TUNES FOR TUESDAY - From Polyrhythm to Salsa

If you were to dissect a Salsa song in search of its back bone, you would have to set aside several other rhythms, piled onto the core like layers of tissue. This is because, as we have been discussing, Salsa is made up of several rhythms, mostly of Cuban origin. As we also have learned, Cuban origin means African origin.

In this dissection, eventually you would run into the simple sound made by two pieces of wood striking each other. It is a very distinctive pow, pow, pow, powpow -type rhythm, or three distinct hit-pause-hit-pause-hit pause, followed by two hit-hit impacts closer to each other, all this repeated over and over. "Cinco golpes en dos compases de música" (five notes in two music measures) is what those who understand this sort of thing call it. They also call this simple rhythmic progression a clave (a key). There are several claves, the most common are the Son, the Rumba, and the Samba, all Cuban descendants of African claves.

When performing this music, one musician will separately play the basic clave, while the other musicians will play, together, the rest of the music. The resulting polirritmo (polyrhythm) is the essential base of Salsa music. But there is one more ingredient, the pregón (an announcement or a proclamation) a chant which usually forms the chorus of the song.

But before Salsa, the Son Cubano was transformed or adapted into new music that used the same basic clave structure. These new rhythms included the Mambo, the Charanga, the Conga, and, of course, the Chachachá. Interestingly, during the Batista regime of the 1940s and 50s, Jazz made its way into Cuba from the US. This American export would also influence the new developing rhythms, and viceversa.

I was trying to find a song where the clave that we have been talking about would be readily apparent, when I run into this one. A Salsa Classic by one of the bands that started it all.

Jala Jala by The Rhichie Ray and Bobbie Cruz Band

Deep inside this music is that clave, . . . I promise. There's even a live version where they do the just the clave for a few seconds. If you can't hear it here, just enjoy this super song!
Listen for it a 3:40. He says "Esa Clave Esa Clave (meaning that Clave that Clave) pow pow pow pow-pow"


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