36 Best Salsa Songs that Will Make You Want to Bailar!

Salsa (meaning ‘spicy’ or ‘hot’ in Spanish) is a fiery musical genre that has become part of the Latin identity.

It’s also the name for a Latin dance style – first popularized in New York City in the 1960s – that blends Cuban dance styles (mambo, pachanga, and rumba) and American (swing, tap).

This playlist comprises the best salsa songs ever made, from Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the US.

If you’re new to salsa, this list will serve as the perfect introduction for you. If you’re already a fan, you’ll hopefully discover a new song or two. If you’re learning Spanish, they’re great too.

Time to get moving them hips 馃檪

Llorar谩s – Oscar D’Leon

No list of salsa hits is complete without a song by Oscar D’Leon, and when it comes to the great man, you have to start with Llorar谩s. The song is about a woman who’s fallen out of love with the narrator (or possibly cheated on him). He lets her know she’ll pay for her actions, and will cry for all the hurt she’s inflicted on him (llorar谩s means ‘you will cry’.)

La Rebeli贸n – Joe Arroyo

Joe Arroyo is a famous Colombian salsa star. The sumptuous percussion beats and the amazing Latin piano part (played by Chelito De Castro) made it an instant classic on its release in 1995. The song references Cartagena (in Colombia) during the 1600s, which was South America鈥檚 largest slave-trading port at the time.

La Vida Es Un Carnaval – Celia Cruz

If you like to dance salsa, you’ll know this one by the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. It’s one of the great Cuban singer’s signature songs, combining merengue and reggaet贸n music into a unique blend of pure joy. The song is a celebration of life and radiates positivity, something we could all do with from time to time (‘La vida es un carnaval’ literally translates to ‘life is a carnival.’)

Tu Cari帽ito – Puerto Rican Power

While the music we know as salsa has origins in the Afro-Spanish musical traditions of Cuba, its worldwide popularity is thanks to the Puerto Ricans of New York who popularized it (nearly 1 million Puerto Ricans migrated to the US – especially to New York City – between 1940 and 1969). Here with the brilliant singer Tito Rojas on vocals, this is amazing. Qu茅 canci贸n!

Vivir Mi Vida – Marc Anthony

This song about life (‘Vivir mi Vida’ literally means ‘live my life’) was a return to form for the charismatic Marc Anthony, the man famous for the sub-genre of salsa known as ‘salsa romantica’. On its release, it took the Latin American world by storm. It’s about living in the moment and leaving all your troubles behind. That’s exactly what you want to hear on the dance floor. Fabuloso!

Pedro Navaja – Rub茅n Blades and Willie Col贸n

Here’s another classic track that always appears on pretty much every list of best salsa songs in existence. Inspired by the song ‘Mack the Knife’ (‘navaja’ means ‘knife’ or ‘razor blade’ in Spanish) it’s a rather gruesome tale about the underbelly of life ‘en el barrio’ in New York City. The song is full of dark humor – and at the end of the song, Navaja is shot dead by a Smith & Wesson .38 Special.

Ay Amor Cuando Hablan Las Miradas – Orquesta Guayac谩n

Orquesta Guayac谩n is a Colombian salsa music band, founded by Alexis Lozano (formerly of Grupo Niche) who rose to prominence during the 1990s. They’re still one of the most popular salsa bands in Colombia, and this track is one of their best and most loved. Fenomenal!

Conteo Regresivo – Gilberto Santa Rosa

Gilberto Santa Rosa is salsa royalty. Nicknamed ‘El Caballero de la Salsa’ (The Gentleman of Salsa), he is a Puerto Rican bandleader and singer of salsa and bolero. He’s sold over three million records in the US and Puerto Rico, won six Grammy Awards, and holds the record for the most number-one albums on the Billboard Tropical Albums chart.

Cali Pachanguero – Grupo Niche

Cali Pachanguero is a tribute to the beauty of Cali, Colombia, which calls itself the 鈥淪alsa Capital of the World鈥. It references popular places in the city, from 鈥淪ilo茅 and its little streets鈥 (a popular place for dancing), to a 鈥渄erby at the Pascual鈥, the local soccer stadium. This song reflects the faster salsa style from Cali (salsa cale帽a), and you can hear the spirit of the city in every verse.

La Murga – H茅ctor Lavoe, Willie Col贸n and Yomo Toro

Another salsa classic out of Puerto Rico, La Murga is about a carnaval dance from Panama. It鈥檚 named after las murgas (or bands of street musicians), who come out and play during the festival to keep the party lively and stomping. The song鈥檚 legendary trombone intro helps it live up to its name by reliably getting everyone out on the dance floor.

Dile a Ella – V铆ctor Manuelle

When you鈥檙e looking for a salsa love song with an upbeat tempo, start here with V铆ctor Manuelle. He tells a friend to 鈥淭ell her I haven鈥檛 been able to forget her,鈥 and it seems he had to break off this relationship because he was already tied to another. The song鈥檚 long crescendo feels like sunny days and sweet nostalgia.

Talento de Televisi贸n – Willie Col贸n

A salsa song with a sense of humor, Talento de Televisi贸n is a tribute to a TV star who gets by on her physical assets alone. While she 鈥渄oesn鈥檛 have talent but she鈥檚 mighty good-looking,鈥 she does manage to make a top salary strutting her stuff!

El Preso – Fruko y Sus Tesos

Coming out of Medell铆n, Colombia, this is a high-energy tune. Given bandleader Fruko鈥檚 bright vocals, the brilliant horn arrangement, and driving percussion, you wouldn鈥檛 know about its grim subject matter without the lyrics. El preso is about a prisoner lamenting his fate of a 30-year sentence.

Peri贸dico de Ayer – Hector Lavoe

A bitter retrospective on love, H茅ctor Lavoe sings that 鈥淵our love is yesterday鈥檚 newspaper鈥. He spins this poetic metaphor throughout the song, comparing his past partner to 鈥渁 newspaper clipping that I glued in my album of oblivion.鈥 Ouch! This song will heal any aching heart with its rolling groove.

Soledad – La-33

Orquesta La-33, mostly known as La-33, is a 12-piece salsa band hailing from Bogot谩, Colombia. They鈥檝e made their impact on the salsa genre worldwide since 2001. Their salsa style is influenced by jazz, funk, boogaloo, and folk, and 鈥淪oledad鈥 stays true to a classic salsa sound that鈥檚 made to dance to. Bailamos!

Candela – Buena Vista Social Club

Quite possibly one of the greatest Cuban 鈥渟on鈥 style songs ever written, Candela was written by Faustino Oramas. Ibrahim Ferrer鈥檚 vocals express his urgent feelings of love for Candela, saying 鈥淐andela, I鈥檓 on fire!鈥 as he weaves sexual innuendoes throughout the rest of this fun and uplifting song.

Related: Cuban songs

Toro Mata – Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco

This song is a 鈥渟alsafied鈥 version of a famous Afro-Peruvian song that was around as early as the 1800s, a musical response to the conquest of Peru by Spain. It鈥檚 now well-known in South America again, thanks to its resurgence starting around the 1950s. The dance connected to this song was created to make fun of the Spanish Conquistadors and their stiff dance styles, like the waltz and minuet.

Ven, Devorame Otra Vez – Lalo Rodr铆guez

In this chart-topping romantic salsa tune, Lalo Rodr铆guez longs for a woman to return and 鈥渄evour鈥 him all over again. Lalo Rodr铆guez got his start singing with his first band at 12 years old, and was on his first album at age 16. He achieved huge commercial success in the 1980s with his musical compositions and vocal stylings.

V谩monos pa’l Monte – Eddie Palmieri

With a Latin Jazz touch, this number by the legendary Eddie Palmieri shows off his incredible compositional mastery. He impacted the salsa sound forever in 1961 by introducing the use of trombones in his band, La Perfecta. Since then he鈥檚 won three Latin Grammy awards and nine Grammy Awards, and continues making phenomenal music today.

Sonido Bestial – Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz

A true orchestral salsa fusion masterpiece, Sonido Bestial includes elements of classical music, jazz, and guaguanco music, to name a few. It was released in 1971 after Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz decided to take a break from salsa-saturated New York and start fresh in Puerto Rico. There they created the label Vaya records and Richie was subsequently established as one of the best pianists, arrangers, and composers of the salsa world.

Pa’ Bravo Yo 鈥 Justo Betancourt

Cuban singer Justo Betancourt found his fame through the release of 鈥淧a鈥 Bravo Yo鈥 in 1972. Justo joined his first band at 11 years old in Havana, Cuba, and was the first singer signed to the legendary Fania Records. Throughout his career, he played with greats such as Mongo Santamaria, Eddie Palmieri, and Ray Barretto.

Tiahuanaco – Alfredito Linares

Alfredito Linares was a salsa bandleader who moved from Peru to Cali, the 鈥渟alsa capital鈥 of Colombia, in 1970. Growing up with a father who repaired pianos, Alfredito started learning how to play piano by the age of five. In the primarily instrumental Tiahuanaco, his early influences from Cuban groups such as Sonora Matancera can be noted and appreciated in his style. The word 鈥淭iahuanaco鈥 has two meanings: Pre-Incan culture, and the name of a town in Bolivia.

Ran Kan Kan – Tito Puente

The ‘King of the Timbales’, Tito Puente, comes to rock your world with this jazzy classic. The percussion will send chills down your spine! Bringing in sounds of marimba, vibraphone, and of course timbales, Ran Kan Kan makes it clear why Tito Puente (1923-2000) was the undisputed grandfather of Latin percussion since the 1950s. 隆Sabroso!

Vagabundo – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

The most commercially successful salsa orchestra ever to come out of Puerto Rico, El Gran Combo has been around since 1962. The group has released over 40 albums and currently has sixteen members, along with well over 25 former members! Vagabundo showcases not only the band鈥檚 top-notch compositions but also their meaningful lyrics that allow them to keep putting out hit after hit. The song is essentially a prayer spoken aloud that the writer鈥檚 son may find his way in the world, be protected, and have an easier life than his father had.

Aparentemente – Tony Vega

This suave love song expresses the frustration of being in an affair with someone who already has a partner. The lyrics say 鈥淎parentmente tu le quieres, tu le amas, pero no eres feliz鈥 which translates to 鈥淎pparently you like him, you love him, but you鈥檙e not happy.鈥 Unfortunately, we never find out in the song if she did ultimately leave her man for him, but apparently, there was something between them that the singer held close to his heart.

驴Qu茅 Hay de Malo? – Jerry Rivera

鈥淨u茅 hay de malo?鈥 is about a guy asking 鈥淲hat鈥檚 so bad?鈥 about loving a woman whose father prohibits her from dating him. Signed to a record label at the young age of fourteen, Jerry Rivera is a multi-platinum singer, songwriter, and Grammy award winner. His catalog is primarily salsa tunes, but he鈥檚 also known for writing boleros and famous Latin pop ballads.

Anuncio Clasificado – Willie Rosario

Starting his career in the early 1950s, Willie Rosario is a salsa artist who was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2002. He and Bobby Valent铆n opened the Tropicana Club together in the 1980s in Puerto Rico. He鈥檚 released multiple gold and platinum albums and continues to play at major salsa events and dance congresses in Puerto Rico.

Indestructible – Ray Barretto

Released after a few important members of his orchestra left the group to start their own project, Ray Barretto was able to pull in a new array of exceptional talent for the recording of this album. It turned out to be one of his best. The album cover shows Ray shedding a Clark Kent-type disguise to reveal a Superman suit underneath, letting the world know that he would not renounce his place in the salsa universe so easily!

La Temperatura – Los Hermanos Lebr贸n

Heavily influenced by boogaloo, rhythm and blues, and soul, The Lebr贸n Brothers were a family born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, New York. They are said to have been instrumental in the formation of the name 鈥渟alsa鈥 for the genre, with their song 鈥淪alsa Y Control鈥 that came out in 1970, although the first usages of the term went back to the 1950s and 60s.

La Boda de Ella – Bobby Valentin

La Boda de Ella is about a woman getting married, who perhaps was not always faithful to her partner, or at least the singer of the song makes it sound that way. 鈥淟a boda de ella tiene que ser el mejor鈥 means 鈥淗er wedding has to be the best鈥. The singer doesn鈥檛 want to let her go and watch her get married, so decides 鈥淨ue yo me quedar茅 bebiendo para olvidar鈥, which translates to 鈥淚鈥檒l stay here drinking to forget.鈥 Bobby Valent铆n has been playing music since the late 1960s and still tours worldwide today.

Condename a tu Amor – Tito Rojas

Also known as 鈥淓l Gallo Salsero鈥 from his song of the same name, Tito Rojas released over 60 singles that made it to the Latin music charts throughout his career of over 50 years. Like many Puerto Rican salseros, he started writing and playing music in his adolescence, and became a highly prolific songwriter and bandleader.

Fuego en el 23 – La Sonora Ponce帽a

鈥淔ire on 23rd鈥 is a song written in 1957 based on a true story, based on the life of a great Cuban composer and musician named Arsenio Rodriguez, 鈥淓l Ciego Maravilloso鈥 (The Wonderful Blind Man). Blind since childhood due to an accident, he composed and performed regularly at the famous Palladium on Broadway in New York. After he was saved from a massive fire in his apartment building by singer Luis Kortright, this song was born, and later recorded by La Sonora Ponce帽a.

Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Another chart-topper from El Gran Combo, this song comes from their 63rd album! El Gran Combo continues to put out fun, dance-worthy salsa music after 50 years of making records. Expertly combining Puerto Rican and Cuban sounds and an ever-evolving accompaniment of fresh new artists, this band is hard to contend with, and easy for any salsa dancer to appreciate.

Las Caras Lindas – Ismael Rivera

Las Caras Lindas was originally written by Tite Curet Alonso, the same Afro-Puerto Rican songwriter who wrote 鈥淧eriodico de Ayer鈥. It鈥檚 a tribute to the pride and beauty of people of African descent, as the title line translates to 鈥淭he lovely faces of my black people鈥. Alonso was a prolific writer who often included socially conscious content in his work, and Ismael Rivera made this song famous with a touch of alegr铆a, celebrating his people and their intrinsic beauty.

El Raton – Joe Cuba Sexteto and Cheo Feliciano

Cheo Feliciano wrote El Rat贸n with a comical tone. Based on a true tale, El Rat贸n is about a man who likes to go out to fool around on his wife, but there鈥檚 a mouse (鈥淓l Rat贸n鈥) who always tells on him and gets him in trouble. Cheo reported in an interview that the song was written without much seriousness, just as a filler song, but it ended up becoming one of their most requested tunes. Its slinky beat perfectly captures the vibe of a man sneaking out at night, trying not to get caught.

Betece – Africando (feat. Amadou Balake)

Africando is a special group made up of salsa musicians from New York and Senegalese singers. Their songs have included lyrics in both Wolof and Spanish. The group has included well-known African greats such as Salif Keita and Koffi Olomide. Betece has a smooth, danceable salsa groove with sunny lyrics in Wolof and an uplifting flute accompaniment to boot.

Further listening:

Special thanks to La Colombiana Nat P for helping compile this list of classics 馃檪

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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