AUDIO COMMENTARY

Salsa

Time: 5:32 minutes
Excerpt: "The power of the singer makes salsa a vehicle for social messages as well as dance. Salsa’s most celebrated poet is Panamanian singer Ruben Blades."
full transcript

“Que Siga el Afinque” - Willie Rosario

[LISTEN]

Salsa music began in new york in the 1960s.  It was an expression of latino youth who spoke english in school and spanish at home--who ate caribbean foods and listened to rock and roll on the radio. In this sometimes confusing mix of cultures, dancing and listening to salsa music-- with its spanish lyrics and afro-caribbean rhythms—was a way to embrace their caribbean heritage and style.  But salsa was also new and inventive, blending diverse genres and new sound colors, like those of the trombone.

“Conmigo” - Eddie Palmieri

In the early 1960s, eddie palmieri substituted trombone for violins in his cuban-style charanga band. His brother charlie called it a trombanga.

[LISTEN]

Palmieri’s percussive piano solo in this 1962 recording foreshadowssalsa’s exciting improvisational freedom, and its celebration of afro-caribbean rhythms. Afro hairdos and colorful dashikis worn at salsa dances also expressed pride in an african musical heritage.

“Barrunto” -  Willie Colón and Hector LaVoe

For nuyoricans (puerto ricans born in new york), salsa spoke not only to cultural pride, but also to the tension of life in barrios like the bronx and spanish harlem. Trombonist willie colón captured that raw urban intensity in his sound.

[LISTEN]

In addition to this urban energy, salsa songs often expressed nostalgia for the island of puerto rico, where many nuyoricans dreamed of returning.

“Esta Navidad” - Willie Colón and Hector LaVoe

For example, hector lavoe’s vocal style in this song, recalls puerto rican country or “jíbaro” music, as does the cuatro, a type of puerto rican guitar. 

[LISTEN]

These trombone lines also recall the jibaro music style called aguinaldo.  Listen carefully.

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“Lloraras” - Oscar de Leon

(start over end of Colon)

Now listen to similar trombone lines in “lloraras,” a classic song by venezuelan salsa singer oscar de leon.

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This is just one example of a new york innovation that became part of an international language of salsa in the 1970s.

“Quimbara” - Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco

In addition to its innovations, salsa retains many elements of  cuban music. Some cuban musicians were excluded from the salsa scene because of the u.s. embargo that followed cuba’s 1959 revolution.  An exception was celia cruz, [“azucar”] the queen of salsa. Celia embodied the enduring power of the sonero, a singer who improvises. 

[LISTEN]

“Siembra” - Ruben Blades and Willie Colón

The power of the singer makes salsa a vehicle for social messages as well as dance.  Salsa’s most celebrated poet is panamanian singer ruben blades. Blades started his career with willie colón in new york, writing songs of struggle and hope that inspired solidarity among latinos of different nations.  In this title track from his 1978 album, “siembra,” he sings, “don’t forget… that the fruits you will harvest come from the seeds that you plant.”

[LISTEN—at lyrics quoted; then splice to coro, starting w/soneo to save time]

This is a music that integrates dance and poetry, body and mind, pleasure and politics

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