Like the title says, I would like to know who are the most important salsa composers and/or performers.

If possible I'd like some brief background as to why they are so important.

  • Rubén Blades of Panama claims to have invented the style.
    – user546
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 1:54

7 Answers 7


Some of the best (for rhythm, lyrics, and/or popularity) are 'Fruko y Sus Tesos,' 'Grupo Niche,' Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Joe Arroyo, Willie Colon, 'La Sonora Matancera,' 'El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico,' and Ruben Blades.

All can be found through wikipedia. This site, as well as this one in Spanish reminded me of many of them.

Later addition: I should have remembered Oscar D'León. I can almost hear his song "Llorarás" in my mind, now that I was reminded of him by "zookid" (and the link to the 'cantautor''s Wikipedia article) in his answer. Somehow, though, his band name doesn't seem to me to be as famous as his own name.

Another addition: I recently remembered the "Fania All-Stars" (known to me usually as just "La Fania"). According to Wikipedia, it includes many of the performers mentioned above.


You can't have a Salsa conversation without mentioning Tito Puente. Also, since Salsa is defined as "Cuban-styled dance music", I'm surprised that Gloria Estefan is never associated with it.

Salsa actually had some interesting beginnings, as most Salsa musicians scoffed at the term. They didn't feel it was a different genre.


Some examples of worth mentioning are Oscar D'Leon and "La Dimensión Latina", they had have a great influence in salsa (and latin music generally)


As far as composers goes there is quite a list but ill give you one of the main guys.

  1. Omar Alfano - This individual was recognized as composer of the year in 2001 by ASCAP has written songs for all the best in the salsa scene these include "Que Hay De Malo" sung by Jerry Rivera, "Sin Voluntad" sung by Gilberto Santa Rosa, "Que Habra Sido de Mi, sung by Victor Manuelle and "Te Conosco Bien sung by Marc Anthony to name a few. His most popular hit "A Puro Dolor" quickly became a cross over english ballad by the group Son By Four. In 2007 he wrote a song for Shakira called "Hips Don't Lie" which also top the charts.

Other top composers are Jaila Valera, RIP. Tito Curet Alonzo.

In regards to Performers/Singers we have the old school and the new cats.

The old school consist of Hector Lavoe, probably the best of all time, Willie Colon, El Gran Combo, Grupo Niche, Celia Cruz, Roberto Roena and on and on.

What is interesting about the new cats is how they have influenced the younger generation to listen to salsa and how they have taken Salsa world wide. The likes of Jerry Rivera, Marc Anthony and Victor Manuelle has reached listeners, generations and audience never thought of during the old days.

Hopes this helps..


In order of overall impact (as in how many times their compositions have been recorded by others):

  1. Arsenio Rodriguez
  2. Justi Barreto
  3. Tite Curet Alonso.

Anyone who records or interprets Afro Cuban music has reinterpreted or reimagined one of their songs. Or have been inspired by them in developing their own original music. In terms of sheer volume of penned compositions, they also happen to be among the leaders.

Special mention must be given to earlier composers pre-1950. While the typical "Salsa" band of today may not draw from their catalogs, early composers such as Rafael Hernandez, Pedro Flores, and Chano Pozo impacted their era unlike anyone else. 9 out of 10 artists had at least one of these composers material in their repertoire. Hernandez for the late 1920s and throught the 1930s. Flores throughout the 1930s and Chano Pozo throughout the late '30s and throughout the brunt of the 1940s.

You can make a list of thousands of composers because the musical history is rich in this department. But just because you wrote 10,000 songs doesn't mean those songs made an impact. Salsa has a treasure trove of one hit wonders. So for the "greatest," I choose Arsenio, Justi and Tite Curet, for the reason I state above. 1 00% of dancers today have dance to one of their songs, at least once. Over 75% of Salsa ensembles have recorded their work. And not just one song but many. Of which can be viewed as multi-generational anthems.

Oh, and as for most important performers, as far as influence goes:

  1. Arsenio Rodriguez (popularized the typical ensemble format still employed to this day. Among the earliest to include Efik language or terminology into the songs. Further Africanizing the music via lyrical content. I would also include Maria Teresa Vera to share this spot as she was literally the first to introduce religious/folkloric elements into commercial music recordings during the 19-teens and '20s. She was also cited as an influence by artists such as Machito and the next pick below...

  2. Miguelito Valdes (The bridge between the early tenor vocal approach and the street 'Sonero' style that would later be exemplified by Orlando "Cascarita" Guerra, Benny More, Celia Cruz, Ismael Rivera, and so many others.)

  3. Xavier Cugat (He is cited for non-musical reasons. His greatest influence was in showing everyone how your image was your brand and was as important to your pursuit of commercial success as the level of musicianship one surrounds themselves with. From Machito to Tito Puente, they all approached the music in contrast to Cugat, but they patterned his business savvy and how he ran an orchestra.)

  4. Tito Puente (redefined the role of the timbalero and how the Tinbal instrument is played. Recorded over 120+ recordings. Wrote and arranged even more. Tito also introduced the vibraphone to Afro Cuban dance music. Paving the way for Cal Tjader, Joe Cuba Sextet, Louie Ramirez, and many other ensembles using the vibes in their format.)

  5. Machito orchestra (Considered the influential standard bearer of Afro Cuban and Jazz dance orchestras. They redefined the saxophone section in a Latin American oriented musical context, patterning itself after the subtle power of the Count Basie orchestra, the elegance of the Duke Ellington orchestra, and the pure and exciting swing of a Chick Webb dance orchestra.

  6. Rita Montaner. (From Myrta Silva to Graciela, the earliest female artists of Afro Cuban music all took a page from Rita in some fashion. Whether artistically or professionally.)

  7. Jose Fajardo and Orquesta Aragon. (To determine which of the two were more important is an effort in futility. But all roads of modern Charanga ensembles, whether in Cuba or beyond, lead to these two entities.

  8. Eddie Palmieri. (There isn't one pianist in Salsa today since 1962 that hasn't been impacted by his style of arranging preference, the multi-trombone format and writing for such, and his piano montunos are simply the definitive standard.)

  9. El Gran Combo (the equivalent of Machito orchestra, only in a Puerto Rico dance band context. Just as Machito orchestra begat the orchestras of Marcelino Guerra, Tito Puente, Joe Loco, Vicentico Valdes, Tito Rodriguez, etc. so too did El Gran Combo impact on the careers of Roberto Roena, Andy Montanez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, etc.

  10. La Lupe. (Our Billie Holiday. Our Judy Garland. Our Janis Joplin. Our Amy Winehouse. Although she passed in 1992, her music recordings continue to sell and be relevant today.)

The most important artists COMMERCIALLY in Salsa history:

  1. Marc Anthony
  2. Jerry Rivera
  3. Celia Cruz
  4. La India
  5. Tito Nieves

And somewhere behind them is Gilberto Santa Rosa, Victor Manuelle, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, La Lupe, Tito Rodriguez, Hector LaVoe, DLG, El Gran Combo, Perez Prado, xavier Cugat, Miguelito Valdes, Noro Morales, etc.

Now if you include any Afro Cuban based music, then you have to include the Buena Vista Social Club (over a million sold worldwide) and Gloria Estefan ("Mi Tierra") which sold 500K+ in the U.S. Which put BVSC ahead of India and Celia, and maybe Jerry. While placing Gloria ahead of TN.


Talk a look at Juan Formel de los Van Van. A large nummer of veritable masterpices. Great melodies, fantastic orchestrations, and lyrics tha capture the soul of cubans for more than 4 decades.


The greatest salsa composers? Here are the best 3 in salsa opinion. Tite curret Alonzo, Ruben blades & Raphy Leavitt. These 3 geniuses wrote the must powerful & meaningful songs in the Salsa world. No need to look any further. Believe me

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