Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music

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Salsa The Rhythm of Latin Music (Performance in World Music Series)

Charley Gerard & Marty Sheller (1998)

White Cliffs Media

Musician Gerard and the late salsa arranger Sheller have produced a reasonably short (160 pages including notes, glossary etc) though very informative book/CD that is aimed at helping the reader understand some of the technical/style aspects involved in making salsa music. Genre distinction, instruments and the use of clave are the particular focus, supported by commentary from the likes of Oscar Hernandez and Frank Malabe. You can read about Marty Sheller here and Charley Gerard here

Why you might buy it:
Great for the aspiring musician or salsa music fan/dancer that wants to get to grips with some of the technical aspects of salsa. Gives a clear description of how instruments and rhythms are/can be incorporated into the music. The writing is clear, concise and presented in a manner that should be understandable to most, supplemented by short musical notations. At no stage do the authors try and bamboozle the reader – in fact the book is written largely out of their self-professed need to understand the nature of what they are talking about themselves. Nothing here is superfluous – this is a book that you will return to as your understanding builds – the clearest book available on this subject.

Why you might leave it:
The musical notations, though mainly simple, will not immediately be understandable for those that don’t read music (but the CD in some ways makes this a non-issue). The book is fairly short, as a straight read it is all over in an hour or so, would really benefit from additional content to elevate it from ‘primer’ to a meatier text – which it deserves.

Contents:

Acknowledgments
List of Musical examples
Part 1: La Musica Salsa
Chapter One: Insiders and outsiders
Chapter Two: La musica salsa
Chapter Three: La clave
Chapter Four: Los instrumentos Part 1
Chapter Five: Los instrumentos Part 2
Part 2: Other Genres Related to Salsa
Chapter Six: The music of santeria
Chapter Seven: La rumba
Chapter Eight: El danzon y el son
Chapter Nine: Songo
Chapter Ten: The salsa arranger at work
Chapter Eleven: La clave y la baile
Conclusion
List of CD tacks
Appendix A: Las Calles de Laredo (complete annotated arrangement)
Appendix B: Eleggua (transcription of santeria bata drumming)
Appendix C: Las Alturas de Simpson (a danzon)
Appendix D: Afro Blue
Notes
Glossary
Annotated Bibliography & Discography
Index

Selected extracts (from):

(Chapter One: Insiders and outsiders)
During my research for this book I was, by turns, a fellow musician and teacher, a researcher with anthropological leanings, a fellow student of the literature of Afro-Cuban music, and the author of a book who assigned to others the role of “informant”. I was at different times an insider, a participant-observer, and an armchair researcher delving into the appropriate literature. Varying my role and even telling the person I was interviewing which role I was assuming at a particular moment proved to be beneficial. Although I might assume any one of these “roles” when I thought it might unravel some piece of information, they were all sincere. I began my study of the music in the role of a student in order to find out for myself how the music was put together. This book is the documentation of how I have come to understand salsa and Afro-Cuban music, and how I hope to share that knowledge with others.

(Chapter Two: La musica salsa)
When Fania artists recorded songs by Cuban composers, they made a policy of not listing the names. In the spaces on the record and on the album cover where the name of the composer usually goes were simply the initials D.R., meaning Derechos Reservados – Reserved Rights. The idea was that, due the break in relations between the United States and Cuba, the composers would receive the monies due to them whenever the relations between the two countries improved. As a result, the general public were not made aware of the tremendous amount of material by Cuban composers recorded by Fania artists. For example, on Ray Barretto’s 1973 album, the wonderful “Indestructible”, half of the eight songs on that album are listed as D.R. In many instances, knowledgeable people could listen to these recordings and identify the Cuban source, especially when the songs were by well known songwriters such as Ignacio Pineiro. Consider the following statement by Mongo Santamaria: “Barretto plays one tune he calls ‘Guarare’. I got a record from Cuba which is not sold here. On that record is a tune that is exactly the same with a Cuban composer”.

(Chapter Three: La clave)
Although salsa can be enjoyed by people who are unable to hear the clave, the experience of listening is definitely enhanced by the ability to hear it. When one taps out the clave pattern along with the music, one gets the sensation of being able to feel the music interact with the clave. In the more rhythmically abstruse music of rumba, continually tapping out the clave is sometimes the only way to keep track of the rhythm. Without tapping the clave, one is thrown off balance by the false perception of the other downbeats and meters.

(Chapter Four: Los instrumentos Part 1)
Latin piano playing has three different components: the rhythmic accompaniment known as guajeo, written passages played in unison with the bass, and the improvised piano solo. In the same way that Nuyoricans alternate between Spanish and English when they are speaking to another Nuyorican, the modern salsa pianist alternates between the tipica style and a jazz style in which the right hand takes the lead while the left hand supplies jazz-style chordal figures.

(Chapter Five: Los instrumentos Part 2)
In general the bongosero is allowed greater improvisatory freedom than other members of the percussion section while accompanying vocal or instrumental features. The soloing is strongly reminiscent of the quinto drum in rumba. Often, phrases played on the large drum are answered by the small drum. This finds its parallel in quinto playing with its alterations between slaps and open tones.

(Chapter Six: The music of santeria)
For several decades the bata has been performed outside the ceremonial context. In 1937, Fernando Ortiz presented the bata in its first public concert performing its traditional music. The bata became part of nightclub reviews , both in Cuba and the United States. Since the Cuban revolution, Cuban and American groups began including the bata and the chants in their performances and recordings, and a few have used the drums in a popular context. Milton Cardona, a well-known figure in the Santeria movement in New York, commented on the use of the toques outside of the religious context: “There are certain rhythms you wouldn’t apply outside the ceremony. I’ve made commercial recording with rhythms pertaining to Shango, who is a musician and a partyer. Those are rhythms that you can jam on. But there area certain deities that you wouldn’t want to mess with”.

(Chapter Seven: La rumba)
There are three main types of rumba: guaguanco, rumba columbia and yambu. The guaguanco and the rumba Columbia are performed using all three members of the conga drum family: the tumbadora (the largest conga drum), the segunda (the middle drum) and the quinto (smallest size). The guaguanco has been performed on the conga drums since at least the 1930’s. The yambu is most characteristically performed on packing crates. The percussionists do not usually sing.

[end of extracts]

Other Reviews:

The Boston Globe by Fernando Gonzalez
“By taking the mystery out of Afro-Cuban music without destroying its power or beauty, Salsa offers the serious fan insights that, no doubt, will lead to a greater enjoyment of this music. More intriguing, Salsa will perhaps encourage musicians who have been admiring this tradition from a distance to come closer and become part of it—not a small contribution to Latin culture in the United States.”

Jazz Times
“Whether it is called “salsa,” “Latin music,” or some other label, the music of Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Johhny Pacheco, Mongo Santamaria and others has needed a clearly written explanation of its component parts. Happily, that book has appeared. Gerard and Sheller…have assembled an informative and readable explication of an important music. The authors achieved their goal admirably.”

Amazon.com by William Jones (2000)
As the first chapter suggests, we’re all outsiders…Puerto Ricans playing Cuban rhythms, Cuban players playing jazz, white guys arranging Latin dance music and Latin Jazz…the book at times is hard to read, owing to my lack of proficiency in reading music; however, for anyone who is reasonably well versed in sight reading the excerpts are short…the chapters on percussion are extremely easy to read – even for the “non-reader”…and uncertainties are cleared up by listening to the accompanying CD, which has patterns that lend insight into the intricacies of Latin music. The book makes a convincing case that there is room for an academic approach in understanding salsa, while making it equally clear that there are shortcomings as well. Well done.

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