Lo Necesario: Introducing Salsa

City street of Tito Puente Way in Manhattan, New York City
Tito Puente Way, Manhattan, New York City

Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

How should we approach living history?

Salsa's significance extends beyond its origins. For some, salsa is a powerful connection to their roots, a celebration of identity and belonging. Others find solace and joy in its rhythms, using dance as a form of personal expression and liberation. Salsa evokes emotions, ignites passion, and fosters a sense of community, inspiring a range of opinions and connections that reflect the diversity of human experiences.

Recognizing the multitude of perspectives surrounding salsa allows us to embrace the beauty of its multifaceted nature. It invites us to engage in dialogue, to listen and learn from one another's stories and experiences. In doing so, we deepen our understanding of salsa's profound impact and cultivate a greater appreciation for its enduring legacy. Salsa unites us through its language of music and dance, inviting us to celebrate, connect, and forge new pathways together. Read more about why Salsa is More Than Salsa here.

Oíste? Did you hear?

Together, we can hear the histories and perspectives of salsa. Getting started with some of the collected stories that rise from salsa’s ocean of oral and material histories. Explore more of Oíste? Below! And, when you’re done, continue learning about salsa by doing your own research and exploring in your community.

Salsa workshop band in rehearsal
Salsa workshop band in rehearsal, Johnny Colon School of Music, New York, New York

Marks, Morton, and Jefferson Miller. Salsa workshop band in rehearsal, Johnny Colon School of Music, New York, New York. United States New York, 1982. New York, New York, June 2. Photograph.

Three Ways to Explore

Materiales: A Digital Salsa Exhibit

Materiales: A Digital Salsa Exhibit explores the significance of tangible objects in salsa history and culture. It delves into the role of everyday items, such as instruments and album covers, in shaping salsa as more than music or dance. The exhibit highlights the impact of these objects on preserving history and expressing culture.

The exhibit features sections on instruments, focusing on the claves and trombones as crucial components of salsa music. It discusses how claves set the rhythm and serve as a musical core, while trombones contribute to melodies, rhythms, and group dynamics. The exhibit also emphasizes the importance of visual arts, particularly album cover art, in reflecting the evolving Latin identity and social commentary. It showcases various album covers from different time periods and artists who challenged stereotypes and addressed social issues.

Additionally, the exhibit encourages engagement with salsa through different activities. It suggests listening to salsa music, attending salsa events, watching recordings of salsa performances, and exploring online materials related to salsa and Latin music. The goal is to foster a deeper understanding of the objects that shape salsa culture and to encourage personal connections and reflections within the salsa community.

Materiales: A Digital Salsa Exhibit provides insight into the tangible heritage of salsa, showcasing its diverse elements and their significance in the broader cultural context.

Family tree of salsa musicians
An NYC Mambo, Boogaloo and Salsa Family Tree.

Courtesy of Mickey Duzyj

Pathways Through Salsa

Pathways Through Salsa aims to provide audiences with a deeper understanding of salsa by exploring important cultural and critical aspects of the culture. Pathways Through Salsa follows the format of Pathways Through American History and consists of engaging articles divided into three markers with questions to get you thinking.

Marker 1: How do we approach salsa history? Highlights the importance of Afro Latin history and the various interpretations of salsa across different regions and spaces. It includes articles on influential figures like Celia Cruz and Ismael Rivera, as well as significant salsa styles and places such as Chicago Salsa and Los Angeles Salsa.

Marker 2: How has participating in salsa music served to include or exclude participants on the basis of gender? Examines how gender has influenced participation in salsa music and dance. It explores gender roles in salsa, the impact of male-dominated lyrics, and the contributions of the LGBTQ community. Prominent figures and groups like Women Salsa Bands - Orquestas Femininas and La India are featured -- along with places like Casa Amadeo and Hotel St. George.

Marker 3: How was salsa a part of the civil rights movements? Investigates the role of salsa during the civil rights movements. It discusses the intersection of salsa with the Black Power Movement and the activism of the Young Lords, highlighting how music was used as a tool for social justice. It also explores salsa as resistance to colonialism and dictatorship, showcasing the contributions of artists like Eddie Palmieri and Felipe Luciano, as well as significant locations like Orchard Beach and Central Park.

The project concludes by pointing the users to “Keep Up the Stamina” to encourage the exploration of untold stories and the preservation of history. It invites readers to learn about historic preservation and apply for an Underrepresented Communities Grant, emphasizing the importance of protecting and sharing diverse narratives to ensure a comprehensive understanding of our collective past.

Pathways Through Salsa seeks to provide audiences with thought-provoking questions and complexities surrounding salsa while introducing them to important people, places, and cultural markers in salsa.

The cover for the Oíste? Podcast series. The text on the photo reads Oíste? Podcast Connecting People to Place and Space One Salsa Story at a Time. There is a cassette player in the middle with sound waves coming out of the sides.
The cover for the Oíste? Podcast series.

NPS Photo / Melissa Hurtado

Oíste? Podcast

The Oíste? Podcast is a series that explores the world of salsa through captivating stories from various contributors. Hosted by Melissa Hurtado and Hermán Luis Chávez, the podcast features interviews with dancers, a park ranger, music journalists, and radio show host who share their personal experiences and expertise in salsa. The podcast aims to connect people to the essence of salsa by delving into topics such as dance, personal stories, oral histories, and culture.

Each episode focuses on different aspects of salsa. The first episode introduces the Oíste? Project and discusses why salsa stories are important. The second episode features a park ranger sharing salsa memories and explores the preservation of salsa history. The third episode highlights non-binary salsa dancers who challenge traditional gender roles. The fourth episode emphasizes the significance of oral histories and their role in preserving salsa culture. The fifth episode delves into the role of composers, songwriters, and journalists in shaping salsa. The final episode recaps the season and encourages continued exploration of salsa in personal lives and communities.

The Oíste? Podcast series aims to appeal to both salsa enthusiasts and newcomers, providing a rhythmic journey into the world of salsa while honoring and preserving its enduring legacy.

Tips on how to navigate Oíste? Listening to the Salsa Stories of Afro Latin Music:

  • Go where your interests lead you... but make sure to leave room for curiosity. There is no correct order to the stories. We recommend you start with this page and then take whichever route sparks your interest.

  • How do you take your learning? Order coming right up! This project offers a way to learn in different ways. For example, if you like auditory learning, listen to the Oíste? Podcast. If you enjoy visuals, browse through Materiales: A Digital Salsa Exhibit.

  • Everybody and their mom. Try practicing intergenerational learning in your household and ask your parents, aunts, uncles, or abuelas if they’ve heard of any of the stories you’ve engaged with.

  • Continue the story... ¡Echa pa'lante! The preservation of salsa stories starts with you. Think about your own connections to salsa or those of your friends and colleagues. Talk amongst your circles and continue sharing the salsa stories, old and new. These stories can help nominate a historic site near you!

Songs To Get You Started

  • "Tremendo Guaguanco" – Celia Cruz
  • "Una Rumba en Mi Barrio" – Conjunto Impacto
  • "Las Caras Lindas" – Ismael Rivera
  • "Siembra" – Willie Colon & Ruben Blades
  • "Anacaona" – Cheo Feliciano
  • "Everything is Everything" – Eddie Palmieri

The " Oíste? Listening to the Salsa Stories of Afro Latin Music" project was authored by interns, fellows, and scholars with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education including Elisa Alfonso, Marjorie Justine Antonio, Hermán Luis Chávez, Melissa Hurtado, and Jade Ryerson, and designed by Hermán Luis Chávez and Melissa Hurtado.

Acknowledgements: Alejandro Garcia-Maldonado, Alexandra Tarantino, Alison Russell, Amanda Schramm, Andres Espinoza, Angelita Alvino, Barbara Little, Blanca Stransky, Cynthia Hernandez, Derrick León Washington, Eleanor Mahoney, Elisa Alfonso, Ella Wagner, Frances Aparicio, Herman Luis Chavez, Jade Ryerson, James Barry, James Nyman, Jessica Dauterive, Laura Phillips Alvarez, Marcos Echeverria Ortiz, Marjorie Justine Antonio, Megan Springate, Melissa Hurtado, Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Naomi Torres, Noel Lopez, Paloma Bolasny, Roberta Wendel, Sarah Lane, and Teresa Moyer.

Last updated: August 9, 2023