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10/01/92
Charley Gerard and Marty Sheller, Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music Book

Review: Salsa: The Rhythm Of Latin Music

by Bosco El Gitano

Son Montuno, one of the oldest Afro-Cuban musical forms, incorporates a near perfect balance of Spanish and African elements. Originating in the Oriente province of Cuba, it surfaced in Havana around 1910. Characteristically the Son, a classic song style and form, incorporates a strongly syncopated rhythm. The section section of the Son is the Montuno, a more rhythmically intense section featuring vocals in a call-and-response dialogue. The word Montuno is derived from Monte, the sacred forrest of Afro-Cuban folklore, and is often interpreted as "country" or "rustic". The ensembles that performed Son music, or Sones, were based on a combination of guitars, percussion instruments and vocalists. These groups were known as Sexteto's or Septetos, and would later on develop into the Son Conjuntos (also called Agrupaciones). In the late thirties and early forties the Conjunto would be reorganized with 2 or 3 trumpets, piano and the radical addition of the Tumbadora, or conga drum — thanks to Arsenio Rodriguez, a blind Cuban Tres player who revolutionized the Son and is considered by many to be the father of modern Afro-Cuban sounds. The music of the Son Conjuntos would provide the basis for the Latin-Jazz styles of the 1940's and is the direct forerunner of today's New York styled Salsa.

The book Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music — by Charley Gerard and Marty Sheller provides the reader with an excellent introduction and overview regarding the history of the music we call Salsa from it's esoteric roots to present day applications. Written in a fashion that is both easy to read and understand, it contains 137 pages broken into 2 parts and 8 chapters. Well researched, the authors examine and explore various elements of Afro-Cuban music. We are shown how the music is put together, it's basic instrumentation, and various key rhythms and styles from folkloric to contemporary.

Of special interest is Chapter 2, La Clave, which delves into the rhythmic formula that is the foundation of Salsa — and all Afro-Cuban music for that matter. Emphasized is the importance of clave (literally translating into "key"), the hitting together of two little sticks (claves) which produce the sound of a two measure pattern or rhythmic phrase, which is the heartbeat and point of reference so that all functions within the orchestra may work in unison and harmony. Also of note is Chapter 5, The Music of Santería. While this section only touches on the subject of the Santería religion, its music and batá drums, it does make the book complete — for Santería has had a pervasive influence on Salsa and its musicians.

Salsa contains some of the best information available on this music today. It provides names of top Salsa and Latin-Jazz musicians, musical notation (very liberally in fact — which should be of interest to you musicians out there), including a typical arrangement (by Marty Sheller) that features an illustration of some of the characteristics of Salsa music. The book is a great connection for the newcomer, either listener or musician, and a good general reference for those who choose to enlighten themselves to the world of this beautiful rhythmic dance music called Salsa!



Notes:
Charley Gerard, the author of Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music, is a jazz musician (saxophone), composer, and ethnomusicologist. He has performed in Latin bands in Mexico and New York.

Marty Sheller, co-author, has worked as both trumpet player and arranger (arranging over 300 Salsa and Latin Jazz tunes). He has worked with Mongo Santamaría, Willie Colón, the Fania All-Stars, and Héctor Lavoe, Conjunto Libre, and Tito Puente.



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