They say that music is a universal language.
A catchy tune and a strong beat can bring us together no matter what our background is.
But… you still might be wondering what those lyrics actually mean.
If you’re a fan of the iconic Latin American salsa music, you’re in luck.
In this article, we’ll show you the best salsa songs to get you up and moving, whether you’re a newbie or already a prolific dancer. We’ll also explain the message behind the lyrics and the little Spanish lessons they’re hiding, so you can get more emotion and enjoyment out of any salsa song you dance to.
What Varieties of Salsa Music Are There?
Salsa music originated in the melting pot of New York as a melding of various styles in immigrant communities, with a particular influence from Cuban music styles. It contains complex rhythms, strong horn sections and beats that get you on your feet.
Once you start listening to salsa music, you’ll hear its evolution over the course of decades, as well as variations by region. Of course, artists put their individual flair into the music as well.
The style of dancing varies, too. L.A. style is quite common and has the first step on beat one. New York style, on the other hand, has the first step on two. Cuban style salsa is danced in less of a linear style than the previous two types.
Some artists blend salsa with other musical styles, like reggaeton. You can even find salsa remixes of pop songs you may know. Check out this version of Adele’s “Hello” for a rhythmic take on the original.
Salsa music may sound upbeat, but its songs run the gamut of emotions. Of course, as is often the case in music, love features prominently, whether it’s lost love, unrequited love or love in the fullness of its expression.
Why Is Spanish Important to Salsa Dancers?
You may have entered the world of salsa dancing without intending to study Spanish, but the two can easily go hand-in-hand.
By listening to salsa music, you’re exposing yourself to the language in an enjoyable and stress-free way. Meanwhile, the music’s rhyming and repetition make the language much more memorable. So even if you haven’t studied a word of Spanish yet, you’ll be giving yourself an easy jumpstart. And if you’re already learning Spanish, salsa dancing is one of the most fun ways to reinforce your language skills!
On top of this, going salsa dancing gives you the chance to meet other Spanish speakers and have real world practice with the language.
You’ll soon see how knowing some Spanish helps you get a lot more out of each salsa song. You’ll understand the emotion behind the music and you’ll learn more about the culture of salsa music in general. This can, in turn, make you a better dancer since you’re not just going through the motions but really feeling the music.
If you’re dedicated to learning both Spanish and salsa, it’s best to listen to some songs at home before hitting the discoteca (club). The extra practice will help you get used to the unique rhythm found in salsa music and will also give you a chance to listen more carefully to the lyrics. Then, when you understand the meaning behind the music, you can infuse more pasión (passion) into your dancing.
FluentU is a particularly helpful tool.
Salsa lovers will enjoy this performance by Luis Enrique and this tour of iconic salsa movie clips. To watch with all the Spanish learning features and explore the full library of more than 2,500 videos, sign up for a free FluentU trial.
What Are the Best Salsa Songs? 6 Popular, Uplifting Tunes in Spanish
Where should you start in the world of salsa music? There are endless options, but the songs listed below are positive, optimistic tunes that encourage the listener to persevere through the difficult moments in life.
Marc Anthony, “Vivir Mi Vida”
“Vivir Mi Vida” (“Live My Life”) came out back in 2013 and was a huge hit. The singer describes dancing through the difficulties of life and takes a rather philosophical view of things.
Voy a vivir el momento (I’m going to live in the moment)
Para entender el destino (To understand destiny)
Voy a escuchar en silencio (I’m going to listen in silence)
Para encontrar el camino (To find the way)
As seen above, the song makes frequent use of the informal future tense: ir + a + infinitive. Some Spanish learners get comfortable with this tense when avoiding the slightly more complicated conjugation rules of the simple future tense (although it’s really not that bad!).
Celia Cruz, “La Vida Es Un Carnaval”
Celia Cruz was born in Cuba but left the country after the Cuban Revolution. She never returned to her home country, as she didn’t support the Castro regime, but her music expressed a love of her native land.
“La Vida Es Un Carnaval” (“Life Is a Party”) describes taking the long view on life, and focusing on the good to get through the bad things that come your way.
Oh oh oh ah, no hay que llorar (Oh oh oh ah, you don’t have to cry)
Que la vida es un carnaval (Life is a party)
Y es más bello vivir cantando (And it’s more beautiful to live while singing)
Throughout this song, you may also notice that piense (thinks) is conjugated in the subjunctive mood, which is used for uncertainties. This is because she’s singing about the feelings of a potential or hypothetical person, not about a specific person.
Fanny Lu, “Llorar Es Una Locura”
Fanny Lu is known for being a pop singer, and the song “Llorar Es Una Locura” (“Life Is Madness”) is a bit of a pop-salsa blend. It definitely features the strong horns and catchy rhythms that you expect with salsa.
The song encourages you to live life to the fullest, to boldly be yourself and to persevere in the face of challenges. And the music video will give you all the feels.
Vívela como quieras (Live it as you like)
Que todo llega cuando tiene que llegar (Everything comes when it has to come)
Gózala a tu manera (Enjoy it in your own way)
Que todo pasa cuando tiene que pasar (Everything happens when it has to happen)
Want to boss around your friends and family in Spanish? This song will teach you how. The lyrics feature many verbs in the informal command form (a.k.a. imperative tú), such as vive (live), piensa (think) and ríe (laugh).
Rubén Blades, “Todo o Nada”
Rubén Blades was born in Panama and has a career spanning decades. In addition to his long career in music, he has acted in many TV shows and movies and even ran for president of Panama in 1994.
He’s won numerous Grammys and Latin Grammys over the years. His songs often include political or social themes.
The song “Todo o Nada” (“All or Nothing”) is all about believing in yourself and never losing hope.
Mi corazón no se cansa pues lo apoya la esperanza (My heart doesn’t grow tired because hope sustains it)
La definición del fracaso siempre ha sido el no tratar (The definition of failure has always been not trying)
This song also features a number of verbs in the imperative, including a few negatives: nunca digas (never say) and no te desanimes (don’t lose spirit).
Alex Matos, “Lo Malo Se Va Bailando”
Alex Matos is a singer from the Dominican Republic. His song “Lo Malo Se Va Bailando” (“The Bad Goes Away with Dancing”) recommends dancing as the cure to life’s woes.
Todo lo malo se va (All the bad goes away)
Se te va bailando (It goes away when dancing)
Que no hay una pena que no se quite (There’s no pain that won’t disappear)
Celebrando (By celebrating)
Again, we see the subjunctive mood in this song as the lyrics express wishes: Que empiece la alegría (May the happiness begin) and Que venga la paz (May peace come).
Víctor Manuelle ft. Gilberto Santa Rosa, “Salsa Pa’ Olvidar las Penas”
Víctor Manuelle hails from Puerto Rico and has a long career in the world of salsa.
The song “Salsa Pa’ Olvidar las Penas” (“Salsa to Forget Your Woes”) is an homage to the musical style itself as well as to the big names in the genre. (You’ll hear the mention of our friends Rubén Blades and Celia Cruz). It has a similar message to Matos’ tune.
Pa’ el que siente triste (For he who feels sad)
Yo traigo la receta (I have the prescription)
Salsa, salsa pa’ olvidar las penas (Salsa, salsa to forget your woes)
Note the shortened version pa’ in place of the full word para (for), which has popped up in several of these songs. Learning abbreviations like this is an important step to achieving real fluency in Spanish.
This song also has some specifically dance-related terminology to help you chat with your fellow salseros (salsa dancers). Guaguancó and son are both Latin dance styles.
So now you have some ideas of where to start. Grab your dancing shoes and joyfully learn some Spanish while you shake it to the best salsa songs out there!
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