Salsa dance is a hodge podge of borrowed rhythms with roots in Colombia, Cuba, Africa, Puerto Rico, New York and Los Angeles—the list goes on and on. Just like the dance is so mixed, so is the music! However, if you stick to the same studios and the same Latin clubs, you’re probably going to hear the same songs and type of music. Whether you love it or just tolerate it, nothing gives you a spicy kick in your dance like shaking up your playlist.
Salsa has a 4/4 time signature, counts in groups of eight, and most salsa music is around 160-170 bpm (this is largely because it’s what’s most fun and easiest to dance to). The music is also known for strong Latin flavors, simple lyrics, and heavy percussion, but that doesn’t mean it’s a rule. Virtually any song that fits in the basic 4/4, 8-count and hovers around 165 bpm that you love, you can dance salsa to it!
Still, it’s always great to get recommendations from outside your close-knit salsa circle. Check out these artists and songs to add some new flavor to your salsa mixes. Request them at the clubs, or ask the DJ for a certain style you don’t hear often. They usually play what the regulars or club owners request, but are probably just as hungry as you are to spin something new!
- Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra – Featured on TED, this salsa-jazz-rock fusion gives you the best of three beloved worlds, and it’s no surprise that it comes out of Williamsburg. If you have hipster leanings or sometimes can’t decide between heading to the jazz club or the salsa club, this orchestra is for you. With this YouTube video, you can enjoy nearly 30 minutes of their live performance featuring Argentinian singer Solange Prat and lead percussionist Gianni Mano.
- Johnny Pacheco – Arguably the DR’s most influential salsa guru, these days you’ll likely only hear his songs like “No Mercedes” and “Acuyuye” in Dominican Republic clubs (if you’re lucky enough to find any!) or if you happen to stumble across an old school DJ who appreciates classical salsa music from a Latin country lesser known for their love of salsa.
- Crystal Sierra, “Playa No More” – Known for her unique style of salsa rap, Sierra manages to perfectly combine salsa and hip hop lyrics without leaning too heavily on either. It’s what some salsa lovers wish reggaeton could pull off. Almost all of her music is salsa-friendly, but “Playa No More” is a safe bet to request in a bustling club where some traditional salsa dancers won’t be (too) upset about introducing rap to the space.
- Gente de Zona, “La Gozadera” – Okay, sometimes they’re called reggaeton. And, yes, Marc Anthony is featured in this song. However, if either of those facts upsets your strictly salsa self, rest easy and take a listen. It’s a very danceable beat and offers up a touch of that dirty reggaeton spice without going all-in. Plus, these men know how to pull together a music video! The beat is a fast one, so it’ll definitely need to be peppered in amongst some slower pieces.
- Beyonce, “Naughty Girl (Remix) – Beyonce isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think “salsa,” but the salsa remix of “Naughty Girl” is well worth a listen! Even if you go to salsa clubs partly to escape the mainstream Top 40 hits blasting through the mainstream clubs, nobody can be mad at Bey—especially in the years before we heard about “Becky with the good hair” and why she takes who we can only assume to be Jay-Z to Red Lobster.
- Harbour Rain – Sometimes you really want to get bare bones, and there’s nothing more salsa romantica than some acoustic guitar and drumming songs to bring you and your partner closer. Best played when you’re with only your partner or as one of the final songs of the night, there’s an innate intimacy that comes with any acoustic performance … and with any partner dance.
- Shakira – Chantaje (Official Video) ft. Maluma – We cheated on this one. While not a salsa song, this sultry reggaetón hit works up a sweat and steams up the dance floor. Newcomer Maluma pairs well with Shakira and she’s as sexy as ever on this track.
Go ahead. Make that dream salsa playlist or come armed with a fiver and get the DJ to play something different. Now that you’ve had a sampling of just how diverse salsa music really can be, don’t wait any longer to test out how it can make you move.