Once people get bitten by the salsa bug they often ask me, “What music should I buy to practise to?” And many times they follow that up with, “I bought an album the other day and all the music is too fast!”
Well, recommending anything like music is dangerous at the best of times, people have different tastes. But for novices ….. a minefield! Many of the collections I refer to here are available both as CDs and MP3 downloadable albums, or you can download individual tracks.
My first suggestion is: never buy an album with a scantily clad young lady on the cover - that tends to be the best part of it. Believe me, I know, I’ve got loads of them!
Salsa, like many things in life, is better when you start off slowly and gradually get faster. So my recommendations to novices are generally of slower tempos. I’m not going to write reams about these albums, there are plenty of comments online. I’m just going to point you in the right direction — just follow the links by clicking on the picture.
Africando - World Music Legend. It may seem logical to jump straight to Cuba but my first and strongest recommendation is from Africa, Senegal to be precise. Where would teachers be without Africando? All their albums are excellent and have a cross-section of tempos. All have distinct, clear rhythms and the slower tracks are great for novices. Check out Mandali or too. MP3 or CD.
I suppose I have to recommend a CD set with a name like Simply Salsa (even more so as it contains a track called Cuban Pete) and it seems an obvious choice with a name like that - especially when its bright red pepper is beckoning to you from the CD rack. It’s a great value four-CD box set but beware, it is salsa in the broadest sense. Yes it has some moderate paced salsa tracks which novices can dance to but the majority are older traditional Cuban tracks - son, bolero and cha cha cha. Enjoy the CD for what it is, a great cross section of traditional music (plus some more up to date ones too) but don’t expect 52 tracks of moderate paced salsa to practise to. CDs only.
There are several other CD box sets worthy of consideration and which are all undoubtedly great value. The Beginners' Guide to Salsa has various editions. Vol 1 (2003) seems an obvious choice but its content rather belies its title. Each of the three CDs is entitled to suggest a gradual increase in tempo, from Warming Up! through Getting Hotter! to Dancefloor Meltdown! But having measured the tempos of all the tracks I can say that the mixture on each CD is not as clear cut as the titles would suggest. True novices may well alarmed by the speed of some of the tracks but there’s something in there for them too. Overall it’s a great compilation and well worth the money. CDs only.
The Beginners' Guide to Salsa Vol 2 was released at the end of 2006. Once again it is a three-CD boxed set but, unlike Vol 1, the tempos of the three CDs do indeed reflect their titles of Beginners, Improvers and Advanced. CD 1 uses mostly son and cha cha cha but it's very suitable for beginners. CDs only.
The Beginners' Guide to Salsa: New Edition was released in 2008 and, like its predecessor, the three discs increase in tempo and is once again great value for money. CDs only.
Salsahits There used to be a new album in this series released every year and they were a good selection of middle of the road salsa. It appears that, having run for many years, the last in this series was 2009. MP3 & CD.
It is no doubt a sign of the changing times. Pure Salsa compilations as described above were very common up until about 2010. Nowadays "Latin" compilations have virtually taken over. Beware of albums with words like Latin/Latino/Party in the title - they may contain a few salsa tracks but they are predominently a mixture of salsa timba, Cubaton, reggaeton, bachata, kizomba and kuduro - some of these were unheard of on the UK salsa scene only a few years ago.
Here are a few suggestions. They are great compilations and they do contain slower tracks to suite novices.
Sample some of these tracks on this album.
50 tracks for £5 - can't be robbed!!
60 tracks for £5.50.
There's plenty in there for novices too.
50 tracks for £6. Another bargain.
One of the benefits of the internet is to be able to sample tracks before downloading them, whether they be complete albums or individual tracks. But these are sometimes just 30 second tasters. To really try before you buy, and to explore the world of salsa and other music, try Spotify to listen for free.
Go to my LINKS page for more information.