Bata Drums – Double-headed drums shaped like an hour-glass with one cone larger than the other. Sacred to Yoruba religion in Nigeria, they are also necessary to Cuban and U.S. lucumi worship. A number of salsa musicians have begun using bata drums in secular music.
Bolero – The Cuban bolero, originally a mid-paced form for string trios, became very popular internationally, usually in a slower and more sentimental form. The modern bolero is a lush romantic popular-song form, largely distinct from salsa, and very few singers are equally good at both.
Bomba – Originally a Puerto Rican three-drum dance form of marked west-central African ancestry, the bomba is especially associated with the Puerto Rican village of Loiza Aldea. In its old form it is still played there at the festival of Santiago, and New York Puerto Rican folk revival companies also perform it from time to time. Even in the dance band form introduced by Rafael Cortijo in the late 1950s, the bomba’s melodies, as well as rhythmic pulse, are strongly African.
Bongo – Small double-drum played resting on the calves of a seated musician, called a bongosero. Its heads are tuned a fourth apart. Widely used in Cuban music of many sorts, especially the quartets and sextets playing sones, and an integral part of the salsa percussion section. In salsa, as in earlier string-based groups, the bongo tends to be played more ad lib than other drums and to provide a complex counterpoint to a number’s main rhythmic pulse. The basic toque for the bongo, called the martillo, can be rendered onomatopoeically as “Dicka-docka-dicka-ducka.”
Bugaloo – The Latin bugalu was a somewhat simplified and more sharply accented mambo with English lyrics, singing that combined Cuban and African-American inflections, and r&b influenced solos. For a few years the bugalu, and a less known Puerto Rican rhythm, the jala jala, were staples of the “Latin soul” movement.
Chachacha – The chachacha is said by some to have derived from the second section of the danzon, by others to be a slower mambo. It was sometimes called a “double mambo” in New York, because its basic dance step was the mambo with a double step between fourth to first beats. The chachacha developed around 1953 in the hands of Cuban charangas, most notably Orquestra Aragon.
Changui – The early predecessors to the Son groups using original instrumentation of guiro, maracas, bongo, tres and marimbula. Some ensembles still perform today. 2. The early style of Son performed by these groups.
Charanga – A Cuban dance orchestra consisting of flute backed by fiddles, piano, bass, and timbales. Charangas tended to play different dances from the Afro-Cuban conjuntos, the most characteristic being the danzon. Charangas ranged from large society units to small street-bands. Modern charangas use bongo and conga in the rhythm section and have taken on many more Afro-Cuban elements than their predecessors.
Clave – An offbeat 3/2 or 2/3 rhythmic pattern over two bars, the basis of all Cuban music, into which every element of arrangement and improvisation should fit. Clave is an African-derived pattern with equivalents in other Afro-Latin musics. The common 3/2 Cuban clave varies in accentuation according to the rhythm being played. Clave seems to be part of the inspiration for the two-bar bass patterns in modern black music. 2/3 reverse clave is less common, though the guaguanco uses it.
Claves – Twin strikers of resonant wood used less frequently in salsa than in earlier Cuban music. The claves player usually plays the basic clave pattern, which is normally implied rather than stated by modern bands. Many variants of claves exist throughout Latin America.
Columbia – Traditional Afro-Cuban dance. The columbia is one of the 3 parts of the rumba (along with yambú and the guaguancó). This slow dance is accompanied only by percussion and is danced only by men. The fastest style of rumba, played in more of a 6/8 time signature and danced by solo male dancers who perform acrobatic and daring moves to demonstrate their courage, strength, agility, and sense of humor.
Conga Drum – A major instrument in the salsa rhythm section, the conga is literally the “Congolese drum,” and it began life in the Afro-Cuban cults. Arsenio Rodriguez is said to have introduced it to the conjuntos on a regular basis, and Machito’s Afro-Cubans were the first to use it on New York bandstands. There are several types of conga, including the small quinto, a solo improvising the instrument; the mid-sized conga; and the large tumbadora. Played by an expert, the conga is capable of great variety of sound and tone, not only from the different ways of striking or rubbing the head, but through the instrument from the ground when it is played held between the knees. A conga-player is called a conguero or congacero.
Conga Rhythm – The Cuban conga was originally a carnival dance-march from Santiago de Cuba, with a heavy fourth beat, but the rhythm is common to carnival music in many parts of the New World. The conga rhythm is more easily simplified than most Cuban rhythms and was a natural for nightclub floorshows. It never became permanent in mainstream Latin music, though Eddie Palmieri introduced a modified version called the mozambique in the late 1960s.
Contradanza – 17th and 18th century dance of French origin from which many Latin ballroom dances derive via mainland Spain, including the danzon and the danza.
Conjunto – Cuban conjunto sprang from the carnival marching bands and combined voices, trumpets, piano, bass, conga, and bongo. Arsenio Rodriguez ran a seminal Cuban conjunto that used the smokey tone of the tres to balance the brass, and over the years conjuntos began adding a trombone or even in New York substituting trombones for trumpets. The Puerto Rican conjunto, the basic group of jibaro country music, consisted of cuatro, guitar, and guayo scraper, though trumpet and/or clarinet were added at various times, and accordion-led conjuntos playing danzas and waltzes for dancing were not uncommon.
Coro – The “chorus.” In salsa, the two or three-voice refrains of two or four bars sung during montunos. The lead singer improvises against the refrains. Coros are used in various ways in arrangements; as reprises or, by an alteration of the refrain, to establish a change of mood. A perfect example of this call and response between the lead singer and refrain in salsa, are on the song Para Ochun sung by Hector Lavoe.
Cuatro – A small, ten-stringed guitar, one of the many guitar variants to be found in Spain and Latin America. The cuatro is a major instrument in Puerto Rican jibaro country music.
Danzon – A Cuban ballroom dance derived from the contradanza in the late 1870s. It was regularly played by flute-and-fiddle charangas until the early 1950s. The danzon bears the mark of Europe and its first section was usually a promenade, but its charm is not merely nostalgic. Its melodies echo from time to time in modern salsa.
Descarga – The word means “discharge” and is a Latin musician’s slang term for a jam session. Descargas occupy a position midway between salsa and Latin-jazz, since they tend to preserve the Cuban structures yet contain far more jazz soloing than does salsa.
Guaguanco – The mid-paced guaguanco has African roots and was originally a drum form related to the rhumba. Though often played in 4/4, it has a strong 6/8 feel. The basic rhythm is traditionally carried by three conga drums and usually includes a good deal of solo drumming. The theme of a modern guaguanco is a somewhat loose melody line. It is one of the few 2-3 reverse clave forms.
Guajeo – A rift in the charanga style, especially for violin. Functionally, guajeos tie the melodic and rhythmic elements of a number together, acting as a sort of trampoline for flute and other solos. They are melodic patterns firmly based on the basic clave and tumbao.
Guajira – The slow guajira came from the Spanish-Cuban music of the guajiros. Much of its feeling comes from Hispanic melodies and guajeos that were originally, and often still are, played on the tres. The guajira is similar to the slow son montuno but is more delicate and less driving. Its lyrics frequently deal with rural nostalgia.
Guaracha – The original Cuban guaracha was a topical song form for chorus and solo voice, with improvisation in the solo. It was presented in 3/4 and 6/8 or 2/4 time signature. The guaracha developed a second section, employed for much improvisation, as in the son montuno. It appeared to have almost died out in Cuba by the 1930s, yet it is now one of the forms commonly used by salsa groups; a fast rhythm with a basic chicka-chicka pulse. Its last section is the probable source of the instrumental mambo. The guaracha is said to have originated in 18th-century maison d’assignation and its lyrics are still often racy and satirical.
Guiro – A scraper. The Cuban and Puerto Rican guiro, often called guayo in Puerto Rico, is made from a notched gourd and played with a stick. Poor players produce a steady ratchet-liked sound. Skilled ones provide endless, crisp counter-rhythms against the rest of the percussion section. The guiro, like the maracas, is usually played by a singer. In the Dominican Republic, the guiro, also called the guira there, is made of metal and played with a kind of metal fork. The metal instrument’s harsh sound adds a zest to country merengue playing, but is rarely used in salsa.
Habanera – Cuban dance of Spanish origin, the first major Latin influence on U.S. music around the time of the Spanish-American War. Provided the rhythmic basis of the modern tango, which makes its influence in 20th century American music difficult to trace.
Jibaro Music – The jibaros are the mountain farmers of Puerto Rico, and their music is the most strongly Hispanic part of the island’s folk tradition. Mostly string-based, jibaro music uses many Spanish-derived forms, including the ten-line decima verses – which a good singer must be able to improvise. A notable instrument is the small cuatro guitar. Many fine jibaro musicians, including singers Ramito and Chuitin, and cuatro player Yomo Toro, live in New York. Though various Puerto Rican salsa singers had used occasional jibaro inflections, Willie Colon brought the style into salsa by hiring Toro for a Christmas album in 1972.
Latin Jazz – A hybrid of jazz and Latin music. The term could cover anything from a Cuban number with a couple of Louis Armstrong phrases to a straight jazz number with a conga, but is best confined to crosses with a more or less full Latin rhythmic section, or one combining several Latin and jazz elements, and an instrumental frontline.
Mambo – An Afro-Cuban form that came out of the Congolese religious cults. The big band mambo of the 1940s and 1950s developed characteristic contrasting brass and sax riffs, which many musicians regard as stemming from the last section of the guaracha.
Maraccas – A tuned pair of rattles made from gourds filled with pebbles or seeds, one of a wide range of Amerindian-derived rattles. A skilled maracca-player such as Machito plays a subtle role in the polyrhythmic counterpoint.
Merengue – Though dances by this name are found in many countries, the merengue is originally from the Dominican Republic, where it dates back at least to the early 19th century. The modern merengue has a notably brisk and snappy 2/4 rhythm, with a flavor very different from the somewhat more flowing Cuban and jaunty Puerto Rican dances. The country form, for accordion, tambora drum, metal scraper, and voice, is heard everywhere in the Dominican Republic. The big bands like Johnny Ventura’s and Felix del Rosario’s is often heard at New York concerts.
Montuno Section – A vehicle for improvisation in Cuban and Salsa numbers, based on a two or three-chord pattern repeated ad-lib under the instrumental or vocal improvisations. The piano often maintains a repeated vamp of guajeos, a process known as montuneando.
Pachanga – The pachanga was a rage among New York Latin teenagers around 1961, as played by the then hugely popular Charangas. There is some dispute as to its origins. It seems to be Cuban, but it never reached the popularity there that it enjoyed in the eastern U.S. It had a fast, syncopated ta-tum ta-tum pulse. The pachanga died out because the dance involved proved to be too energetic for most.
Plena – An Afro-Puerto Rican urban tropical song form said to have been developed in Ponce during World War I. The plena has four or six-line verses, with a refrain. Lyrical content is social comment, satire, or humor. Instrumentation has ranged from percussion through accordion or guitar-led groups to various dance band formats. Its most famous composer and exponent was Manuel Jiminez, known as Canario. It has been a minor influence on salsa through the work of Rafael Cortijo in the late 1950s and Willie Colon in the 1970s.
Rumba – Most of what Americans call rumbas were forms of son which swept Cuba in the 1920s. The Cuban rumba was a secular drum form with many variants, including the guaguanco and the columbia, though modern musicians tend to regard all these as separate. Its descendent variations can be heard in New York parks any summer weekend played by groups called rumbas or rumbones. By analogy, a percussion passage in a salsa number, or a percussion-only jam session, is sometimes called a rumba or rumbon.
Salsa – A contemporary word for hot, up-tempo, creative Latin music, it means “gravy” or “sauce.” Originally, it was used as a descriptive such as “swinging” or “funky.” The origins of the current usage are obscure, but it began to circulate in the late 1960s. The basic meter of salsa is 4/4, organized by the two-bar clave pattern.
Septeto – The Cuban septetos and sextetos of the 1930s played mostly sones and boleros. They were trumpet-led string groups, usually with tres, guitar, maraccas, bass, and bongo. Famous groups included the Septeto Nacional and the Sexteto Habanero. The music they played fell somewhere between the guajiro string groups and the brassier conjuntos. Septeto trumpet style is singularly lyrical, moving between 19th-century brass-band cornet and jazz in its inspiration. The septeto style as a whole is subtle, crisp, and charming.
Shekere – An African-derived rattle made of a large gourd with beads held by a string net on the outside. It is one version of a rattle common in Africa and Afro-Latin America and works on the opposite principle from maraccas.
Son – The son is perhaps the oldest and certainly the classic Afro-Cuban form, an almost perfect balance of African and Hispanic elements. Originating in Oriente province, it surfaced in Havana around World War I and became a popular urban music played by string-and-percussion quartets and septetos. Almost all the numbers Americans called rumbas were, in fact, sones. “El Manicero” (“The Peanut Vendor”) was a form of son derived from the street cries of Havana and called a pregon. The rhythm of the son is strongly syncopated, with a basic chicka-CHUNG pulse.
Son Montuno – A reverse clave (2-3) form, usually mid-paced or slow, with a pronounced CHUNG-chicka feel. The son montuno developed as a separate form from the general son tradition. It was, like the guaracha, one of the first forms to include a second, improvised section, the montuno. Though it is not fast, the Afro-Cuban son montuno has an intense, almost relentless quality.
Sonero – In the strict sense, a man who sings or plays the Afro-Cuban son, but now the improvising lead singer in the salsa style. A good sonero improvises rhythmically, melodically, and verbally against the refrain of the coro. The word guarachero is a synonym, though less used.
Tambora – A double-headed drum, basic to the Dominican merengue. It is played with a single stick, while the other head is damped by hand to give tonal variety.
Timbales – A percussion set-up consisting of two small metal drums on a stand, with two tuned cowbells, often a cymbal and other additions. The timbales descended from small military dance and concert bands. They were originally confined to the charangas and orquestas tipicas, to which they imparted a distinctive, jaunty march-like rhythm, but during the 1940s they came into wider use. The timbales are played with sticks, with the player striking heads, rims, and sides of metal drums. All this plus cymbal and cowbells make for a varied instrument. A standard timbales beat, the abianco, is a rimshot-roll-rimshot combination.
Tipico – An imprecise but extremely important concept in modern salsa. Literally it means “typical” or “characteristic,” but it is generally used to identify the down-home, rural, popular styles of the Latin countries. Thus, the Cuban tipico music that became so important in New York in the 1960s and 1970s was basically conjunto and charanga music. But the septetos are also tipico, since their style is simple and popular rather than bourgeois.
Toque – A “beat,” but essentially a standard rhythmic phrase for percussion. Many toques derive from African religious drumming, in which particular rhythmic patterns were used to summon individual gods. A Latin percussionist is judged not by his energy level, but by his knowledge and use of standard toques and variations in his improvisations and in support of the band.
Tres – A Cuban guitar with six strings doubled in three course; a mainstay of guajiro music and the Afro-Cuban septetos. The tres was established as an important part of the Cuban conjunto by Arsenio Rodriguez, himself a fine player. The instrument came into New York salsa during the Cuban tipico revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Tumbao – A repeated rhythmic pattern for bass or conga drum. Based on the fundamental clave, the bassist’s tumbaos provide the scaffolding for the constant rhythmic counterpoint of the percussionists.
Source: The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States by John Storm Roberts