Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean and Latin genre that is popular across Latin America and among Latinos abroad; the style is the primary music played at Latin danceclubs and is the "essential pulse of Latin music", according to author Ed Morales.
Salsa incoporates multiple styles and variations; the term can be used to describe most any form of popular Cuban-derived genres (like chachachá and mambo). Most specifically, however, salsa refers to a particular style developed by the mid-1970s groups of New York City-area Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants to the United States, and stylistic descendants like 1980s salsa romantica. Some people have claimed that salsa's style is primarily Cuban, though it is a hybrid of various Latin styles mixed with pop, jazz, rock and R&B.
Salsa's most close relatives are Cuban mambo and the son orchestras of the early 20th century, as well as Latin jazz. The line between Latin jazz and salsa is not always clear, with many musicians, especially prior to the 1970s, sometimes considered a part of either field
Salsa music is a very broad term that can be used with various meanings depending on the context; its exact meaning is the subject of many arguments among aficionados .
Celia Cruz, a well-known salsa singer, has said "(s)alsa is Cuban music with another name. It's mambo, chachachá, rumba, son... all the Cuban rhythms under one name". Author Ed Morales has said the obvious, most common perception of salsa is an "extravagant, clave-driven, Afro-Cuban-derived songs anchored by piano, horns, and rhythm section and sung by a velvety voiced crooner in a sharkskin suit". He also defines it as "nothing more than a new spin on the traditional rhythms of Cuban music" and "at once (both) a modern marketing concept and the cultural voice of a new generation", representative of a "crystallization of a Latino identity in New York in the early 1960s".
In addition, Morales cites singer Rubén Blades as claiming that salsa is merely "a concept", as opposed to a definite style or rhythm. Some musicians are doubtful that the term salsa has any useful meaning at all, with the bandleader Machito claiming that salsa was more or less what he had been playing for forty years before the style was invented, while Tito Puente once responded to a question about salsa by saying "I'm a musician, not a cook" (referring to salsa's original use to mean sauce).
At its root, however, salsa is a mixture of Spanish and African music, filtered through the music histories of Cuba and Puerto Rico, and adapted by Latin jazz and Latin popular musicians for Latino populations with diverse musical tastes. The basic structure of a salsa song is based on the Cuban son, beginning with a simple melody and followed by a coro section in which the performers improvise . Ed Morales has claimed that the "key staples" of salsa's origins were the use of the trombone as a counterpoint to the vocalist and a more aggressive sound than is typical in Cuban music.
Salsa music always has a 4/4 meter, 4 beats per bar. The music is phrased in groups of two bars, 8 beats, for example by recurring rhythmic patterns, and the beginning of phrases in the song text and instruments. Typically, the rhythmic patterns played on the percussion instruments are rather complicated, often with several different patterns played simultaneously. Salsa music often has around 180 beats per minute, although it can be both much slower or much faster.
A rhythmic element that forms the basics in salsa is the clave rhythm, generally played on claves. The most common clave rhythm in salsa is the so called 2-3 son clave
The clave is not always played out directly but forms the basis that most other percussion instruments as well as song and accompaniment uses as a common rhythmic ground for their own phrases. For example, this is a common rhythmic pattern played on the cowbell:
The most important instrumentation in salsa is the percussion, which is played by a wide variety of instruments, including claves, cowbells, timbales and conga. Apart from percussion, a variety of melodic instruments are commonly used as accompaniment, such as a guitar, trumpets, trombones, the piano, and many others, all depending on the performing artists.