Salsa vs Mambo
The name "Salsa"
Salsa, Vallenato, and Cumbia>I recently bought a compilation of Cuban music of 93-96 vintage. One thing >that seemed strange was all the references to salsa usually in the >inspiraciones. Now I thought that the official line was that salsa is only >son renamed and repackaged ( I won't get into the subject of whether this is >correct or not) by their >imperialist neighbors who rip them off in the process. Has this official >line changed? Is this a case of "if you can't beat them jump on the >bandwagon" ?
I doubt if the working poor of NYC of the 60s and 70s could be properly designated "imperialist." In any case, the word has often been used in CARIBBEAN musical history. Some even say that it was first used in black slave celebrations. In the Caribbean, dancing has always been linked to social communication AND to the sharing of food, which was often spiced up for the special festivities.
In 1928, Ignacio Piñero used the word in his song, "Echale Salsita" (put a little sauce in it). This was a reference used to imply the satisfaction produced by hearing a number of instruments played and combined harmoniously. What Piñero was refering to, in essence, was the exciting "instrumental sauce" that helped one assimilate the hardships of daily routine. Here's the lyrics:'Salí de casa una noche aventurera Buscando ambiente de placer y de alegría Ay mi Dios, cuánto gocé! En un sopor la noche pasé, paeaba alegre nuestros lares luminosos y llegué al bacanal. En Catalina me encontré lo no pensado La voz de aquél que pregonaba así: Échale salsita, échale salsita, échale salsita, échale salsita' ('One night I left home in search of adventure looking for a taste of pleasure and fun oh my God what a time I had I spent the night in a whirl, Left behind the lights of home And found myself in a real party. In Catalina I found something unexpected A voice that cried out like this: 'put a little sauce on daddy, put a little sauce on daddy!')
There is wide and vehement disagreement on the meaning or significance of the word, "salsa," which I won't get into at the moment. Suffice it to say that the music associated with the word is the grandduaghter of the African slave drums and the daughter of Cuban son rhythms but is not solely THAT. About 20-25 years ago, salsa became the expression of a continent, gradually conquering a world with its contagious, irreverent, and aggressive sound.
The problem with defining salsa is that it has multiple meanings across time and cultures. It was a marketing tool, but it was also co-opted by the NYC PR community to mean more than just that. The term salsa, in the late 60s and early 70s, was also synonomous with the African-American "right on." It was but one in a number of signifiers that was a part of an identity movement that coincided with the explosion of the latin music scene. In an era where ethnic pride ("I'm Black and I'm Proud") and returning to one's roots was the norm, Latino/as rediscovered their artistic heritage and the dynamic between the musians and the COMMUNITIES from which they came from, resulted in a musical phenomenon that had international implications.
A demographic breakdown of the NYC Latino/a community during the rise in popularity of Salsa will quickly give you a glimpse into WHO and what CLASS of people were buying, dancing, and nurturing this new fusion of music. A look at what latino/as were writing, what dramas were being staged, what issues were being protested, what poetry was being recited, and what cultural institutions were being created will give you a decent glimpse into the what and who and where of what the hell was happening back then.
So, it is shortsighted of you to characterize "salsa" in such narrow terms as you do, disregarding the important historical context of the term. Eventually, it is true that both capitalist and the musicians' own desire for wider acceptance led to a corporatization of the phenomenon. But the same happened with a lot of the cultural productivity of the civil rights and counterculture movements. Look at Rock, R&B and all the other stuff that came off during those heady days.
Still, that doesn't mean salsa died or that it has become hopelessly diluted. There's still a distinctive sound that's heard around the world in far off places like Japan, SA, Europe, etc. The music itself is defined at the edges, at the borders where cultures, identities meet, clash, meld. It's history is one consisting of the tension resulting from the clash of resistance and hegemony. The ebb and flow of who or what is doing the defining. It's ALWAYS been that way and continues to this day: no assimilation here, it's re-sginification, making new meaning, new forms, constantly in the process of becoming. THAT'S part of what "salsa" means but there is so much more... Peace Out, Edward-Yemíl Rosario
Bomba and Plena
Salsa instructional dance videos
The Clave: Creole Cuban Instrument, by Rebeca Mauleón
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Last modified on: Saturday, October 9, 1999.