang romantic to be more of their sex appeal than the music quality.
Moreover, in the article by Enrique Lopetegui it is clear that due to the conflicting ideas, salsa lost its popularity among the Latino youth who then joined rock music. However, many musicians continued to perform, combining salsa with the music of other cultures to diversify it. They united it with soul music, hip-hop, and R&B. This approach contributed to the intense dilution of the roots and culture of the Afro-Cuban musical rhythms. However, in spite of the dilutions, salsa still endured them and became more culturally diverse. The singers did not stop paying respect to the originality of salsa, and they still used the instrumentations such as the clave to represent the identity of Puerto Ricans.
According to University of Texas review we find that Salsa became popular in Cuba; however, initially, it had been considered as a bad version of the Cuban music. Africans were not left indifferent and adopted salsa into their musical culture. They came up with the African salsa mixed with their contemporary genres. Other musicians of the 1990's era included Sergio George, who mixed salsa with some pop styles with other artists like Marc Anthony. As a result, salsa became part of many countries due to being incorporated into the artistic work of this generation. Until now, producers are recording well-blended salsa and genre-hybrids like Salsa Gordo, salsa merengue, and Latin house. Salsa has not lost its roots and culture; on the contrary, it evolved and became diversified.
I was able to interview Lorenzo Partita who is a Casino owner and his life has been affiliated with this music genre. Lorenzo Partita was born in 1978 in Las Vegas which is one of the fastest growing cities in the states. He attended Odyssey Charter Schools in Nevada where he studied accounting but his passion was highly built in music. His parents moved to Mexico in 1989 where he completed his schooling. As he was schooling in Mexico he met some students who had a salsa band known as Mexico Salsa Stars and since music was his passion he joined the band. He has been entertaining people in his casino with a number of salsa music and he confessed that Marc Anthony is his best artist and he contributed to his current ideas on music. In 2002 he also opened another music school in Las Vegas which trains children with the passion for music and especially salsa music and dance.
He is an important figure for the research because he is someone who has a vast knowledge in salsa and has been in the industry for several years. He has many salsa records, and hence, he is the perfect person who can provide useful and valuable insight into salsa music, its history, its culture, and the general themes incorporated into this style. His opinion is of great importance and will help to attract more attention from the people willing to learn from this research. He also has knowledge of the history of salsa how it started form the afro-cuban people who were mainly migrants. “In 1980’s salsa was being mixed with jazz music and rock and this interested me a lot and triggered my ego for more innovations and revolutionizing salsa music. I therefore joined the band whole heartedly”, the musician said. He insisted that since 1990’s salsa has changed a little but the change is acceptable since it has not diluted the roots of salsa.
The interviewee portrayed a broad knowledge in the music genre especially its history, culture, lyrics peculiarities, and rhythms while not leaving behind the major styles and instrumentations. He also explained that he appreciates the Cuban music and roots. In his speech, he traced the timeline and covered the stylistic differences in music since he started singing up to date, as well as the evolution of its sounding, saying that music can be compared to a baby, and salsa being a young genre needs to grow. According to Lorenzo, salsa’s young age explains the diversification being witnessed throughout its history. He said that, “whoever is a parent and has a child will always monitor the child’s growth, and in this case salsa is my child and I will ensure that I monitor and support its growth. The revolution of salsa music is very important and it contributes to its growth and development of new techniques”. Moreover, the musician insisted that people should not think that salsa is straying from its roots and culture. He finished the interview saying, "Salsa is still salsa, and whoever believes in salsa being dilute is the one who does not want change and development. I will encourage people to invest in their creativity and innovations in coming up with more varieties of salsa music."
In addition I have also interviewed twenty students from our school and among the twenty students 16 students are salsa fans and they also collect the music. They showed their appreciation to salsa music artists and the Cuban people for coming up with the music from their own cultural music and for dwelling in a number of themes and congratulated the salsa musicians for retaining the salsa roots up to date. One of the student said, “It is challenging since the people who came up with salsa music had so many challenges and they still sang nice songs”. However all the interviewees supported the incorporation of salsa with other music genres which contributes to its diversification and aesthetic nature and applaud the maintenance of the salsa roots and culture.
Considering the ethnomusicological themes, salsa is entirely based on the aspect of ethnicity. It appreciates its musical roots, which are the Cuban music, and thus, the songs do not miss a Cuban touch in them. In their songs, the performers incorporate cultural, racial, and ethnical motives among the contest and ethical challenges they faced during migration and after it.
It should be noted that salsa also dwells on the theme of politics, expressing the major issues experienced by the nation. This peculiarity is present in salsa music of different performers and various cultures.
Theme of politics
The review made by University of Texas shows that some songs praise the political structure and politicians, and most importantly, patriotism, but at the same time is used to criticize the bad politics in the society. Moreover, as already stated, the theme of migration is extensively used by the musicians. It is mostly based on the causes, challenges, and consequences of migration, as well as its impact on the lives of the Cuban people. This tendency has been brought about by the generation that migrated to the United States. Particular attention is being attributed to the stories about the land, which these people migrated from.
Nationalism is a theme widely covered in salsa lyrics whereby most musicians talk about their patriotism and appreciation of the Afro-Cuban heritage, as well as that of the United States, a country that became their new home and which gave birth to this music. Other nations that adopted salsa such as African countries, also praise their homelands, declaring their appreciation and love to their peoples.
Theme of tourism and travel
According to Garland encyclopedia of world music, salsa also covers the themes of travel. Moreover, it is believed to have made some contribution to tourism. Most people enjoy traveling and the songs praising the thus trip encouraging tourism. Tourists and connoisseurs are visiting different countries to see the diversification of salsa and get a closer look at the various cultures incorporated in this music genre. On the other hand, through travelling to different locations, people open up this genre in its variety and richness, and more people begin to appreciate and enjoy this music, which consequently, leads to the cultural development of the individuals.
Education is another theme that is essential in salsa songs. They tend to encourage education, talk of the benefits of being educated and discuss the issue of lack of education. It praises those who have embraced education. There are songs that serve as teachings and educative regarding several aspects of life such as moral values and ethics.
Most salsa musicians are using their salsa music to declare their love and express their feelings towards their loved one’s as well as their expressions towards love.
The music is built in the Cuban culture since the music style and the lyrics are still rooted in the Cuban culture. This shows that salsa is still enduring in the culture.
Music in the diaspora and music and migration
Salsa music was started in United States by the Latin’s who were not citizens by originality and the music still dwelt on the Cuban trends. The people had migrated from their original home.
Salsa music is termed to be therapeutically because it initiates a smooth flow of mind and it helps avert cases such as depression.
Music and dance
Salsa music has brought about the salsa dance whereby the slow motion and energetic lyrics make an individual engage in the dance.
According to Berrios-Miranda, M., salsa is not just a music genre but also a versatile phenomenon. It actualizes life and gives one the desire to appreciate the music, the rhythm, the style and even oneself and the others. Although it may be regarded as a popularized musical genre, it covers a wide range of significant societal, cultural, and ethical issues. It touches upon the significant aspects of human existence and development as an individual and citizen of the world by praising relationships and socialization, gender and race sensitivity, and peace and religion.
The interview with a renowned musician Marc Anthony allows us to realize that salsa has several ways of expressing people's ideas and thoughts, which are beyond communicating verbally or common daily interactions. Marc Anthony believes that salsa is also a good way of strengthening people's senses and instincts, as well as boosting the social tolerance of individuals. From the personal standpoint, I admire salsa for its characteristics in addition to its therapeutic and healing effect on an individual. Its lyrics and rhythms transfer the listener from the initial state of mind, which might have been disturbing, to a perfect state of enjoyment. It is also educative and informative in matters concerning social life, racism, ethnicity, politics, and media among others.