It’s difficult to get a grasp, exactly, on what salsa is. If the likes of Tito Puente, Machito, and Celia Cruz can’t agree, then I for one will refrain from declaring what is the one true salsa. But here is what I am prepared to say:
• Salsa is a type of “Latin music” that blends African rhythms with various European and New World musical instruments—such as piano and horn—and New World styles, such as Jazz, Big Band, and Motown. Other instruments include conga drums, horns, quattro (four-string guitar-like instrument) and the metal cowbell or wooden claves, used almost interchangeably to play the beat called clave (which means “code” in Spanish). Clave is the glue that holds the groove together.
• The term “Salsa” was first applied to Cuban music played by Puerto Ricans in New York City. But the roots of the term “Salsa” are much easier to trace than the roots of the music itself. Unless you are enough of an expert to feel justified at quarrelling about what Salsa truly is, it is difficult (unnecessary even) to know the difference between Cuban Son and its varied spawn, such as Salsa, Mambo, and ChaChaCha. For dancing purposes, you should at least know the difference between Salsa and Rumba, Salsa and Merengue (and heaven forbid, please don’t confuse Salsa with Samba, or Tango).
• Unless you grew up bouncing to Salsa-esque rhythms on your mother’s knee, when you try to learn to dance Salsa you will probably feel like Al Gore’s uptight twin brother, whiter than Wonder Bread and stiffer than a petrified pocket protector.
• Although Salsa is played in 4/4 time like most pop and rock tunes, it often has other rhythms in other signatures—most notably 6/8—superimposed on the 4/4 time, resulting in a polyrhythmic nut that’s tough to crack. It’s kind of like skipping double-dutch jump rope: Where and how do I make my entrance into this groove with no discernable beginning or end? This week Missoula will have a rare opportunity to experience some live Salsa. Don’t look for any of the band members to be sporting authentic afros, but they have studied hard, and are widely respected enough to play Jazz festivals around the state. They are bound to bring out of the woodwork what few carriers of the Salsa knowledge there are here in Missoula, and this will be a great opportunity to expand your repertoire of dance moves. And Dios knows Missoula needs it, because anywhere you go around town, it looks like all the dancers learned their moves at the same dance school. # Cocinando of Kalispell brings their blend of Afro-Caribbean Latin Jazz and Salsa to the Blue Heron Friday, Aug. 17. Tickets are $5.