MUSICAL STYLE

Cha Cha Cha

The cha cha cha was first popularized in the 1940s by Cuban charanga bands, comprised of piano, bass, violins, flute and percussion (including the timbales, a miniature version of the orchestral timpani drums). This instrumentation reflects the charanga’s historical association with high society and with genres such as the Cuban danzón.

However, the cha cha cha made the charangas popular to a broader audience and eventually was picked up by Latin big bands and other ensembles. Along with the mambo, the cha cha cha proved a huge dance craze in the United States in the 1950s. Perhaps its relaxed and clearly defined on-beat pulse, often sounded on a cowbell, made it more accessible to American listeners. 

The cha cha cha rhythm was incorporated into many R&B and rock and roll hits, such as Louie Louie, most famously recorded by the Kingsmen in 1963. The song -- originally written in 1955 by Richard Berry, an African American musician from Los Angeles -- borrowed its signature riff from an earlier song called El Loco by Cuban bandleader René Touzet. Transformations like these made the cha cha cha rhythm an integral part of American popular music.

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