In his article “Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward an Anthropology of ‘Salsa,’” Jorge Duany traces the development of salsa in Puerto Rico, showing how it rose as a proletariat genre in a social and political context of syncretism. He very effectively shows how the history of the Puerto Rican people, particularly in relation to European colonization and later US colonization, is reflected in the conflagration of musical styles that ultimately resulted in what we know today as salsa. He also successfully describes “the music itself,” highlighting instrumental consistencies between subgenres, rhythmic elements, and vocal patterns. My one point of contention with the article is his lack of description of the dance culture associated with salsa, which in this particular genre should not be neglected.
Duany describes the prevalence of Puerto Rican culture in the United States, and the heavy hand American colonization had in shaping what became salsa. Today in the United States, salsa is associated with music, but I would argue that its principle connotation is with dance. Salsa clubs have very much become social fixtures particularly in urban centers, often seen as emblems of generic Latin culture. Duany recognizes the importance of dance in salsa culture when he says, “Above all, this is music to be danced to: a song that doesn’t make you moveyour feet doesn’t have any ‘salsa.’” (199). However, he fails to make any description of “the dance itself” or even the role dance plays in salsa culture aside from a few general descriptions. Upon noting this oversight, I question when music can appropriately be separated form its corresponding musical genres. If salsa is not truly salsa if it fails to evoke physical movement, how can it be analyzed without a description of the dance?