Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Hispanic Studies


Wolff, Victoria


Salsa has been widely developed as a musical style, as well as part of Spanish American culture, specifically from the Spanish Caribbean. The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the poetics of salsa music produced in New York City, and “presalsa” in particular, which is the name coined to the Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms preceding and establishing the musical and poetic patterns of salsa music.

The main issue elucidated here is how salsa and presalsa music take their poetic forms from the “décima espinela”, a 17th century Spanish poetic style, coupled with sounds from Bantu languages called “jitanjáforas”. Also, the purpose of this dissertation is to study salsa and presalsa lyrics within the categories of “canción salsa relato”, “canción salsa poema”, and “canción salsa jitanjáfora”.

The case study method is applied in this research to analyze the lyrics of salsa and presalsa music at three different levels – observation, interpretation and assertions. This methodology is a relevant aspect of the research in order to report specific lyrics which represent poetic patterns in these music styles. Complemented by cultural theory, each case study is described in depth with concepts that explain the development of this type of music in popular culture.

In the first part, the approach to culture, popular culture, and popular music are fundamental, as they are the theoretical concepts that form the basis of this research. This contributes to the study of how the use of the “décima” originated from popular culture and reaches Puerto Rican and Cuban music and from there passes on to New York City. Popular culture and popular music also generate an approach to the use of “jitanjáforas” in the poetry of Nicolás Guillén and Luis Palés Matos and leads to the explanation of how it is manifested in salsa and in presalsa music as well.

In addition to how the poetics of salsa and presalsa emerge, the case studies are used to understand the poetic configuration of salsa in the songs seen from the perspective of story, poem and jitanjáforas.

The main outcome achieved in this dissertation is the complementary approach to salsa music by means of poetics. According to the literature review presented in this research, the most important studies in the area of popular music and salsa are related to ethnomusicology. Consequently, this dissertation goes beyond this and proposes salsa and presalsa lyrics as a literary style.

Summary for Lay Audience

Salsa music is originally from New York City, but is inspired from Cuban and Puerto Rican music. When migrants from these countries came to the United States, they carried their music, culture, food, and language along with them. This music is sung mainly in Spanish and it has been spread around the world as one of the most important Spanish Caribbean musical styles.

This thesis studies lyrics from salsa music and music from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Composers and singers created lyrics in Spanish –affected by old Spanish poetry style and sounds from languages of West Africa. There are different kinds of lyrics analyzed in this work, and they are highlighted as a literary form.

The reader of this thesis will find a new approach to salsa music in terms of innovation, since poetics are studied in music beyond the traditional approach of that music. Likewise, the audience will have an encounter with Spanish culture and its relation to West African roots through music and poetry.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.