Cultural Spotlight – Salsa

El_Cantante
Hector Lavoe, ‘El Cantante’ (1946 – 1993)

If you’re walking in any city in Colombia or in most parts of Latin America and you start to feel the rhythm and the beat to some up-tempo music that sounds as if jazz and ‘son cubano’ had a baby, it would be known to the world as ‘Salsa.’ Salsa music has only been around for over five decades but has had a lasting impact on the world of music and its’ popularity has stayed consistent in the countries and regions where it was first introduced. While some folks may argue that old-school music genres like jazz, swing, and the blues are on the decline these days; that is simply not the case when it comes to Salsa.

Contrary to popular belief, Salsa did not originate in Puerto Rico, Cuba, or even Colombia. This form of music came out of the communities of immigrants in New York City during the 1960s from Cuba to Puerto Rico who wanted to introduce a new take on ‘son cubano’ music that had been around for a few decades and to bring it to new audiences before who had never been exposed to that kind of genre before.

The music of Salsa has been highly influenced by previous Cuban genres such as ‘son cubano, son montuno, guaracha, mambo, bolero, etc. as well as certain Puerto Rican genres such as ‘bomba, and plena.’ It also should be noted that Salsa was heavily influenced by the American musical genre of Jazz and certain experts have noted Salsa as being a form of Latin jazz. Salsa is a very flexible genre and can incorporate many different forms of music together in order to be innovative and unique. Even rock, r&b, blues, and funk have found their way into the rhythms, beats, and lyrics of Salsa music.

If there were a form of musical expression to represent the Americas whether it was North America or South America, it would be jazz. Salsa music would not be what it is today without previous music genres influencing the sounds and songs to change and adapt as the decades passed by. However, without the early Salsa bands made up of newcomer immigrants from the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities who came to New York City and America for a better life, Salsa would also not be the popular genre that it has become today. From the 1930s to the 1960s, these new immigrants brought joy, happiness, and excitement to both their local communities and cities from Boston to Cali.

From the streets of the South Bronx to the barrios of Cali, Salsa would spread from New York City to Colombia to Peru to all over Latin America. Salsa has become a global music genre today with people all over the world sharing together their passion and love for this unique form of self-expression. You can find Salsa classes and music clubs in most major cities all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re new to dancing, or can’t understand the lyrics, Salsa is a music genre open to everybody. Some of the big names in Salsa are Johnny Pacheco, creator of the Fania all-stars band, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Bobby Valentin, Eduardo Palmieri, Marc Anthony, etc.

The instrumentation used in Salsa music is incredibly diverse and can really depend on what kind of style you’re going for whether it’s ‘salsa romantica’ or ‘salsa dura.’ It also depends upon how fast the tempo is and what the chord / verse arrangement is too. The most popular kinds of instruments used in Salsa music are percussion and brass instruments. It’s very rare where string instruments are used unless its’ an acoustic or electric guitar. When it comes to the most widely used instruments, they are usually the piano, the bongo drums, the congas, trumpet, trombone, claves, and different guitars.

Since the genre of Salsa has spread to many parts of the Western Hemisphere, there are many different styles of Salsa dancing that make the music more enjoyable for people to participate in by moving their bodies in various ways. While there is no clear consensus on which style of Salsa is the best or most popular, there’s the Cuban style, the New York style, Puerto Rican style, Los Angeles style, and Cali style from Colombia. Each style of Salsa is a little bit different from each other so once you master one of these types, there is another one out there to learn in order to keep your knowledge up to date. There are few parts of the world that haven’t been touched by Salsa music, which makes it one of the most fun and enjoyable kinds of dances to learn. Whether you’re in Peru, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or the United States, you’ll have a chance to dance Salsa if you look hard enough.

By listening to Salsa music and learning how to dance to the rhythms and the beats of this genre, you really learn a lot about Latin American culture. Listen carefully to the lyrics, study the history of both the song and dance, and you’ll be able to gain insight as to why this has become one of the most popular music genres on the planet today. Few things make the average person happier than being able to cut loose on the dance floor and Salsa as a genre succeeds in doing that beyond measure.

During my time here in Colombia, I’ve enjoyed going out to learn Salsa in some classes, and putting the moves I’ve learned into practice when I go out on Saturday nights to a Salsa club. It’s really a joy to dance and sing to the point of exhaustion until your feet can’t move anymore while the beads of sweat roll down your neck. Salsa, to me, is a celebration of living life to the fullest and expressing the movements of your body the way you’re supposed to do. If you haven’t given Salsa music or dancing a chance yet, start to do so today. I promise you won’t regret the experiences you gain by enjoying this popular genre.

Steve Jobs – ‘On Failure’

It’s not often when the average person can gleam some wisdom or some insight from a YouTube video but there are exceptions to this fact when you start to dig deeper. One of these videos that I enjoyed viewing focuses on the late Steve Jobs, the innovative and driven entrepreneur, who was the co-founder of Apple Inc. and for the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century helped lead the computer and smartphone revolution around the world. While most people may know him from his appearances at developers’ conferences where he would unveil Apple’s latest invention or innovation, there is a side to Steve Jobs that some folks may overlook.

Steve Jobs wasn’t always a great success and had many failures throughout his life. Fired by the company he co-founded and having gone through product setbacks such as with the Apple III and the NeXT computer, not everything went the right way for the legendary entrepreneur at first. However, these setbacks and failures are obscured today but the massive amount of success and innovation he would bring to the world by sticking to his principles and by always taking the initiative to ‘stay hungry’ for more.

The YouTube video I’m referencing in this blog post is titled, “Steve Jobs on Failure” has over one million unique views and has been up on the website for over six years. In the video, most likely set in the 1990’s, a young Steve Jobs talks about one particular time where he took the initiative that was driven by his innate curiosity. At the beginning of the video, Jobs talks about the fact that most people don’t have the experiences they should because they never ask or inquire about them to begin with. Mr. Jobs hints at the fact that he was never afraid to ask for help from other people, especially if they were in his field of work and would be able to assist him in some way by giving him advice or by mentoring him in some capacity.

The adult Steve Jobs in the video recounts how when he was only twelve years old, he called up Bill Hewlett, the engineer and co-founder behind the massively successful information technology company known worldwide as Hewlett Packard or HP, which similarly to Apple Inc., is also based out of Silicon Valley in California. The twelve-year old Jobs introduced himself to Mr. Hewlett and simply asked him directly for help with building a frequency counter. Little Steve asked Mr. Hewlett for some spare parts that could be used in order to build an effective frequency counter. The young Steve Jobs left quite an impression on Mr. Hewlett, so much so that the co-founder of HP gave him the spare parts as well as a summer job working on an assembly job working with the nuts and bolts that help make the frequency counters at Hewlett Packard work effectively.

You can tell the way from the way that Steve reacts to Mr. Hewlett’s genuine help and generosity with giving him a job and a start to his future in information technology that it meant a lot to him both personally and professionally. Certain moments like that in our lives when somebody really gives a chance and helps us along the way to having a brighter future is a lasting memory that simply does not go away. We can only speculate what might have happened if Mr. Hewlett had instead just hung up the phone on young Steve and not helped him out at all. The world could very much be a different place had Steve not gotten that positive feedback and mentorship that we all seek in our own lives.

“I’ve never found anyone who said ‘No’ or hung up the phone when I called…I just asked.” Steve knew that there was a chance at failure when it came to reaching out to others in his field but he knew also that he had to try in order to get ahead in his life. He had to put himself out there, make connections, and learn from others in order to build his company and create successful products. I think Steve realizes that he would not be where he was as an adult without the help he received from others throughout his life. The video shows his sense of gratitude for that assistance and that he is wise enough to remember to give back to other people as well who want to be in his position one day or to be successful like he was.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call…most people never ask.” Steve is right in his assertion that those who don’t reach out for help or don’t seek out opportunities will never get to where they want to be in life. He makes the correct distinction between those people who take the initiative and those other people who let opportunities pass them by. You can dream and wish for things to happen for yourself but unless you put the pen to the paper or put your phone to your ear, you won’t accomplish that much.

Lastly, Steve notes in this video that ‘you have to be willing to fail…you got to be willing to crash and burn.” Steve Jobs like many other inventors and innovators had multiple failures beset them but they did not give up and they were not afraid to fail. Through failure, we learn from our mistakes and we get better and better at what we are trying to accomplish. With enough hard work and effort, we can push forward to achieve what we set out to do originally and so much more. When an Apple product failed to gain traction or when he was forced out of his own company, Steve Jobs like many other successful men and women did not give up and go home. They learned from their mistakes and became better at what they do.

“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” To put it bluntly, failure happens to everybody. Nobody in the world succeeds 100% of the time at everything they do. People like Steve Jobs recognize that this is all too true but it doesn’t deter them from their goals because they won’t stop until they achieve what they want to accomplish. In order to turn those failures into successes, you need to have an indomitable will and to let nothing stand in your way.

Instead of blaming your failures on others or giving up after a few bumps in the road, you should continue to embrace the learning process and seek help from those other people who have been successful in their lives and would be willing to offer their help to you. Steve Jobs did not become one of the most important men of the 20th century by being afraid of failure or from doing it all on his own. He sought the advice and counsel of others while never giving up even when things looked pretty bleak. That kind of mindset that he explains in the video helps us to understand why he became so successful in his life and how we can learn from his words to become successful in our own lives.