Afro-Latin Rhythm Dictionary

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Viredo Espinosa gave me carte blanche to look through his great artistic production in search. Monica Giannini took charge of preparing the nal manuscript for submission. I am immensely grateful to Mary Francis, Music and Film Editor at the University of California Press, and to her assistant, Kalicia Pivirotto, for navigating the manuscript through the to me unexplored ocean of UC Press publication procedures.

Finally, I wish to thank Jimme A. Greco for an outstanding copyediting job and Rose Vekony for all of her support during the editing process. Worksong of the Caribbean The lyrics are rarely deep and often bawdy: at least half the songs are about sex. But they have the richness of colour, rhythm and dialect that marks out the best of Caribbean poetry.

The question of whether there is an underlying unity to the Caribbean region has been a conundrum for many scholars. The people of the Caribbean basinall the Antilles and some of the continental coastal areas that shape its perimeterare usually characterized by their diversity: their languages, history, natural environment, cultural expression, political boundaries, and so on. Students of Caribbean literature bow to language differences by neatly separating Caribbean expression into the Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanophone areas. Important historical records of the region are dispersed in repositories in Spain, France, England, and Holland, making it difcult for researchers to determine historical commonalities.

We can cautiously argue that while borders may separate people, music nevertheless tends to unite them. The quotation at the beginning of this introductiona description of a Caribbean popular music genrecould apply to any number of forms. It might refer to calypso, salsa, son, meringue, or mento. It points to the common aspects of the popular musics of the basin, which share many rhythmic patterns, instrumental formats, and styles. Louis Moreau Gottschalk long ago recognized the unifying themes of Caribbean music.

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Born in New Orleans in , this gifted American composer and pianist came from a family that became split by the revolution in Haiti. Some members remained in Haiti and served in the new independent republic; his maternal grandfather and his motheran infant at the timemoved rst to Jamaica and later relocated to New Orleans. As a child he was exposed to the melodies and rhythms of Haiti, 3. As we shall see, this woman whose name we do not know was perhaps one of the most inuential individuals in the history of the development and diffusion of Caribbean music.

Beginning in , he took a series of trips to several islands in the Caribbean. Over the next ten years, he visited Trinidad, Haiti, Martinique, and Puerto Rico and lived for extensive periods in Guadeloupe and Cuba.

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During his travels, Gottschalk encountered the same sounds he had rst learned as a child in New Orleans. He absorbed this music with passion and wrote numerous themes based on the music of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Guadeloupe. Far from being a culture cannibal, Gottschalk promoted and helped local musicians wherever he went and became a close friend and collaborator of the leading musicians of the area.

Gottschalk organized orchestras and concerts in city after city in the repeating islands of this Mediterranean Sea. On one occasion, he organized a concert in Havana with hundreds of musicians, including a team of more than forty percussionists from Santiago who were paid to travel six hundred miles to the west.

At this megaconcert, the orchestra performed his Night in the Tropics symphony, composed some time earlier during a one-year retreat in Guadeloupe. The Bard of the Tropics, as he came to be called, wrote numerous contradanzas, and his works are peppered with the sounds of the tango and the cinquillo.

Gottschalks compositions, it has been reported, were among the best-selling music in the major music store in Curaao in the late nineteenth century. Was he unique? And what might he tell us about national and transnational cultural patterns in the Caribbean region? I would say that the development and diffusion of Caribbean musical modes owes also to the economic conditions of life throughout the.

The corpus of Caribbean genresson, mento, calypso, meringue, bomba, and so forthcan be seen as the distinct, national worksongs of the entire region, created by the same people whose muscle, nerve, and sweat supported the fabric of these different yet similar societies. The legendary settlement of the Palenque de San Basilio, near the city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, illustrates how music and the people that make it and share it can transcend geographical distance and political boundaries.

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The entire Atlantic littoral of Colombia, from Barranquilla to the Gulf of Urab, witnessed numerous and extensive rebellions by African slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which led to the formation of independent communities, or palenques. The present community of San Basilio dates its inception to a successful slave insurrection that took place in the rst years of the seventeenth century.

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The palenqueros successfully fought off attacks by the Spaniards, who agreed to grant them autonomy in Further attempts by colonial authorities to regain control failed until, in the early s, the Spaniards were forced nally to ratify local autonomy. In the s and s, the music of the Cuban son spread by way of recordings and lms throughout Latin America.

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The son took root in numerous areas of the Atlantic coast of Colombia, aided by the migration of Cubans connected to the production of sugarcane to the area. Local sextetos and septetos de son soon developed. In Palenque de San Basilio, a sexteto was formed in the s that remains active to this day.

The repertory of these groups is essentially the son and the bolero-son. The instruments in these sextetos match those common to Cuban groups: claves, maracas, guitar, bongos, and so forth. The rhythm of the music was carriedlike much African-derived musicson skin drums played by. Popular commercial lms showed the Cuban musicians to be largely blacks and mulattoes, like much of the population of the Atlantic littoral and unlike the people from the Colombian highlands.

The lyrics were sung in a Caribbean Spanish closer to the local dialect than the sound of highland Colombian Spanish. The songs spoke of work in the cane elds and of eating poor peoples staple foods such as cassava and plantains.

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In short, the music contained musical and cultural elements for which coastal people could feel a strong afnity. We can surmise that in spite of, or rather because of, its Cuban origin, this musictogether with its characteristic instruments and repertorycame to be adopted as a local traditional form on the Colombian coast.

Son and bolero-son are included as such in Colombian anthologies of regional folklore. Common historical and musical roots and afnity also explain why in recent years the Atlantic coast of Colombia has also contributed greatly to the developing sound of salsaa hybrid of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other musics from the Spanish Caribbean. Thus, in the Colombian Caribbean coast, we witness the peaceful coexistence of national and transnational musical identities, simultaneously Colombian and Cuban.

Caribbean music has traversed not only political borders but linguistic boundaries as well.

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In the late s, the greatest of all palenquero rebellions took place in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. This movement culminated in the creation of the rst independent republic of Latin America and led, as is often the case during revolutionary times, to an exodus that involved every stratum of the population. Sugar and coffee planters and slaves, as well as free peasant and workingclass blacks and mulattoes, scattered, and the musical and cultural ripples connected to this event are still being felt, sometimes in surprising ways, throughout the sea of the Antilles and beyond.

Some of the French-speaking planters eeing the Haitian independence movement went to Spanish Puerto Rico, where they set up plantations to continue the cultivation of sugarcane and coffee. Today on the island of Puerto Rico there exists a musical form, a drum, and a. The structure of the traditional or folkloric bomba is held together by a rhythmic patternknown as cinquilloplayed by sticks on a wood block, although this is not always done in modern orchestrations of this rhythm exx.

Researchers who have investigated the historical roots of the bomba drums and dances have all agreed the rhythms played on these drums were performed by slaves and free black workers who were brought, or who came on their own, to work on the Puerto Rican island following Haitian independence. The bomba became part of mass popular music in Puerto Rico due largely to the work of bandleader Rafael Cortijo in the s. It worked its way into salsa especially in compositions by Nuyorican bandleader Willie Coln. The bomba rhythmso closely associated with Puerto Rican folkloremay be heard behind the title song, with its lyrics that speak repeatedly of Cuban themes, Cuban traditions, and the general nostalgia of Cuban Americans for their island homeland.

The historic-musical record can help unravel this interwoven cultural fabric. More or less simultaneous with the HaitiPuerto Rico migration, another inter-Antillean migration occurred. A broad group of eeing Saint-Domingue planters, along with their slaves, free black peasants, and employees, resettled in the old province of Oriente in eastern Cuba. There the transplanted planters began coffee production, especially around the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Guantnamo.

There, too, a musical tradition developed in communities of slaves, free black peasants, and workers based upon the drums, rhythms, and traditions brought over from Haiti. The music played at these sociedades, some of which are still active in Santiago and Guantnamo, is known as tumba francesa.

The tumba francesa contains rhythmic gures and a feel that became part of Cubas musical heritage ex. Its drums, drumbeats, and percussive gures on accompanying sticks are similar to those of the Puerto Rican bomba. In the orchestral arrangements, the bass lines of the bomba and the Cuban montuno follow the same pattern.


These musical clues, based on historical events, can help decipher the conundrum of why, as in the case of Gloria Estefans interpretation of Mi tierra, a tune based on a Puerto Rican rhythm of Haitian ancestry could resonate so strongly among Cubans. It constitutes another example of the multifaceted Caribbean sensibility. The tune could be identied depending on the audienceas either Cuban or as belonging to a panLatino genre that includes Spanish-speaking peoples from all regions of the Caribbean. Yet, as the above examples suggest, a collective musical memory remains.

This cultural inheritance originating in the music of some of those who migrated from the French colony continues to inuence the popular music of the entire Spanish-speaking Caribbean to this day. The irony is that people who ed the movement for national independence in Haiti helped preserve, albeit unwittingly, musical forms. The development of the genre known as the danzn constitutes a particularly telling example of this irony and exemplies the continuing cultural impact of the Haitian revolution and the migration that followed in its wake.


A few years before, a Mexican lm also called Danzn had won a number of international awards. In the s, society dance in the Antillean colonies was dominated by the European contredanse. The origins of this form are somewhat obscure, but most authors trace it to the English country dance of the seventeenth century.