Soul Music: The Pulse of Race and Music

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AfriClassical: 'Soul Music: Taking the Pulse of Race and Music' by Candace Allen

Large Print. Title Author Advanced Search. The music was still defined as Latin music. And that was a very, very broad category, because it even includes mariachi music. It includes everything. So salsa defined this particular type of music It's a name that everyone could pronounce. Sanabria's Latin New York magazine was an English language publication. They reported on this "new" phenomenon taking New York by storm— salsa. But promotion certainly wasn't the only factor in the music's success, as Sanabria makes clear: "Musicians were busy creating the music but played no role in promoting the name salsa.

The unprecedented appeal of New York salsa, particularly the "Fania sound", led to its adoption across Latin America and elsewhere. Globally, the term salsa has eclipsed the original names of the various Cuban musical genres it encompasses. Ironically, Cuban-based music was promoted more effectively worldwide in the s and s by the salsa industry, than by Cuba.

For a brief time in the early s a fair number of Cuban musicians embraced the term, calling their own music salsa Cubana. There is considerable controversy surrounding the term salsa and the idea that it is its own distinct genre. Several New York musicians who had already been performing Cuban dance music for decades when salsa was popularized initially scoffed at the term. For example, Cuban-born Machito declared: "There's nothing new about salsa, it is just the same old music that was played in Cuba for over fifty years. I play Cuban music. The salsa conflict can be summarized as a disagreement between those who do not recognize salsa as anything other than Cuban music with another name, [15] [26] and those who strongly identify with salsa as a music and culture distinct from its Cuban primogenitor.

The concept of salsa music which began as a marketing ploy created by Izzy Sanabria was successfully exploited by Fania Records, then eventually took on a life of its own, organically evolving into an authentic pan-Latin American cultural identity. Music professor and salsa trombonist Christopher Washburne writes:.


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This pan-Latino association of salsa stems from what Felix Padilla labels a 'Latinizing' process that occurred in the s and was consciously marketed by Fania Records: 'To Fania, the Latinizing of salsa came to mean homogenizing the product, presenting an all-embracing Puerto Rican, Pan-American or Latino sound with which the people from all of Latin America and Spanish-speaking communities in the United States could identify and purchase.

But in addition, throughout the s, salsa groups from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, among other Latin American nations, emerged, composing and performing music that related to their own specific cultural experiences and affiliations, which posited salsa as a cultural identity marker for those nations as well. The Cuban origins of the music do not conveniently fit into the pan-Latino narrative. Many leading salsa artists have described salsa in broad and inclusive, but vague terms, making no mention of the music's Cuban foundation.

For example, Johnny Pacheco has consistently articulated a vision of salsa as a broad, multi-ethnic movement: "Salsa was, and still is, a Caribbean musical movement. It is a concept. An open, ever-evolving musical, cultural, socio-political concept. Musicians who would become great innovators of Salsa, like Mario Bauza and Chano Pazo, began their careers in New York working in close conjunction with some of the biggest names in Jazz, like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others, Morales noted that: "The interconnection between North American jazz and Afro-Cuban music was taken for granted, and the stage was set for the emergence of mambo music in New York, where music fans were becoming accustomed to innovation.

In the pivotal documentary movie Salsa: Latin Pop Music in Cities , the history of salsa is explained as a mixing of African, Caribbean, and New York cultures and musics, with no mention of Cuba.

In advancing the concept of salsa as a musical "sauce", containing many different ingredients from various cultures mixed together, some point to the occasional use of non-Cuban forms in salsa, such as the Puerto Rican bomba. The percentage of salsa compositions based in non-Cuban genres is low though, and despite an openness to experimentation and a willingness to absorb non-Cuban influences, - such as Jazz and of Rock and Roll, with regards to formal structure, and many other informal influences from talented musicians of a broad range of musical and ethnic backgrounds; such as Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Italians and Jews: anyone with talent and the will to experiment [34] - salsa has remained consistently wedded to its Cuban templates.

The pan-Latin Americanism of salsa is found in its cultural milieu, more than its musical structure. The salsa controversy is also closely tied to the decades-long estrangement between the governments of the United States and Cuba, and the United States embargo against Cuba. Radio stations in the United States would get bomb threats presumably from Cuban exiles for playing Cuban records over the air. For a time the Cuban state media officially claimed that the term salsa music was a euphemism for authentic Cuban music stolen by American imperialists, though the media has since abandoned this theory.

And salsa was a way to do this so that Jerry Masucci, Fania and other record companies, like CBS, could have a hegemony on the music and keep the Cuban musicians from spreading their music abroad. Salsa lyrics range from simple dance numbers, and sentimental romantic songs, to risque and politically radical subject matter. Leymarie claims that salsa is "essentially virile, an affirmation of the man's pride and identity".

As an extension of salsa's macho stance, manly taunts and challenges desafio are also a traditional part of salsa. Salsa lyrics often quote from traditional Cuban sones and rumbas. Sometimes there are references to Afro-Cuban religions, such as Santeria , even by artists who are not themselves practitioners of the faith. The Panamanian-born singer Ruben Blades in particular is well known for his socially-conscious and incisive salsa lyrics about everything from imperialism to disarmament and environmentalism , which have resonated with audiences throughout Latin America.

Salsa ensembles are typically based on one of two different Cuban instrument formats, either the horn-based son conjunto or the string-based charanga. Some bands are expanded to the size of a mambo big band, but they can be thought of as an enlarged conjunto. The Cuban horn section traditionally consists of trumpets, but trombones are frequently used in salsa. The section can also use a combination of different horns.

Most salsa bands are based on the conjunto model, but the tres is almost never used. The traditional charanga format consists of congas, timbales , bass, piano, flute, and a string section of violins, viola, and cello. Bongos are not typically used in charanga bands. New York based Machito's Afro-Cubans was the first band to make the triumvirate of congas, bongo, and timbales the standard battery of percussion in Cuban-based dance music.

The timbales play the bell pattern, the congas play the supportive drum part, and the bongos improvise, simulating a lead drum. The improvised variations of the bongos are executed within the context of a repetitive marcha, known as the martillo 'hammer' , and do not constitute a solo. The bongos play primarily during the verses and the piano solos.

When the song transitions into the montuno section, the bongo player picks up a large hand held cowbell called the bongo bell. Often the bongocero plays the bell more during a piece, than the actual bongos. The interlocking counterpoint of the timbale bell and bongo bell provides a propelling force during the montuno. Once the montuno section begins, it usually continues until the end of the song.

The tempo may gradually increase during the montuno in order to build excitement.


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The most fundamental rhythmic element in salsa music is a pattern and concept known as clave. Clave is a Spanish word meaning ' code ,' 'key,' as in key to a mystery or puzzle, or ' keystone ,' the wedge-shaped stone in the center of an arch that ties the other stones together. The five- stroke clave represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms, both popular and folkloric. The clave patterns originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions , where they serve the same function as they do in salsa.

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The two most common five-stroke African bell parts , which are also the two main clave patterns used in Afro-Cuban music, are known to salsa musicians as son clave and rumba clave. The contemporary Cuban practice is to write clave in a single measure of 4 4. Concerning the role of clave in salsa music, Charley Gerard states: "The clave feeling is in the music whether or not the claves are actually being played. Every salsa musician must know how their particular part fits with clave, and with the other parts of the ensemble.

The basic conga tumbao , or marcha sounds slaps triangle noteheads and open tones regular noteheads on the "and" offbeats. The concept of clave as a form of music theory with its accompanying terminology, was fully developed during the big band era of the s, when dance bands in Havana and New York City were enlarged. John Santos stresses the importance of this skill:.

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One of the most difficult applications of the clave is in the realm of composition and arrangement of Cuban and Cuban-based dance music. Regardless of the instrumentation, the music for all of the instruments of the ensemble must be written with a very keen and conscious rhythmic relationship to the clave If these procedures are not properly taken into consideration, then the music is 'out of clave' which, if not done intentionally, is considered an error. When the rhythm and music are 'in clave,' a great natural 'swing' is produced, regardless of the tempo.

Salsa is a potent expression of clave, and clave became a rhythmic symbol of the musical movement, as its popularity spread. At the same time though, clave serves its ancient function of providing a means of profound inclusion. As Washburne observes:. Clapping clave at a concert in sync with the performing musicians provides for a group participation in music-making even for a novice. However, the messages transmitted can be, and often are, imbued with more meaning than simply, 'Let's all participate! Before salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri takes his first solo at a live concert, he will often stand up, and start clapping clave.

Once the audience is clapping clave along with him, Palmieri will sit back down at the piano and proceed to take his solo. Palmieri's solos tend to be rhythmically complex, with avant-garde elements such as harmonic dissonance.

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By clapping clave along with Palmieri's solo, the audience is able to both "de-code" its rather esoteric musical "message", and participate in its creation at a fundamental level. Clave is the basic period , composed of two rhythmically opposed cells , one antecedent and the other consequent. Clave was initially written in two measures of 2 4 below.

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The antecedent half has three strokes and is referred to as the three-side of clave in the parlance of salsa. In Cuban popular music, the first three strokes of son clave are also known collectively as tresillo , a Spanish word meaning 'triplet' three equal beats in the same time as two main beats. The first measure of clave is considered "strong", contradicting the meter with three cross beats and generating a sense of forward momentum.

The second measure is considered "weak".

Clave resolves in the second measure when the last stroke coincides with the last main beat of the cycle. As the pattern is repeated, an alternation from one polarity to the other takes place creating pulse and rhythmic drive. Were the pattern to be suddenly reversed, the rhythm would be destroyed as in a reversing of one magnet within a series Should the [music] fall out of clave the internal momentum of the rhythm will be dissipated and perhaps even broken.

Since a chord progression can begin on either side of clave, percussionists have to be able to initiate their parts in either half a single measure in 2 2 or 2 4.

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