Salsa the music of Cuba
Salsa is basically Cuban country and western music. But don't be put off. It is ten times better than anything belted out by John Denver. Much of what is called Salsa originated as Son, the nineteenth century ballads of the rural Spanish campesinos.
Son was accompanied by Spanish guitar, but the African influence grew with the conga, bongo and bata drums, the maraca rattle, the guiro a long, ribbed gourd rasped with a stick, as well as the claves sticks banged together. Drums, trumpets, horns, bass and flute were later added to create the big-bands that played rumba, mambo and chachacha in the '40s and '50s.
During the '50s the big-bands faded and Cuban Son mixed with other Latin rhythms was played all over South America, Miami and New York's Puerto Rican community. Celia Cruz, a young, black Cuban beauty helped to develop the style and became the queen of Salsa.
Gradually this fused with Latin jazz to create the syncopated Cuban salsa style, which was also embraced outside Cuba by Carmen Miranda. So Salsa is basically Latin rhythms to an African beat, influenced by jazz and a touch of C&W.; The music has been made popular in the West by the hit film 'The Buena Vista Social Club' and the Salsa influenced music of Ricky Martin.
Salsa in Cuba
It's not difficult to find Salsa in Cuba. Salsa is everywhere in bars, in hotels, on the beach, sometimes on the street. Many of the old bars on Obispo and Avenida de Belgica in Havana have live bands of varying quality.
There are also number of large Salsa based cabarets in Havana and the big cities. The ones which tend to get recommended in hotels are touristy and overpriced the famous Tropicana in Havana is an experience, but much more a show than real Cuban Salsa.
Many of the best Salsa clubs are in Vedado, but the Palacio de la Salsa in the Hotel Riviera on Paseo and Malecon is better than some as it gets top Cuban acts, including Los Van Van. You should go early or try and get a reservation through your hotel.
The smaller clubs used by Cubans are usually a better bet. Try the Cafe Cantante at Paseo and 39 admission is $10 for visitors, which is fairly steep by Cuban standards. Cubans dress up to go dancing in the evening and you will sometimes find that the Havana clubs have a no shorts policy.
Otherwise just ask around for the best place in your area. You run the risk of some-one getting a commission for taking you there, but it is not a bad way to get to a decent local club.
Most Cuban towns have Salsa clubs and you will often just come across impromptu clubs in small bars or even in the spaces where old buildings have fallen down. The larger towns also have Trovas, which play a variety of music, including Son they do, however, tend to be the places where tourists are sent which can diminish the atmosphere.
In Santiago de Cuba try the Casa de la Trova close to the Casa Granda hotel, a few yards from the Parque Cespedes, which specialises in Son; or the more atmospheric Patio Los Dos Abuelos just by the Casa Grande where elderly Cubans dance to Son and bolero.
Some of the larger towns also now have hybrid Salsa clubs and discos which the Cubans love a good example is Discoteca El Benny More in Cienfuegos. You get all of the pretentious guest-list stuff, doormen with ear mikes etc etc, but they can be fun.