Salsa, despite its odd name, is now a genre
Some call it tropical, others Afro-Caribbean, yet a few others again Afro-Antillean. But the fact remains that within all those descriptions for the music now danced on two, the name Salsa with the capital S has reached worldwide appeal. That wasn't always the case.

The term Salsa was coined by Jerry Masucci at the beginning of the 70s to describe the myriad of Afro-Cuban rhythms that were being marketed to the world at large by his record label Fania Records & Tapes, and by a groups of musicians later recognized as the quintessential ambassadors of Salsa, The Fania All Stars.

Maestro Tito Puente was against the use of the term. "Salsa", he used to say, "is something we cook with. I play mambo, cha chas and montunos". Regardless, Masucci had a serious marketing predicament on his hands. He knew how very difficult it would be to introduce the wide variety of Latin rhythms and the individual dances that characterized each rhythm to a worldwide audience that lacked all prior knowledge of the -- as I prefer to call it -- Afro-Caribbean musical expression.

One summer, like magic, Salsa became the solution. Although there are many stories about how Salsa came about within the context of Afro-Caribbean music -- the first being the theme "Héchale Salsita" by Ignacio Reynoso recorded in Cuba in 1929 -- the story that most historians abide by is the Phideas Danilo Escalona story. In the 70s, Escalona was a popular Venezuelan disc jockey. During a concert he was interviewing Richie Ray, one of the best Latin and jazz pianist of the era. Richie, without a doubt a young virtuoso, had the peculiarity of adding Jazz, Classical and Rock rhythms into the Afro-Caribbean beat, making the sound of his orchestra quite unique.

One evening before the band performed during a concert tour through Venezuela, Escalona asked Ray what he called the music he played since it was possessed of such strong classical, rock and jazz influences. Ray responded simply and to the point though what happened because of it forever changed the Latin market spectrum afterwards.

Ray Barretto, a New York-born Puerto Rican, for decades has been one of the most widely recognized Latin musicians in the trade.

"The music I play is like ketchup." Like ketchup?" asked a surprised Escalona. "Yes", Ray assured him. "It's something that adds flavor to your meal." "Oh, like a salsa". A quick-witted Escalona thereupon introduced Richie Ray's Orchestra who himself was being interviewed while waiting to come up on stage, "and now ladies and gentleman, the Salsa of Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz". It was the first time that the term Salsa was utilized to describe the Afro-Caribbean rhythms. From that day forward, the moniker of Salsa would grow to eventually become synonymous with all Latin rhythms.

Upon their return to New York, the musicians told Masucci about their experience and Salsa was born.

Although purists deny the existence of Salsa as a musical genre, the reality is that upon closer examination, the rhythm and now genre of Salsa have withstood the test of time. Epistemologically speaking, for a rhythm to become a genre, it must meet with three criteria:

  • First and foremost, the name must be widely and readily recognized by mass audiences.
  • Secondly, there must be an accompanying dance for it.
  • The third and final hurdle is longevity.

The creation of the dance on two craze, which has become the accepted way to dance Salsa across the planet, actually gave the concept the necessary credibility to take the next step and become a musical genre. After three decades of Salsa dancing, it is the dancers who are making the doubts about longevity moot. Salsa is danced every evening all over the world. Salsa Congresses expound the music from one corner of the planet to the next and it's Salsa time from Puerto Rico to New York, from the Netherlands to Hong Kong.

So next time you are in dance class and hear one, two, three, five, six, seven and a one, two, three, realize that you are witnessing the actual process whereby Salsa became an actual music genre. Know that your steps on the dance floor are actually making musical history right here and now...
Young dancers like Nancy Diaz from New York have taken Salsa to a new visual level.