Battle Of The Salsa Styles

What style of salsa sends you willingly or unconsciously to the dance floor? Which artist’s music makes your blood heat-up with tropical fervor? Exploring the different styles of Latin music categorized under the umbrella term “salsa” will give you the answer. And with that answer, you’ll have a far better chance of selecting an album, from the hundreds of choices available that is music to your ears.

Classic Salsa – The Fania Years:

The ‘Motown’ of salsa was the Fania record label. Formed in the late 1960s by Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco, the label signed many of the great salsa artists of the time including Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe and Tito Puente. During these years, Fania almost completely monopolized the commercial marketplace; as they became larger and more successful, they gobbled up most other smaller salsa labels. Over time, almost every significant salsa artist became a Fania artist.

This was the original, classic salsa style, a style to which most newer salsa artists and bands are compared and contrasted.

As salsa’s star faded, so did Fania’s. But it was with Masucci’s death in 1997 that the label’s catalogue finally went on the bidding block. Purchased by Miami-based. Emusica Entertainment Group, the catalogue is currently in the process of being remastered and re-released so that fans of classic salsa will have the opportunity to listen to the music rejuvenated by modern digital technology.

Salsa Romantica:

By the mid-1980’s, Fania and classic salsa’s popularity were waning, giving way to a softer and more commercial style called salsa romantica. Taking its cue from the rising popularity of Latin pop and rock, salsa romantica took out the musical improvisation, softened the punch of the orchestra and focused primarily on ballads set to a slowed down salsa rhythm; social commentary was replaced by love songs.

The most famous early salsa romantica artists included Eddie Santiago, Frankie Ruiz, Lalo Rodriguez and Luis Enrique. With time, some of today’s most famous salsa artists took up the style including Gilberto Santa Rosa, Marc Anthony, India and Tito Nieves.

Detractors of salsa romantica have named the style salsa monga, or ‘limp’ salsa. But the straight salsa romantica style, having run its 20-year course, also started losing its commercial appeal. Today, some salsa romantica artists have started heating up their ballad-based salsa style. Gilberto Santa Rosa’s 2005 Autentico featured an orchestra with a much stronger punch, a brass section that clamored for attention and brought back improvisation. Marc Anthony’s Libre was a personal and unique blend of ballad and classic salsa.

Still other salsa romantica artists are paying attention to the popularity of reggaeton. India’s 2006 Soy Diferente incorporated both salsa romantica and reggaeton-fused numbers while Andy Montanez did the same with Salsa con Reggaeton the same year.

Salsa Dura:

Salsa dura means 'hard' salsa, salsa gorda means 'fat' salsa. Both terms are used to describe salsa that retains the basic characteristics of classic salsa: driving rhythms, call and response, 'montuno' sections and socially conscious lyrics. Salsa dura is the EverReady battery musical bunny that just keeps going and going, with musical breaks and blaring brass ideal for salsa dancing.

While Puerto Rico was focusing on salsa romantica, Colombia became a bastion of their own style of salsa dura, through the lean years and remain one today. As a result, Colombia can boast some of the finest, mature salsa dura bands in the world. With groups like Grupo Niche, Sonora Carruseles, Joe Arroyo and Fruko y sus Tesos, Colombia has a clear claim to call itself the salsa dura capitol of the world.

In the last few years, young salseros in New York have also been turning to salsa dura. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra has perfected the big band salsa sound of the Fania years while Jimmy Bosch, Wayne Gorbea and La Excelencia are becoming instrumental in the rise and popularity of salsa dura around the world.

Here are samples of all three kinds of salsa; listen to the difference and decide what kind of salsa lifts your spirits.

Classic Salsa Albums

  • Willie Colon / Ruben Blades - Siembra (1978, 2006)
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  • Hector Lavoe - La Voz (1999)
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Salsa Romantica Albums

  • Marc Anthony - Marc Anthony (1999)
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  • Victor Manuelle - Travesia (2004)
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  • Gilberto Santa Rosa - Romantico (2001)
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  • Tito Nieves - Palladium Series Live Vol 1 (2001)
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Salsa Dura Albums
  • Grupo Niche - Imaginacion (2004)
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  • Sonora Carruseles - Heavy Salsa (1999)
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  • Jimmy Bosch - Salsa Dura (1999)
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