Trying to sum up a half century of music that is a signature of Latin identity at the same time that it has been embraced by people around the world in one list is not easy. But then again, salsa should feel like the opposite of stress. So, while we can’t tell the entire story of salsa in 15 tracks, we can guarantee that these great classic songs should be part of your essential salsa music playlist.
“Periódico de Ayer,” Hector Lavoe
Hector Lavoe will always be “the voice” of salsa. While Lavoe’s signature “El Cantante” and his Latino anthem “Mi Gente” should also be part of any salsa playlist, we chose “Periódico de Ayer” because it sums up the sound of the Seventies New York salsa scene, and still puts a spell on dancers.
“El Preso,” Fruko y Sus Tesos
Colombian band Fruko y Sus Tesos’ 1975 anthem is the most liberating Salsa song about prison ever recorded.
Fuego en el 23, La Sonora Ponceña
Fusing hard salsa music with fire truck sirens, Puerto Rican group La Sonora Ponceña’s crowd favorite is always caliente.
“Pedro Navaja,” Willie Colon and Rubén Blades
The evergreen crossover hit from the groundbreaking album Siembra features salsa music’s best-known chorus (“La vida te da sorpresas Sorpresas te da la vida, ay dios”).
“Vivir Mi Vida,” Marc Anthony
Marc Anthony’s salsa comeback hit swept the 2014 Billboard Latin Music Awards.
“La Rebelión,” Joe Arroyo
A revisionist history lesson marked by Afro-Latin percussion and punctuated by horns and a traveling piano solo, the great Colombian salsero Joe Arroyo’s 1986 grooving protest song continues to resonate on dance floors throughout Latin America.
“Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso,” El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
A 2010 salsa track from the Puerto Rican institution exemplifies the required curriculum of the band known as the “salsa university.”
“Cali Pachanguero,” Grupo Niche
Colombia’s Grupo Niche lend their cool salsa style to this tribute to their home town.
“Toro Mata,” Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco
Celia Cruz’s transformation from Cuban singer to “queen of salsa” took place in New York City, where she signed with Fania Records. Like her other fantastic recordings, her rumbafied version of the Afro-Peruvian standard “Toro Mata” with Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco captured the euphoria of the times.
“Ven, Devorame Otra Vez,” Lalo Rodríguez
Puerto Rican singer Lalo Rodríguez seduced romantic salsa lovers with his 1989 hit “Ven, Devorame Otra Vez.”
“Las Caras Lindas,” Ismael Rivera
Ismael Rivera’s beautiful ode to “my black people,” demonstrates the power of socially-conscious salsa.
“Llorerás,” Oscar D´Leon
The signature song from Venezuela’s salsa star Oscar D’Leon, who adds his unique swing to a Cuban-rooted sound.
“Dile a Ella,” Victor Manuelle
Before he teamed up with urban artists like Farruko and Bad Bunny, Victor Manuelle brought energy to the scene in the 1990s with salsa songs like “Dile a Ella.”
“Conteo Regresivo,” Gilberto Santa Rosa
The “gentleman of salsa” demonstrates his suave approach to the genre on “Conteo Regresivo.”
“Quítate Tú,” Fania All Stars
Every salsa music playlist should include at least one song from the Fania All Stars’ revolutionary 1969 performance at New York’s Cheetah club.