What Is Latin Music?

I enjoy listening to Spanish music. Are you familiar with Spanish pianists Elena Martin and Jose Meliton? They play exciting pieces by Spanish composers in arrangements for two pianos.

Some of the pieces in their repertoire are written for two pianos, but many are originally written for piano solo and have been transcribed by Elena Martin for two pianos.

So, what is Latin Music, you ask? Well, I would say it is an incredibly complex mosaic. We’re talking about music influences of Africa, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Britain, Germany, the Middle East, India and many more American cultures.

Perhaps you are thinking that there isn’t a connection of music from the Andes with Mexican Mariachi music. Well, there is. Now, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music has been the two main Latin musical influences on jazz.

To use Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz tunes you need to know a bit about the rhythmic pattern known as clave. In a salsa band, you will find each rhythm instrument like the piano, bass, timbales, congas, bongos and cowbells. It’s the rhythm that holds it all together. I love to feel the beat. I admit, the rhythm can be challenging.

Now, clave is a two-bar rhythmic pattern that occurs in two forms: forward clave is known as 3 & 2 and reverse clave is known as 2 & 3.

In the forward clave, the accents fall on the first beat, the “and” of the second beat, and the fourth beat of the first measure and beats two and three of the second measure. It looks like this:

In 4/4 time, play: note, rest, note, rest, note / rest, note, note, rest.

With reverse clave the pattern is reversed. The following 2 measures would be:

4/4 time, you would play: rest, note, note, rest / note, rest, note, rest, note.

There is another clave called the rumba clave. You will see that the last note in rumba clave is delayed a half beat and played on the “and” of the fourth beat.

So, the African or rumba rhythm would be:

4/4 time, play beat, rest, rest, rest, beat / rest, beat, beat, rest.

Every part of Afro-Cuban rhythm, like drumming patterns, piano montuno, bass lines, melodic phrasing, etc. has to be in gear with the clave.

The most important rule about clave is that once the song starts, the clave doesn’t change. Latin Music is played with lots of energy and with passion.