Salsa Music’s New York City Connection

Posted in Salsa

The streets of New York City, the unexpected birthplace of salsa music.

The streets of New York City, the unexpected birthplace of salsa music.

When most people think of salsa music, their brains conjure images of Caribbean islands like Cuba and Puerto Rico. This is understandable, because the genre is very popular in the region and many important salsa musicians trace their roots to the islands. However, most historians of music would tell you that salsa music actually originated someplace else—in New York City!

A true melting pot of a town, New York has attracted all sorts of immigrants since its founding. In the early 20th century, a new wave of immigrants from Latin America began to arrive. They came from Caribbean territories such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic as well as from Central and South America. Some of these immigrants were musicians and as they fused the sounds and styles from each of their home countries new genres were born—including the first salsa music.

Salsa emerged around the 1960s primarily as a mix between a Cuban style called “son” and North American styles such as jazz. The word salsa means “sauce” in the Spanish language and the name is appropriate because salsa brought a new taste (and plenty of heat!) to the New York music scene. A whole host of clubs including The Conga, The Park Place, and The Park Plaza began holding Latin music shows throughout Spanish Harlem. Later on, the Palladium Ballroom at 53rd and Broadway became the first downtown location to hold regular Latin music performances, helping to introduce salsa style to a more diverse audience.

After this, the rest is history. The islands of the Caribbean fell in love with salsa and began to craft their own takes on the genre, resulting in the very popular Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa that we hear today. You can also find salsa clubs and dance classes all throughout the United States. As salsa continues to evolve into the future, it is important to remember the genre’s past—especially its humble beginnings in New York City!.

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