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Salsa Luzern presents
The true Salsa history
A condensed version

In collaboration with Williams Careaga (Salsamania Luzern),
Cheo Feliciano and Ismael Miranda (Fania All Stars)
What is Salsa

The music we call Salsa is actually nothing different than Afro-Cuban or Afro-Antillean music. The Caribbean Islands are the birthplace of rhythms like Guaracha, Guaguanco, Son Montuno, Rumba, Plena, Bomba etc. All these rhythms have been mixed and combined under the name of Salsa. In other words, Salsa is a combination of different Caribbean music styles.
Of course, there is a story about how this has happened...

Origin of Salsa

DThe music genre nowadays known as Salsa was created in the early nineteen seventies in the Latin-American immigrant neighbourhoods of New York.
But let’s start right from the beginning: In the fifties and sixties, people from all nations immigrated to the United States, many of them also from Latin America. The immigrants brought their own culture and, therefore, their own music to the new home.

So, in the mid-sixties, there was a huge number of Latin-American orchestras in New York, which all played Afro-Caribbean rhythms. There were numerous dance clubs and on a weekend you could easily find twenty or even thirty dances, and at each of them two or three orchestras played. This situation persuaded more and more young Latin-American musicians, most of them from Puerto Rico, to immigrate to New York, where they had a better chance to find a job as a musician. As a consequence, the Puerto Rican music scene in New York became bigger and bigger.

Cheo Feliciano, of Fania All Stars, says: „At this time, they mostly played Afro-Cuban rhythms. So, the music was mainly from Cuba, but the musicians were mainly Puerto Ricans. The orchestras in New York consisted almost a hundred percent of Puerto Ricans, although, there were some musicians from other countries and as well from Cuba. And also the people who danced in New York were mostly Puerto Ricans.“

Ismael Miranda (Fania All Stars) also remembers. „Salsa is nothing else than Afro-Antillean music. We, the Puerto Ricans who lived in New York and other cities, took care that this Afro-Antillean music lived on outside its origin countries and did not die. Because, it was very nice music; music with a deep culture and very beautiful.“

The young musicians from Puerto Rico played in different orchestras. They started mixing the rhythms and styles and creating a new rhythm, which united the ‘flavour’ of all the Caribbean rhythms. They created a new music mix, which was a lot faster than other, already well-known Afro-Caribbean rhythms – Salsa was born.

Fania All Stars

A businessman, Jerry Masucci, and a musician, Johnny Pacheco, noticed the talent of the many Puerto Rican musicians. In 1968, Masucci and Pacheco had the brilliant idea to unite the best musicians, singers and directors of the different orchestras in one group. This was the birth of the biggest Salsa orchestra ever: Fania All Stars.

In August 1971, Fania All Stars performed with a great presentation in the Cheetah Club in New York. The concert was such a big success that in the following year, the movie Our Latin Thing came out, a movie that included parts of the concert and told about the life in the Latin-American neighbourhoods of New York. The movie led to a new concert, new records and to a new film with the Fania All Stars. This time, the title had consequences that hold on until today. The movie was named Salsa (1976).
After that, everything speeded up. The group became famous; there were concerts in America and Europe. The Salsa fever had started.

Fania All Stars were responsible for exporting Salsa – the term, the expression and, above all, the feeling of Salsa –from the Latin-American quarters of New York to the whole world.

Below, there is a photo of Fania All Stars. Twenty of the members are Puerto Ricans. On the picture, there are also Celia Cruz and Rubén Blades, who joined the group a couple of years after the foundation.

Why the name Salsa

SSalsa means sauce, in other words, a mixture of different ingredients and spices that ads flavour to the food. This original sauce was associated with the new music mix. The Salsa music was, actually, a mixture of different Afro-Caribbean rhythms, precisely a sauce – Salsa.

However, the choice of the term Salsa has also another background.
Cheo Feliciano tells: „One of the reasons why the term Salsa was introduced is, because it was easier for people who didn’t speak Spanish. For non-Spanish speakers, it was, for example, difficult to pronounce „Montuno“, „Guaracha“ and so many other terms for all the rhythms. To unite all these names under the term ‘Salsa’ was much easier. Therefore, Masucci chose the name ‘Salsa’ as a definition for all the rhythms we played in New York. That was brilliant, because it was a commercial idea, able to sell the project, the rhythms and everything else.“

The greatest Salsa composer

Another important person, maybe the most important person, in the history of Salsa is Tite Curet Alonso. He was the greatest songwriter for Fania All Stars and composer of numerous Salsa hits, which, until today, should be part of every Salsa collection.

Tite Curet Alonso „For me, Tite Curet symbolizes Salsa“ Cheo Feliciano

„The best composer of our music was from the seventies on Tite Curet. He was the person who gave us more music than everybody else. Thousands of songs, thousands of hits. And besides, he is a glory of Puerto Rico“ Ismael Miranda

“Tite is a memorable person, a dear friend and a great artist“ Williams Careaga


Catalino 'Tite' Curet Alonso was born on 26 February, 1926 in Guayama (Puerto Rico).

He wrote more than 2000 compositions, 900 of them were recorded by artists from all over America, like by Cheo Feliciano, Celia Cruz, Lupe Victoria Yoli „La Lupe“, Willie Colón, Tito Rodríguez, Olga Guillot, Héctor Lavoe, Ray Barreto and Rubén Blades.

Many people surely know Puro teatro, a song of the Almodóvar film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, sung by "La Lupe" as well as La tirana and Carcajada final; and Anacaona from Cheo Feliciano; Isadora Duncan sung by Celia Cruz; La Cura from Frankie Ruiz; Plantación adentro from Rubén Blades; Periódico de ayer and Juanito Alimaña from Héctor Lavoe. Or as well Tiemblas and Don Fulano from Tito Rodríguez; Las caras lindas and Mi negrita me espera from Ismael Rivera; and many, many more.

You can’t think about Salsa without thinking of Tite Curet Alonso. This fact is also confirmed by Cheo Feliciano: „Tite Curet is the most important person, mainly in the seventies, eighties and nineties, but also as early as in the sixties. He wrote melodies for so many of us, and they all became successes. The hits of all artists and orchestras were from Tite Curet Alonso. In other words, Tite Curet Alonso coined four generations of music for all of us.
All artists of Fania are famous today thanks to Don Tite. Because, we were a lot of good musicians and singers, but it was Tite who wrote the hits that made us famous.“

Thanks to Tite, Masucci, Pacheco and Fania All Stars, today, we can dance and enjoy Salsa all over the world.


© Copyright Salsa Luzern. All rights reserved.
Text and English translation Samantha Ziegler