||Salsa has been used as a general term applied to Afro-Cuban rhythms. More recently the term has been used to refer to a specific rhythm. It is often compared to Mambo for it's 4 beat timing, but what is considered Salsa today has moved away from the big band sound of the 40's and 50's Mambo, and is a combination of all its influences. These include its Cuban roots, the American Jazz scene and the works of musicians from other countries, especially Colombia and Puerto Rico.
The Afro Cuban rhythms that were Salsa's beginnings were a combination of Spanish Rumba with African percussion. They were primarily danced by the plantation slaves who had originated in Africa or been moved from Haiti.
It is significant to note that the Cuban slave was afforded slightly more freedom than those who were taken to the United States. They were allowed to stay in groups based on where they came from. They were able to keep their languages, religions and some of their traditions. They were also allowed to get married. Any child of a colonist with a slave, was considered a freeman. Any slave who saved enough money could buy his freedom.
It is said that the African drum first met the Spanish guitar in the cafe's where freemen served food and played music for Spanish sailors. There they played a sort of countrymen's music called the "Guajira" (A classic example of Guajira is the the song "Guantanamera"). From Guajira, developed most of the other Cuban rhythms including the Rumba and its offspring, Son.
Rumba and Son are considered probably the most significant contributors to modern Cuban music. There are three kinds of Rumba; Yambu, the slower and more sensual; Guaguanco which is faster; and Colombia, which includes dialogues between the drummers. In Colombia, the drummers will often try to anticipate the interpretational moves that the Rumba dancers will make. Certain streets in Havana are known gathering places for the displays of these Rumba dancers.
Santeria and Orishas:
The various rhythms take much of their inspiration from rituals based on the Afro-Cuban religious system and its mythology based on demi-gods called "Orishas". Each Orisha has its own rhythm which is used by community members to call on him or her. Dance has always been a part of these rituals and the result of t hese ritualistic influences has been a very strong union of the musician to his community and a mentality that these are "the people's dances". It is also interesting to note that some of the folkloric dances which have influenced Cuban dance incorporate movements which depict the cutting of sugar cane.