Traditional salsa music: Guide to Salsa Music: A Brief History of the Salsa Genre — 2022

The 15 Best Salsa Music Songs Ever

Trying to sum up a half century of music that is a signature of Latin identity at the same time that it has been embraced by people around the world in one list is not easy. But then again, salsa should feel like the opposite of stress. So, while we can’t tell the entire story of salsa in 15 tracks, we can guarantee that these great classic songs should be part of your essential salsa music playlist.


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Celia Cruz

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Héctor Lavoe

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“Periódico de Ayer,” Hector Lavoe

Hector Lavoe will always be “the voice” of salsa. While Lavoe’s signature “El Cantante” and his Latino anthem “Mi Gente” should also be part of any salsa playlist, we chose “Periódico de Ayer” because it sums up the sound of the Seventies New York salsa scene, and still puts a spell on dancers.


“El Preso,” Fruko y Sus Tesos

Colombian band Fruko y Sus Tesos’ 1975 anthem is the most liberating Salsa song about prison ever recorded.


Fuego en el 23, La Sonora Ponceña

Fusing hard salsa music with fire truck sirens, Puerto Rican group La Sonora Ponceña’s crowd favorite is always caliente.


“Pedro Navaja,” Willie Colon and Rubén Blades

The evergreen crossover hit from the groundbreaking album Siembra features salsa music’s best-known chorus (“La vida te da sorpresas Sorpresas te da la vida, ay dios”).


“Vivir Mi Vida,” Marc Anthony

Marc Anthony’s salsa comeback hit swept the 2014 Billboard Latin Music Awards.


“La Rebelión,” Joe Arroyo

A revisionist history lesson marked by Afro-Latin percussion and punctuated by horns and a traveling piano solo, the great Colombian salsero Joe Arroyo’s 1986 grooving protest song continues to resonate on dance floors throughout Latin America.


“Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso,” El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

A 2010 salsa track from the Puerto Rican institution exemplifies the required curriculum of the band known as the “salsa university.”


“Cali Pachanguero,” Grupo Niche

Colombia’s Grupo Niche lend their cool salsa style to this tribute to their home town.


“Toro Mata,” Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco

Celia Cruz’s transformation from Cuban singer to “queen of salsa” took place in New York City, where she signed with Fania Records. Like her other fantastic recordings, her rumbafied version of the Afro-Peruvian standard “Toro Mata” with Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco captured the euphoria of the times.


“Ven, Devorame Otra Vez,” Lalo Rodríguez

Puerto Rican singer Lalo Rodríguez seduced romantic salsa lovers with his 1989 hit “Ven, Devorame Otra Vez.”


“Las Caras Lindas,” Ismael Rivera

Ismael Rivera’s beautiful ode to “my black people,” demonstrates the power of socially-conscious salsa.


“Llorerás,” Oscar D´Leon

The signature song from Venezuela’s salsa star Oscar D’Leon, who adds his unique swing to a Cuban-rooted sound.


“Dile a Ella,” Victor Manuelle

Before he teamed up with urban artists like Farruko and Bad Bunny, Victor Manuelle brought energy to the scene in the 1990s with salsa songs like “Dile a Ella.”


“Conteo Regresivo,” Gilberto Santa Rosa

The “gentleman of salsa” demonstrates his suave approach to the genre on “Conteo Regresivo.”


“Quítate Tú,” Fania All Stars

Every salsa music playlist should include at least one song from the Fania All Stars’ revolutionary 1969 performance at New York’s Cheetah club.

The best 9 salsa songs to dance

When we start to dance, it helps a lot to know the type of music best suited to learn and evolve, to practice what you learned in dance classes at your school.

The best songs or themes, of the style we like to dance, are almost always the slowest, because they tend to give us a marked rhythm and it will be easier for us to identify the times. In this way we will be able to assimilate the movements, and the boy will have the seconds he needs to think about the next movement and indicate it to his partner.

If you’re learning to dance salsa, most of the songs you hear at your dance academy sound familiar. But some may not so much.

What songs do you like to dance salsa? If you’ve been dancing for a while, which ones do you recommend? Tell us about your experience, we would like to read you…

Salsa has imposed itself all over the world as one of the most danced genres. For the very dancers and for those who don’t like to dance, the world of salsa has grown and continues to evolve and you can almost start dancing with 5 simple steps.


The 4 most listened salsa songs in history

1 — Celia Cruz, “La vida es un carnaval”

“Todo aquel que piense que la vida es desigual, tiene que saber que no es así, que la vida es una hermosura y hay que vivirla…”. With this beginning, no one can resist listening to the lyrics of one of the songs that elevated Celia Cruz to the top of the international music scene.

«La vida es un carnaval» was written by Celia Cruz herself, along with Sergio George and Victor Daniel, and released as the first single from the studio album «Mi vida es cantar» in 1998.


2 — Héctor Lavoe “Periódico de Ayer”

This song was composed in 1976, within the album «De ti depende». In that work, «Periódico de Ayer» would be considered the best, among other things for the singer’s interpretation, arrangements and lyrics.


3 — Eddie Palmieri “Vámonos pal monte”

Palmieri, the «Emperor of Salsa«, organized his first orchestra at the age of 14. After a long career, in 2013 he received the most prestigious jazz award in the United States.


4 — Lalo Rodríguez, “Devórame otra vez”

The sensual and suggestive voice of Lalo Rodríguez does not cease to sound even today, with this song that was framed in the subgenre that represented salsa, in the decade of the 80s.


The 5 salsa songs you’ve heard the most

5 — Rigo El Negro, “La más bella”

One of the artists of the moment, the panamanian Rigoberto Caparrosa, called Rigo «El Negro».


6 — Los hermanos LeBron, “Qué haces aquí”

With a long experience in Latin music, this group from Puerto Rico continues to provide the best music for dancing.


7 — Tirso Duarte & Guayacán, “El más rico beso”

Another song that plays on the best Latin music stations.


8 — Marc Anthony, “Vivir mi vida”

In 2013 it was one of the main themes of the salsa world, and still is.


9 — Mauro Castillo, “El alboroto”

After passing through some groups, Mauro Castillo began a solo career, with themes like this.


I’m sure you’ve heard more than one of these songs. If you liked the article, share it… and don’t stop dancing.


Do you want to know more?…. The origins of salsa music

Contrary to what it may seem, the origins of salsa are not in Cuba, but in Venezuela. It is said that this term «salsa» began to be used for the first time for Latin music made in New York in the 1960s.

On Radio Difusora Venezolana, a radio station much listened to at the time, there was a program called «La hora de la Salsa, el sabor y el bembé,» which began around noon, just when the houses that listened to it were giving the final touches to food and sauces for it.

You can see the documentary on the history of salsa here below:

It was a time when Caribbean music had become fashionable in Puerto Rico and New York. The presenter of that Venezuelan program was called Fidias Danilo Escalona, and he set out to extend those rhythms to Venezuela as well, and he got it. He interviewed singers of the musical genres of the Caribbean, those Latin artists who were going to Venezuela to perform and was popularizing this musical style.


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Music to which salsa is danced

Depending on the music, salsa dancing, like any other dance, can be very fast and energetic, or calm and romantic. At the same time, it is important to hear the music, then you will perform all the movements in the dance at the right time. Salsa can be danced to a variety of music. How not to get confused in the styles and varieties of music for salsa, we will tell in this article.

A bit of history

Few people know that at first there was Cuban dance music, to which they danced son, danson, dansonette and many other dances, and later styles such as cha-cha-cha and mambo. Modern salsa has evolved from the traditional Cuban son. Son corresponds to his own dance of the same name, he danced in different forms, including social with a small number of figures and stage, with complex figures.

In the 1950s, various Cuban orchestras played outdoors and indoors, and people moved to the rhythm of the music. To this music, young and creative Cubans began to dance rueda de casino and double casino — what is now called Cuban salsa.

Since the 19th century, and in Havana since 1910, an urban style of son performance has developed. In the 1930s, the son became incredibly popular in the United States thanks to the unexpected success of the song «Nutseller», then came the era of «mambo madness» — a whole generation of young Americans danced to Caribbean rhythms literally until they dropped. However, by 1960, the Americans had lost interest in Latin American dance music and dances, and a revolution took place in Cuba itself, and the entire entertainment industry of the Island of Freedom turned out to be irrelevant for a long time. In New York, salsa combined Cuban music (mambo, son, folk songs), Latin American jazz, and a lot of Puerto Rican and even Colombian traditional music.

After salsa experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s and quickly broke into Europe, it was complemented by rock, jazz, pop and R’n’B. But even after significant modifications, salsa music remains original and original today, like the dance itself.

By the way, you can read more about the origin of salsa dance here.

Salsa and rhythm

Good music cannot exist without rhythm. The dancer must feel the rhythm and pulse of the music, only after that he will be able to understand the whole idea, the meaning of the dance.

Salsa music is characterized by a variety of instruments, especially percussion, so finding the right rhythm for dancing can be very difficult. How to be?

  1. Remember that in general music a measure is 4 beats, but in a basic salsa step it is 8 counts (per two measures of music). Depending on the style of the dance, the movement can start at a different count.
  2. Listen carefully to the music and dance with the rhythm of the percussion instruments and melodies.

What are the rhythms of the different salsa styles?

In the article about the types of salsa, we have already briefly talked about what kind of music is most often used to dance salsa of one style or another. Each way to dance salsa will have its own unique style, its own energy and rhythm. For example:

  • Modern Cuban salsa (timba) has a hard and energetic sound, because it uses mainly drums and brass instruments, as well as electric instruments — synthesizers, electric guitars, etc. It also has a noticeable influence of reggaeton, hip hop and other modern music styles. Perfect for casino and rueda de casino.
  • Puerto Rican salsa is a soft, pop version of salsa. The rhythm is even and predictable, with interesting accents and a catchy melody. It contains elements of national Puerto Rican music — bombs and captivity. Today, this salsa variant is the most common for the New York-style dance or “mambo for 2”.
  • Colombian salsa is based on traditional Colombian music with original elements and national culture, and is characterized by a fast tempo. The corresponding salsa is “kali”.
  • Salsa romantica features a soft ballad-style melody with little percussion. This is the music of the early 90s, it is easy to recognize it by sonorous synthetic piano parts and languid voices.
  • Salsa dura is a more energetic and hard variant of Puerto Rican salsa that tends to have a more upbeat tempo and hard sounding brass section. For example, preference is given to trombones. Salsa dura fits perfectly with the Los Angeles dance style.

How to choose the right music for salsa?

At parties, competitions or dance studios, the music is usually chosen by either the organizer or the teacher. What are the criteria for choosing music for salsa yourself?

  1. It is desirable that the music matches the chosen style of salsa, otherwise it may be difficult at first to understand where to enter and how not to lose the rhythm.
  2. If you are taking your first steps in learning salsa, choose music that is easy to follow and not too fast. It’s good if you can clearly hear percussion, drums and bass — they will help you keep the rhythm.

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