(Excerpt from the self-study book entitled Tradtional Afro Cuban Concepts in Contemporary Music Rhythms for Drum Kit, Multiply Congas, Timbales and Bongo, by Arturo Rodriguez – Mel Bay Publications)
There are many styles of music in the world
that use twelve and sixteen-space matrix’s to create rhythm. So what separates one from another? The answer is both cultural and environmental, but the end result is a fingerprint that uniquely identifies the origins of the music.
In the contemporary styles we will explore in this course, the phrase that is the key to understanding the music lies in the rhythmic pattern called clave (pronounced “clah’- vay”).
Clave is a five-note phrase that repeats after every fourth down beat. The clave phrase syncopates the pulse and begins to add swing to the music. Clave is the key to understanding how Afro- Cuban music is arranged and flows. There are many types of clave rhythms each of them specific for that certain style of music.
Clave is much more then just a rhythmic phrase that must be learned though. It is a concept that is fundamental to Afro-Latin music. Clave is to Afro- Cuban music as the backbone is to the human body or roots are to a tree. Without it, a human or a tree just couldn’t stand up! But clave is also a complicated concept to understand, especially for those who have never had an upbringing that was infused with Afro- Cuban music. Here are some very important points about clave that will serve you well though:
Clave is inherent in all aspects of Afro- Cuban music
...From rhythm to melody, in order to understand completely an Afro- Cuban musical piece, you must learn it first from the perspective of the clave pattern.