The Caribbean region was the first American area to be populated by the immigrants from Africa. Those people with features and traits that differed greatly from the population of two American continents could nor but had a strong influence upon all the spheres of life of the Caribbean region. Their impact embraced the most various spheres: arts, literature, speech, religion, and, of course, music and dance. Their impact was great. Nevertheless all the following waves of immigrants brought to Americas their culture too, the influence of the African people was the greatest: everybody adopted their culture. The vital energy of African people let them took the Caribbean culture, transform it and create a new one, unique and unusual. That phenomenon got the name of creolization – the adoption of new African black culture and its quick and effective spread across two continents. Since then Latin American music could avoid the influence of strong African rhythms. The rhythmic loud energetic black music had imprinted the African homeland of the Caribbean inhabitants forever. That is why many genres of the world’s most favorite music originate from Latin America. They come from such countries as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica and many others.
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One of the most popular and famous genres of music is salsa. It comes from Puerto Rico. Salsa got a very strong influence of vibrating and energetic black music from the African continent. Salsa resembles mambo to a certain extent. It actually originated from mambo having become the independent musical genre. Nowadays the name of the genre denotes a rhythm, but originally it was a genre derived from Cuban rhythms such as Chachacha, Son and Mambo. The present salsa corresponds to a music style. This modern genre plays Cuban rhythms, such a Son, Guaracha, Son Montuno and Guaguanco. In this respect Johnny Pacheco – a man who is considered to have shown salsa to New York – claims that salsa has always had Cuban origin and has always been its native music.
The word “salsa” itself is of Spanish origin. It means “a sauce”. It can be associated with Spanish cuisine: the music may be as saucy as meals – that is a possible connotation implied on the name of the genre of music. This music style was created approximately in 1960-1970s. Actually salsa is a mixture of African and Spanish music that embraces the most peculiar features of two cultures. It is filled with the history of Puerto Rica and Cuba. Salsa usually begins with a simple melody that is usually improvised. Latin jazz adapted it. Trombone adds it additional aggressiveness and makes it more alike Cuban music. Besides trombones usually add to the general rhythm of a melody; they are usually accompanied by congas, bongos and timbales. Sometimes piano and horn are also present in salsa music.
The bands that play salsa music usually diversify their repertoire with songs that differ greatly from each other. They are bombas and plenas, merengue and vallenato. Practically all of them are variations of the famous Cuban son. All of them begin in the same way: with a melodic song; then a montuno break follows; then jazzy solos and instrumental breaks take their turn. The USA have slightly changed salsa music: they made a mix of different genres: meringue, salsa, cumbia, chachacha, bachata. But that actually depends on a DJ that performs music for young people.
Percussion is a distinctive feature of salsa music. It can be performed by many different instruments, such as cowbells, claves, conga and timbales. The other instruments that are used during the performance of salsa music are trombones, trumpets, and bass guitar. These are the principal instruments that are necessary and actually obligatory for salsa, but some artists can add many other instruments too. That does not violate the style, but gives additional individuality to a performer of music. In other words these are manifestations of a performer’s individuality and own style. Recently salsa music was performed by the tres guitars. The band that performed it was called a conjunto. But actually these groups are extinct now, and the tres has become a rarity. There are often twelve people in a band. One of them is a leader that rules the whole band. There are usually from two to four players that are responsible for horns. Other members of a band usually play different instruments: conga, bongo, piano, timbales and bass guitar. Some instruments may also be used by a singer -a vocalist: such as claves, maracas or guiro. Sometimes a vocalist also uses a bell to accompany the melody.
Salsa music is considered to be more appropriate for dances. That is why many songs do not abound in lyrics. If there are some lyrics in the song, they do not usually carry a difficult content; they are easy to understand, as the main idea of salsa music does not consist in words but in music itself and the feelings it arises. Modern salsa music is often very romantic, even sentimental and besides very touching. Its lyrics very often carry a sexual and emotional implication. The music and therefore lyrics do not necessary have to be strictly and before-planned. Improvisation is very welcome during the performance. It gives the additional confidential feeling and creates a very emotional atmosphere and relations between a performer and a listener of the salsa music. Besides practically all the lyrics refer to the Afro-Catholic religion. That does not depend on a person who performs a song, but is implied in the general idea of the salsa songs.
As it has already been said salsa originated from the Cuban son. It became the result of mixture of two cultures: African and European (particularly Spanish). Though the intensive development of salsa began after the 1960s, in 1930s salsa music was already rather popular in Cuba. It began to spread across the USA very quickly. American people liked the lively rhythms very much. The most popular performers of salsa music were Felix Chappotin and Arsenio Rodríguez that period. Those days salsa was very close to mambo. The centers of these music genres were in New York City and New Mexico. This situation can be justified by the fact that many bands that performed Latin music were attracted by the developing Hollywood. Most of the members of salsa and mambo bands were of Cuban and Puerto Rico origin. They were Perez Prado, Machito, Tito Rodríguez and Tito Puente. New York really likes that music of African immigrants.
Mambo and therefore jazz were in a great degree influenced by jazz music. However jazz tradition was greatly developed in the era of bebop. The 1950s also liked the Latin music. The main popular genres were rumba, mambo and chachacha. They were already widespread across the USA and Europe. Unfortunately the Cuban Revolution of 1959 cut the relations between New York and Cuba and salsa motives declined a little bit.
The Latin music leaders of the 1960s were Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto and Eddie Palmieri. Nevertheless the crisis in the relations between Cuba and New York Latin music developed gradually as the Afro-American culture had a very strong influence.
However the modern salsa is said to have got the strongest push in 1960s in New York. By this time Latin music did not have that strong influence as it did. It gave way to other music genres and directions: doo wop, rock and roll and R&B. Still people could hear Latin mambo, salsa and other Latin genres in different parts of New York but they have lost their leading part in musical world of that period of time. They ceased to be the most famous American music. Among the popular performers of salsa of those times were and the Lebron Brothers and Joe Bataan.
In the late 1960s the political situation in America became rather unstable. A lot of groups and political organizations were formed by the young population of Afro-American part of the country. These organizations were of rather radical character, such as Black Panthers for example. The Latin part of the population could not stand apart from these active actions of young generation of Americans and also took part in these movements. It could not but reflected on Latin music. It became more mixed, more energetic and more aggressive. It was also based on Cuban son, because it had been the most favorite music of many people for a long time. Besides, it was favored both in New York and in Puerto Rico. By the 1970s the salsa centre moved to the Cheetah and Manhattan.
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In Manhattan a recording company Fania Records was organized. This company paid much attention to the rising stars of salsa music. Actually it is the credit of this company that the world saw many great performers of salsa music. Fania Records studio was founded by a flautist from the Dominican Republic Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci, an impresario. But the peak of Fania Records career coinsided with the work of Héctor Lavoe’s El Malo and Willie Colón in 1967. They introduced some new melodies: plena tunes and son montuno. These motives became the gound for the modern salsa genre. Several years later after the hard work of many people salsa music was actually reborn: the year 1971 saw the performance in Cheetah nightclub. More than one thousand people gathered in order to hear the fascinating tunes of salsa music; that became a new push in the salsa development.
It spread rather quickly outside the New York City and reached Miami, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and many other places. Cali (the city in Colombia) became one of the world’s centers of salsa music. Salsa also was very honored in many places, such as Caracas, Guayaquil and Panama City.
That became a very good ground for the further development of salsa music. It spread across Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and some other countries of Latin America. This new style of music became something more than just a musical genre. Many Latinos associated it with their native music, the music of their culture and their people. The number of salsa bands increased greatly. In New York some radio stations appeared that translated salsa music only. Thus, the “Sunday Salsa Show”, for instance, became one of the most popular programs in New York. The audience of this show comprised more than one million people who put all their affairs aside every Sunday when the show began. The most popular performers of salsa music that period were Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri. They brought some modern innovations to salsa music and made it popular for the next twenty years – 1970s and 1980s. The album of salsa music “Siembra” that saw the world that period became the best-selling album of Latin music in the whole history.
The innovations made by Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri did not stop. They were made by many other people after them. Salsa musicians loved this music very much and from the very depths of their hearts brought something new in it. Willie Colón, the leader of a salsa band, introduced the cuatro that was a string Puerto Rican musical instrument. This instrument became popular not only in salsa music, but also in rock, jazz and many other directions including Brazilian and Panamanian music. A man from Fania Records whose name was Larry Harlow made another great innovation in salsa music. He introduced electric piano into it. Thereby salsa genre acquired new features, became a little bit different and therefore fresh and interesting for the new generations. Despite this some of the Latin listeners turned to hip hop, disco, techno or other styles of popular modern music of that period.
The 1980s saw another rebirth of salsa music. This time it was made by salsa music band La Verdad and their leader Joe Arroyo. They added the new breath in salsa genre.
It has already been said above that modern salsa has romantic and sweet character. Exactly the 1980s gave it this sweetness. During these years salsa music acquired its sweet melodies and romantic character. It became more perceptional, more sensory, and sexual. It became evident after the album Noches Calientes by José Alberto with Louie Ramirez as a producer was released. That provoked a wave of romantic singers and romantic songs. This genre became less popular among energetic Latin people, but it found the new admirers in America among young generation. In the 1980s salsa became very diverse and spread across Mexica, Argentina, Peru, European countries and even Japan. During this period musicians experimented with various genres. They tried to combine different elements of other musical directions and find something new. They succeeded in their intentions as salsa was combined with hip hop and many other popular genres. Some people as Sergio George, for example tried to revive salsa’s commercial success of the previous years. This man worked with Japanese musicians and made everything possible to bring something new in salsa’s genre. The most prominent performers of that period were Celia Cruz, Tito Nieves, La India, José Alberto, Luis Enrique and Tito Puente.
The years 1990s saw salsa revival. It already had its own genre which was called timba. Such bands as NG La Banda and Los Van Van made a lot to develop it. It still remained Colombian music. Some singers created their own style of performing salsa music. Carlos Vives was among them. He made a lot to popularize it. And he succeeded much as his work resulted in the rising of such stars of salsa music as Gloria Estefan.
Nowadays a steady growth in the genre of salsa music is observed. There a lot of performers of it (La India, Brenda K. Starr, Marc Anthony, Son By Four and Víctor Manuelle) and every one of them introduces new elements into this peculiar music that has already proved its independence from the other musical genres. It is popular not only in the Latin America, but in many other countries of the world. This genre of music proved itself to be resistant to social changes and to the changes of time. That is why it does not seem to stop its developing and it surely promises the admirers of it to introduce new elements and to give the world new stars. The innovations of the last time are Latin house, salsa-merengue, merenhouse, salsaton. Since 1990s the African population seems to revive the interest to salsa music. They gave the world such musicians as Bambino Diabate, Bambino Diabate, Ricardo Lemvo. And the world will definitely see new and new salsa stars.
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