The Evolution of Salsa: The Puerto Rican Expansion

Posted on 15. Dec, 2009 by in Arts and Culture, Feature, John Smock, Uncategorized


Mambo, unlike other derivative forms of music managed to also carry on many tenets and traditions that Jazz started. To that end mambo kept the big band structure while jazz began to falter in popularity and moved towards a smaller band structure characteristic of the bebop era.

Throughout the 1950s Latin dance music, such as mambo, rumba and chachachá, was beginning to catch on in the  mainstream popular music scene of the United States.

However, the 1950’s also saw a period of great turmoil as well as the upheaval of the CastroAssumingPowergovernmental powers in Cuba, which culminated with the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

This did much to greatly inhibit the contact between New York and the parent country of Son and Mambo, Cuba; causing the music to be adopted and dominated by a new group of migrants, the Puerto Ricans. This caused a decline in popularity of the Mambo big bands.

The Cubans found themselves living in neighborhoods with various groups but most notably the newly arriving Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Rican influx was spurned by the economic and social policy of Operation Bootstrap.

This influx forced the adaptation of the music style to include a more African American influence.

The Puerto Ricans, like the Cubans before, them brought with them a piece of their culture. This included their music that was comprised of a type of Son and Guarachas, as well as Tango, Bolero and Danza.

This almost constant evolution of sound used the adoptive New York landscape as it’s main stage. Cuban music, especially mambo, became very famous across the United States, giving its derivatives a chance to infuse itself into the American culture.

Following this, a series of Puerto Rican musicians rose to prominence  in New York Latin music scene. It was these performers who innovated the style now known as Salsa music,. The newly developed Salsa was based largely off Cuban, and to a lesser extent, Puerto Rican music.

The diffuse and nomadic nature of many new Cuban and Puerto Rican communities in New York, allowed the expansion and eventual creation of the genre known today as Salsa. Salsa is an eclectic collection of traditions and innovations that are characteristic of the artists interpreting them.

hector_lavoeFor example Héctor Lavoe combined musical traditions in order to play up the culture of the Puerto Rican community in New York City and in Latin countries. He especially loved the sound that was common to the barrios or ghettos that rose in the cities.

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