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Study - The 4 Great Clave Debates - Clave Debate 4

click here for Kevin Moore's book: Understanding Clave and Clave Changes.

Clave Debate #4: Of the three ways to "change clave", is only one of them "correct"?

This one is much more than a silly semantic argument. It’s a very real and complex aesthetic musical issue. There are those who feel strongly that the integrity of the arrangement is compromised by breaking the flow of the clave and playing the 2 or 3 side twice in a row, and a survey of a huge amount of the best music of Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, The Fania All-Stars, etc. will show a strict adherence to this rule. Since we haven’t found any existing terms to describe the different ways of changing clave, we’ve decided to make up our own. We call this method "New York style", which is where many of these famous arrangements were written. It's not that the Cubans don't also use this method - it's that a significant number of master arrangers in New York only use this method.

"New York style" clave change: With this kind of clave change it’s possible to play clave from the beginning to the end of the arrangement without ever playing the 2 or 3 side twice in a row. To repeat, this style was not invented in New York and is also used freely in many types of Cuban and Puerto Rican music, but many of best New York arrangers use it exclusively and consider the other method to be incorrect, so we chose this term, aware of the danger that it might add new semantic fuel to the debate! But we had to call it something. Of course it doesn’t really matter what it’s called as long as you understand what it is.

While there are those who will argue to the death that this is the only correct way to change clave, there are two counter-arguments. The first is of course that Los Van Van, Issac Delgado, Charanga Habanera, NG La Banda, and others have created dozens of drop-dead masterpieces which change clave however they see fit. The second argument is that changing clave New York style will confuse and/or irritate some dancers. We call the other way to change clave "Clave License" style.

"Clave License" clave change: In this case the clave changes by playing one side twice in a row. The term "clave license", as in "poetic license", comes from an interview that Rebeca Mauleón-Santana conducted with Juan Formell for her book "101 Montunos" in which he said something to the effect of "we like to think that we have clave license", meaning that he has no problem with changing the clave any which way as long as it sounds good, and that he trusts his intuition to know what sounds good. We break this down into "2:2 Clave License" and "3:3 Clave License" depending on which side gets played twice in a row. The above example of "Sandunguera" is an example of a "3:3 Clave License" clave change, but note that when the section above repeats, the clave changes back to 2:3 again, and this time it does it New York style. With the Cubans, there’s no philosophical preoccupation with clave. They just play it as they hear it and let the clave fall where it may.

As noted, an interesting side-effect of the Clave License method is that it doesn’t change the foot pattern of the dancers. The New York style change will result in the the leader breaking backwards with the musical phrasing instead of forwards, while the Clave License style is likely to be completely unnoticed by the dancers. Some dance teaching methods actually include a special 2 beat step for flipping the basic step back around when the clave changes.

To conclude, let's look at one of the greatest examples of New York Style clave changes,"Todos Vuelven" from Ruben Blades’ 1984 classic, "Buscando America". The arrangement is by Oscar Hernández. The song changes clave five times, but if you start clapping 3:2 clave from the very first note, you can go all the way through without ever changing. The opening is a bit nasty, but remember that the first sound you hear is the downbeat of the 3 side.

Here’s the roadmap:

Todos Vuelven [audio example 9]
0:00 3:2 (the first note is the downbeat of the measure)
1:51 2:3 (coro: "todos vuelven")
2:27 3:2
3:03 2:3 (conga solo)
4:11 3:2 (vibes)

An even wilder example of multiple NY style clave changes is the Fania All-Stars’ version of "Bamboleo". Marty Sheller’s beautiful arrangement of "Oye" (from "Tras la Tormenta") by Ruben Blades and Willie Colón) has only one clave change but it’s done so naturally that it becomes one of the highlights of the arrangement. It’s as if the NY arrangers imposed this artificial restraint on themselves to inspire their own creativity. Each clave change presents a problem and the creativity expended to solve is has resulted in a lot of great music.

NOTE ON LISTENING TO AUDIO FILES: If you have difficulty hearing the examples, just search for WinAmp and install it. There are versions for both Mac. By changing the setting you can make one example stop as soon as you click on next.

audio examples 1 to 4 — first you hear the bell on the downbeats for 4 beats, then the clave with the bell twice, and then finally just the clave twice.
audio example 5: is from "Pare Cochero" from Charanga Habanera’s "Hey You, Loca!" on Magic Music Records.
audio examples 6 and 7 start with a count-in of one measure, then a measure of clave and then the melody.
audio example 8 is from "Por Encima del Nivel" by Los Van Van from the box set "The Legendary Los Van Van on Ashé Records.
audio example 9 is from "Todos Vuelven" by Ruben Blades from "Buscando America" on Sony Tropical Records.

click here for Kevin Moore's book: Understanding Clave and Clave Changes.


Wednesday, 08 October 2014, 06:17 PM