But here's the thing: salsa is evolving. Just as the original mambo, son and other Caribbean rhythms evolved into what we call salsa in the 1960s, today's salsa artist are experimenting with new and different rhythms and instruments.
So, I've included some albums that fuse traditional salsa with the new and experimental as well as some of the best albums of traditional salsa of 2008.
Willie Colon recorded the original El Malo with Hector Lavoe when both men were teenagers and Fania Records was barely more than a concept. In 2008, more than 40 years later and after a 10 year hiatus, Colon released El Malo Vol. II and it's a dynamo of an album.
It also has some tracks that are unexpected; Colon mixes the traditional salsa he helped create with other Puerto Rican rhythms. He call his new sound 'Afro-Boricua.' But if Colon changed from the innovator that he was initially, that would be truly disappointing.
There's no such disappointment with El Malo Vol. II.
For pure, danceable salsa dura, it's tough to beat the heat generated by Colombian salsa bands. Grupo Gale is led by ex-Grupo Niche percussionist Diego Gale and the sound is unmistakable.
Autentico contains great coros, solid brass, driving drums. It's also has reasonable recording quality, something that is not always a given with albums from Colombia.
Guasabara is undoubtedly the star-packed, big band salsa album of the year. Puerto Rican pianist Jose Lugo has gathered together a 25-piece band that includes featured vocalists Cano Estremera, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Issac Delgado, Victor Manuelle and Herman Olivera. Add to that a group of A-list instrumentalists, tight arrangements and production by Jon Fausty and big band fans will find themselves in salsa heaven.
At its core, NG2 is a duo. Norberto Velez and Gerardo Rivas left Victor Manuelle's band to launch their own group and called it NG2 to represent the new or next salsa generation.
Not surprising from a couple of guys who grew-up in the shadow of El Gran Combo, Gilberto Santa Rosa and Manuelle, this album is full of hot, Puerto Rican salsa at its finest.
They're not standing in anyone's shadow anymore.
Here's another sound-packed album from Colombia. Alberto Barros is a big name in Colombian salsa; he left the popular Los Titanes to go solo a few years ago and Mano A Mano is his second solo album. The album is pure, unadulterated, exuberant, non-stop salsa that begs your feet to get up and move.
A lot of fans were disappointed with Soy after Manuelle's award-winning Decision Unanime because, like Gilberto Santa Rosa before him, some of the salsa numbers had more of a pop feel to them and there were also more ballads filling out the track list.
While I agree that Decision Unanime was a better album, especially for hard-core salsa lovers, Soy still shone in the salsa tracks. In a year where commercial salsa albums were few and far between, Soy was still hugely satisfying, if sometimes stretching the concept of salsa romantica.
Que Siga La Rumba is a first-rate example of what happens when a band tears down the walls between traditional salsa and a bevy of other irresistable styles. Fresh and original, 3D mixes salsa, reggae, soca, R&B, jazz and the sounds of New Orleans into something familiar and yet not quite the same old sound we're used to. But once you hear the album, you'll be asking for more.
Richmond, VA does not seem a likely place for new, Nuyorican-style salsa but Bionico is the 9-piece band's sixth album and they just seem to be getting better with each release.
Bionico starts with traditional keyboards and bold brass then amps-it-up with the addition of synthesizer and other electronica. The result is danceable salsa with a 21st century feel.