In honour of this week’s good news (see previous post), today’s post is the most Colombian of weekend posts and dedicated entirely to salsa, in the hopes that a little rumba will bring Marcela back on her feet very quickly. So tonight raise a glass of aguardiente in their honour: May Maria del Mar salsa before she walks!
A brief introducion
Salsa music is a genre that has its origins in Cuba, where the Cuban son reigned supreme. By absorbing other styles of music, salsa eventually began to be recognised as its own style of music in the 1970s, on the streets and in the late-night discos of New York City, where Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants had descended. Although even then it was more of an umbrella term for genres like Son and Mambo, today the genre is one of Latin America’s most characterising cultural exports and a style of music and dance that, for many people, defines the area.
Some of the most famous, pioneering salsa artists are Tito Puente, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Joe Arroyo and Ray Barretto.
Colombian salsa has its own distinctive style which is largely influenced by the strong mix of African traditional music and dance (such as cumbia) that’s inherent in the culture. The steps to Colombian salsa are typified by quick, intricate footwork and, unlike Cuban salsa, a relatively stiff upper body. This often confuses us foreigners and makes us look funny to Colombians as we flail our arms wildly in an effort to mimic the salsa we’ve seen on Strictly Come Dancing. Lyrically, many artists such as Joe Arroyo relate the hardships endured by African-Colombians throughout history.
But enough of the lesson… Let’s get onto the good stuff. Here’s my (me being a completely uneducated Englishman) top 5 Colombian Salsa songs:
1. Joe Arroyo y La Verdad – La Rebelion
Da-na-na-na, da-da-da-da-DA-NA-NA-NAAH! Joe Arroyo is one of Colombian salsa’s most famous names and most innovative artists. He’s noted for mixing elements of cumbia, porro and other African styles into his music, creating a distinctive style. I wouldn’t know anything about that, but I can tell you La Rebelion is probably his most famous song and is often heard drifting from the insides of Colombia’s clubs, bars, houses, taxis, buses, mobile phones… You get it.
2. Fruko and Tus Tesos – El Preso
Formed in 1970 by Julio Ernesto Estrada (Fruko), Fruko y sus Tesos are one of the most famous salsa groups in Latin America. For several years they performed with the aforementioned Joe Arroyo, and this collaboration produced some of the most memorable salsa songs to come out of Colombia. El Preso (which doesn’t feature my main man El Joe) is probably the band’s most commonly played songs when you’re in Colombia, and one that’s essential to any decent rumba.
3. Sonora Carruseles – Micaela
Micaela is enough for me to drag my rigid hips up off my chair where I’m happily sipping my beer and forget that I can’t speak Spanish and can’t really dance either. Luckily I don’t need Spanish to sing ‘Hoo, hah’, and nor do I need great dance moves to entertain people. In fact, it might even be better. Sonora Carruseles were a big band in the 90s, and continue to gain success, having been featured on hit TV programme: So You Think You Can Dance? (Answer: depends how many Aguardientes I’ve had).
4. Grupo Niche – Cali Pachanguero
Grupo Niche are a staple of Colombian salsa. Formed in Bogotá, they’ve since taken their act to Colombia’s salsa capital, Cali, where they’re still enjoying great success. One of their slower, more romantic numbers, Cali Pachanguero is more or less a love song to their current home town, and is therefore bound to be heard when you’re shaking your hips among the salsa-mad Caleños.
5. La 33 – La Pantera Mambo
At the moment this is probably the most ubiquitous salsa song in Colombian clubs, particularly in Bogotá. La 33 are the most popular modern salsa band to come out of the country and this, La Pantera Mambo, has elevated them to international stars. A great introduction to salsa since the main motif is so familiar to everyone, it’s the one salsa song guaranteed to get even those awkward gringos on their feet attempting (and normally failing) to dance with their Colombian compadres.
Of course, 5 is too few and there’s far more you should check out. That, my internet friend, is what Google is for. Please leave any more recommendations in the comments, we’re always wanting to hear more!