Rumba, Mambo, and Beyond
“Esto no lleva batá” - Los Papines n.d.
[DENSE DRUMMING TO OPEN]
The Cuban rumba is related to West African music through its use of polyrhythm. The guiding rhythm of the rumba is the “clave.” It’s played on a pair of wooden sticks by the same name. Other instruments play contrasting beats that complement the clave. This interlocking conversation of rhythms is called polyrhythm.
[LISTEN just briefly]
Another African practice is call and response singing, in which a solo singer is answered by a repeated chorus, or coro.
[LISTEN to call/response]
The earliest style of recorded music from Cuba was called son. The soncombined African elements like polyrhythm and call/response with European influences. One OF the SON’S important INSTRUMENTS IS a Cuban guitar called the tres.
“Mayeya” - Septeto Habanero, 1930s
(start text below over Mayeya vocals)
“Esa china tiene coimbre” - Arsenio Rodriguez 1940s
In the 1930s the son was played by larger conjunto ensembles. The conjunto had piano, multiple trumpets, and conga drums. these instruments worked in polyrhythm. Listen, for example, to the interlocking rhythms of the clave and the conga drum. The conga plays a rhythm called tumbao.
[LISTEN—fade out recording to leave clave and tumbao alone for moment]
The piano joins in the polyrhythm, playing a repeated pattern called guajeo.
This polyrhythm--created by the clave, tumbao, and guajeo--is the stylistic core of the mambo.
“Mambo Gozón” - Tito Puente, 1950s
Cuban conjuntos pioneered the mambo in the 1940s. But New York City band leaders like Tito Puente made it their own by adding jazz harmonies, and exciting breaks, and by highlighting the percussion. Listen to the band break for Tito Puente’s timbales solo.
“Tequila” - The Champs, 1958
[LISTEN] instruments and rhythms from the mambo are used in many American popular songs. Listen here to the polyrhythmic percussion…. The saxophone also plays a guajeo pattern.
“Sympathy for the Devil” - Rolling Stones, 1968
The tumbao rhythm of the conga can be heard in many R&B and rock songs, like this one.
“Heard it Through the Grapevine” - Marvin Gaye 1968
Can you hear the conga tumbao in this song?
LISTEN: “heard it through the grapevine”
Then say: ku ku – pa 2X
“Cold Sweat” - James Brown 1967
The mambo and other Caribbean dance styles inspired American musicians to explore the rich possibilities of polyrhythm. In this song by James Brown, for example, listen to the interlocking repetition of bass, drums, and horns.
Latin Caribbean musicians introduced new instruments and rhythms into American popular music. They also reinforced and expanded the African American practice of polyrhythm, sparking a groove revolution.