Monday, February 11, 2008

New Dimension to Dance: The Clave (Clah-VAY)

So as I mentioned earlier, this week's lesson began with my official introduction to the Clave. Which subsequently has sent me on a search for a greater understanding of this instrument and rhythm. Clave is Spanish, and in translation means "key". It is generally characterized in Afro-Cuban and music especially Son and Salsa and is heard by the use of Claves...which are small stick-like percussion instruments, that when struck produce a high pitched "click". The presence of the Clave can have varying patterns within a given type of music.

With strong ties to Havana beginning in the late seventeenth century, it is said that the instrument and rhythms were developed by the Cuban Creole culture as a way to enhance their music. While the Clave is predominantly Cuban for sure, some version of a Clave can also be found in traditional music of Spain, China, Japan, Africa, Indochina, Siam, Mexico, and the Polynesian Islands.

Below is the only decent video I could find, turns out this guy is a Cuban musician showing some different Clave rhythms.

While the Clave is an extremely important aspect of Cuban and Latin music, as a dancer you wouldn't want to dance ON the Clave beat exactly. That would put you out of time in the music, the dance would appear to be very disjointed and appear to be working against the song. There is a catch too, the Clave beat does not have to be (though generally is) represented by the Clave instrument. It can be represented through nearly any instrument in the band, but I'm told that once you know what to listen for in rhythm, the sound making it is less important. The Clave beat will determine for you when to act within the music as a dancer and that one should rely on it to keep time.

Clave patterns vary by dance, each Latin dance has Clave patterns...for the purpose of my research I'm attempting to focus on Salsa (although it appears On2/Mambo is more widely used in description.) Thus far I have read several articles from all over the globe, put out on the web to share opinions and facts intertwined, they all have lots of diagrams on what a Clave pattern looks like on paper, but that doesn't give me a real clear explanation of how to listen for it. What I will have to do is study a few of the .wav files I've found, and then sit back and listen to some Salsa in order to start picking up on it. Wish me luck!

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