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Sample Expository / Explanatory Essay on Salsa Music

Strange as it may sound, salsa music is named after the Spanish word for hot sauce. This is probably because of the zesty taste of the condiment that can be found in the tunes and moves of the music, but the familiarity does not end there. Just like salsa (the condiment) is made from various vegetables, so is the music a mixture of many different kinds of Latin dance forms (such as rhumba, mambo, and chacha), other Puerto-Rican, Dominican, and Afro-Cuban music strains, jazz, and rock music. The main instruments used in salsa include percussions, keyboards, brass, and guitars. Most of the time, salsa music is also accompanied by dance. Salsa was made popular in the 1970s mostly by clubs in New York. Later on, in the 1980s, this style of music also became popular in areas such as Miami, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Columbia. (The Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). Since then, salsa has evolved vigorously through the years and has emerged as a very significant and dynamic component of popular music scene, especially for the social identity of the Latinos.

The music that came to be called salsa developed out of Cuban dance genres, especially the son, guararba, and rumba, that had evolved into a cohesive set of commercial popular styles by the 1920s. By the 1940s, these genres, promoted primarily by RCA Victor (which monopolized the record industry in Cuba), enjoyed considerable international appeal, and Latino communities outside of Cuba had come to play an important role in the evolution of Cuban music. Puerto Ricans, who had eagerly adopted Cuban music for decades (especially since the introduction of radio in 1922), had come to regard such genres as their own, generally at the expense of indigenous genres like plena and bomba. Meanwhile, since the 1920s, New York City had become the scene of a lively blending and competition of diverse grass-roots -- and commercialized -- Latin American music. Together with Puerto Rican bandleaders like Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez, many Cuban musicians had based themselves in New York City, which they established as a center for the music that would eventually be labeled "salsa" by the record industry (Manuel 1991).

The growth of salsa as a vehicle of social identity was inseparable from its development as a commercial entity. Indeed, the more salsa flourished, the more it was subject to the pressures of the corporate music industry. Some of these pressures, toward standardization, stylistic conservatism, and absence of sociopolitical content, operated in direct opposition to the grass-roots attempt to use the genre as an expression of barrio identity. Thus, the development of salsa can be seen as an ongoing dialectic between, on the one hand, the Latino community's attempt to shape salsa as its own sub cultural expression and, on the other hand, the tendency of the commercial music industry to glamorize, decontextualize, and depoliticize the music as a bland and innocuous dance music (Manuel 1991).

So we see that salsa music has been dynamically evolving over the period of time not just as a musical genre but also as a means of cultural identity for Latinos. Even though the music started in New York, it has evolved to include the many different Latin American elements into its composition. This is not something unique to salsa music as we have seen other musical genres, such as hip-hop or rap, which have contributed to the other cultures. However, salsa is the most dynamic type of music that enjoys a lot of popularity in a diverse cultural plethora. 


Work Cited

Manuel, Peter. (1991). “Latin Music in the United States: Salsa and the Mass Media,” Journal of Communication, 41, (1): 104.

The Columbia Encyclopedia. (2007). “Salsa,” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, New York: Columbia University Press


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