Clave Change

Have you ever danced to a song, and then all of the sudden, you are dancing on the follower’s count (while leading), or the Leader’s count (while following)??

You have no idea why this happened, but you are certain to have executed everything correctly.

Please let me tell you… It’s not your fault.  The music changed on you… or to be more precise, the “Clave Changed” on you.

Tu No Sabes” by Bio Ritmo is my favorite track that exemplifies perfectly this concept. (Bio Ritmo is a band based in Richmond, VA. Please support artists like these, who are still recording original music!)

Why does this happen?  To tell you the truth, I don’t know completely.  I think there are a few reasons, but to try understanding the “Clave Change” concept, I’m going to share a few concepts and findings of my research:

  1.  This music comes from two different places.  Africa and Europe.
    • European Music uses the Whole Note” (), which in 4/4 last 4 beats in the measure.
    • African Music (at least West African) uses the Clave as a measure or guidance.
    • There are a few types of clave now days… Son, Rumba and 6/8, which are the most popular.
    • In order to line up the Clave “African Percussion” and the Whole Note “European Melodies”, we need 2 whole notes.  This is because Rumba or Son Clave are spread out through 8 beats, or two 4/4.
    • Clave does not change, what changes is the point in which the melody starts.  The melody can start on the 2 side of the Clave, or on the 3 side of the Clave.  In either case, the Clave stays the same. (Please see the illustration at the bottom of the page)
  2. The Traditional Structure of the “Son” lines up with the Three Rumbas and their appropriate Claves.
    • The Cuban Son has three sections (traditionally): Son or Intro, Montuno or Rising, and Mambo or Climax… and they usually go back to the Son at the end.
    • These sections (traditionally) had their own Claves. Son is 3/2, Montuno is 2/3 or 3/2, and Mambo is 2/3 or Cascara.  Now this last point of Cascara can be argued, but just go with it for now.
    • The three Rumbas have their own claves: Yambú is 3/2, Guaguánco is 3/2 or 2/3 (now days is predominantly 2/3), and Columbia is 6/8.
      • Columbia’s 6/8 developed into Katá, which later on developed into Cascara. (Cascara is the rhythm played in the shells of the timbales)
  3. The way music is written and arranged makes the melody go out of alignment with the Clave from different sections of the song.
    • Music composers often develop their compositions in different sections, and then they try to put them together.
    • Most times, these different sections share the same Clave, and sometimes they do not match.  When two sections have different Claves, then an arrangement is made, so that the Claves can match.
    • Please see the illustration for more clarification.

PS: Actually, it’s your fault because you did not pay attention to the music! 😏