It is no secret that music has always been a vast source of social expressions that tell an infinite number of stories dating back to the time and focused on the awakening of the personal and collective conscience of the people at the time. This is exactly what has happened with salsa and Latin music in general from its origins.
As is the case for almost all known musical genres, salsa was the result of a set of migration waves caused by the political, social and economic issues that were gestating in a large part of the Latin countries. These people saw in various cities across the U.S. the place they were looking for to start a new life far from the suffering of the past. This is how large Latino communities were growing in the country, New York being one of the cities with the highest number of these new residents.
Although people from all over the continent immigrated to the United States, there is no denying that Puerto Ricans and Cubans started making an impact on their new home, at least in cultural terms. Cities that received these new citizens were already becoming too small for the large number of immigrants who would not stop arriving, which presented a challenge for the old and new inhabitants.
A number of new arrivals were forced to live in inhumane conditions to find themselves in places which did not have minimum conditions of dignity to house human beings. This led many of them to live a life of squalor equal to the one from which they were fleeing, or even worse.
This is how neighborhoods were starting to be born in New York City, which was gradually configured in small communities inhabited only by people of one or certain nationality. It was this mix of old and new culture that gave birth to new rhythms that were born on the streets and began to spread robustly. At that time, we were starting to enjoy the talent of Cheo Feliciano and historic boleros of Pedro Flores were becoming increasingly present in the rickety windows of Latin low-income neighborhoods.
This social situation coincided with the creation of the record label Fania Records from the hand of the legendary Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci. The early work of the label attracted a great deal of attention due to its freshness and novelty in comparison with what was being done at the time. Fania All Stars, Bobby Valentín’s orchestra and a few other groups, not noticing it, began to start a trend to the sound of timbales and claves whose rhythm was increasingly fast and furious.
The young people of the time were clamoring for music far from art academies and social circles which became more and more unattainable for them. Something that many would call music closer to the street and much more like them. The black population had ceased to be represented by much acclaimed jazz artists at the time and could feel its purest essence in boogaloo.
For those who do not know, boogaloo can be defined as a genre of Latin origin resulting from the mixing of Afro-Cuban rhythms and American soul, which was already beginning to be sung in both English and Spanish. This last shows the widespread influence of the arrival of so many Latinos to the United States in such a short amount of time.
This is what made the figures that would later emerge so famous. In addition to Pacheco and Valentin, names like Pete Rodriguez, Monguito, Ismael Miranda, and Ismael Rivera were also popularized. And of course, nor can we fail to mention the explosive duo formed by Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón.
What the term salsa means
After the emergence of the already mentioned artists, there came about a great confusion concerning the meaning of the term salsa, as that was the word chosen to refer to the music done by a growing group of singers in New York. This, of course, did not make Tito Puente and Machito content, who saw the pioneers of this new trend as intruders who came to take the place they had already earned by pluck and application.
Some scholars of the subject have stated that the term salsa comes from a kind of like campaigning in which this rising genre was likened to the seasoning used in food to make it more appetizing. Others said that it was just a phrase that says échale salsa (salsa in Spanish can also refer to sauce used in the kitchen) used by various musicians for sudden changes in rhythm. Fania Records used this to make its artists famous and it worked as well as expected.
During the 1970s, the genre hung over the youth of the time and the old school that took quite a lot to impress.
What part Cuba and the Cuban Revolution played in all this.
It is undeniable that Cuban music had a before and an after due to the Cuban Revolution. When Castro came to power, high tensions began to arise between the island and the United States, which caused the Caribbean country to be perceived as a threat by the media of the time. This made its cultural and artistic expressions to be no longer seen with good eyes. This led artists who were afraid of being censored to rename it as salsa and pass it off as Latin music.
This salsa ended up by uniting an entire continent in a single voice, for it spoke of a shared culture and a common origin that not only stood for Cuba, but also for Latin America in full. This was what turned the genre into an identity movement for countries such as Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, and many more. There was a time all these nations were competing to be considered the official home of salsa.
This brought about a countless number of historic concerts in which the Fania All Stars, other groups, and artists proved that the Fania got huge potential as a product. This was the exact same Cuban music with certain variations that never left the art world despite pressures to do so.
If you want more information, you can read Génesis of Salsa, its essence, characteristics, rhythm, history and expansión