The Birth of Salsa

We’re excited to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month through this 2nd send of our 4-part email series! We’re especially thrilled to be joining forces with @HBCUPalante during Latinx Heritage Month to bring a wide-ranging look at the African Diaspora — honing in on intersectionality, specifically those of Latinx descent.

For today’s email, we’re talking about the history of Salsa!

Have you ever wondered what makes Salsa, Salsa? It’s the rhythm called the clave as well as La clave — the instrument. Timing and ear training can be tedious and difficult for novice dancers. But once it moves you, some say it has healing powers!

When the US imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962, the ensuing sanction effectively banned travel by prohibiting any transactions with Cuba. This also meant Cuban musicians couldn’t travel to the United States and their recordings received very little airtime in the states.

The regulation halted travel for those musicians who had been traveling regularly to New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. These musicians brought an Afro-Cuban sound called Son but weren’t able to continue their musical creativity in the states. However, the growing population of Puerto Ricans quickly took a liking to the musical fusion, refining it with their native sounds — with that came the birth of Salsa.

Salsa was played by musicians of many ethnicities. Álvaro José Arroyo, born in the Nariño neighborhood of Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia, was a famous Salsa musician. Born on November 1, 1955, Arroyo was influenced by NYC’s Salsa had a number of hits including La Rebelión of the 1986 album, Joe Arroyo Y La Verdad ‎— Musa Original.

“La Rebelión” hits different. It opens with Arroyo doing a short Spanish soliloquy, which is translated below:

“I want to tell you, my brother, a bit about Black history, of Our history; Gentlemen (band members), and it goes like this…”

In the 1600s
When the tyrant commanded
The streets of Cartagena
This history lived
When they brought Black people here [Cartagena]
Africans in chains came to my country
Perpetual slavery

An African married couple
Enslaved by Spaniards
He [Spaniard] treated them very badly
He hit the Black woman [wife]
And at that moment the Black man [husband] rebelled
Taking revenge for his love

It can still be heard at the gate
Don’t hit the Black woman…
Listen, don’t hit the Black woman… Hey man! The Black woman is to be respected…
That Black woman is me… Don’t hit her!

La Rebelión is known for its refrain, No Le Pegue a la Negra (Don’t hit the Black woman).

While Joe Arroyo died in Barranquilla, Colombia on July 26, 2011, his AfroColombian roots live on through his music.

Be sure to give “La Rebelión” a listen when you get a chance! We can’t wait to continue honoring Latinx Heritage Month in the next part of our email series.