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Study - Timba Gears "Reelin' in the Gears" - Gears in Action: In the Studio - pt. 2

5 - Pedal Gear

Normally this section would be repeated twice, but for the studio recording it gets cut to 4 basic steps and goes immediately to the next gear, Bomba. Bomba gets its name from the Puerto Rican folkloric rhythm Bomba Sicá, and if you listen carefully you can hear little references to it, especially in the drums, but to hear the extent to which Timberos have taken Bomba and made it their own, compare the following example to the music of Rafael Cortijo or Plena Libre. It's a different groove entirely, with a funky snare drum hit every other backbeat and dramatic downward slides on the low string of the electric bass. Bomba always ends with a special bloque to lead into the next section, in this case, Marcha de Mambo.

6 - Bomba Gear

Like the previous Pedal, this Bomba section lasts only 4 basic steps. While we're on the subject of dancing, note that while ballroom dancers get confused when the gears shift to Pedal and Bomba, this is in fact the moment that timba dancers relish. Rather than trying to execute the next spin or double-dip cross-body lead, they push away from each other and dance despelote. Cubanas usually reserve their most provocative tembleque moves for the transition from Pedal to Bomba. It's ironic that the elements of Timba which salsa dancers have difficulty with were actually designed with dancers in mind. I once asked Tomás Cruz about the origins of some of these gears and he said that it was all based on watching the dancers and seeing which new gear ideas would inspire them to come up with new dance moves.

The Bomba is followed by a repeat of the mambo, then the third coro, "¿dónde está lo mío?", in Pedal gear, and then another mambo, which leads to a new gear, Breakdown.

notes on terminology: I learned some of these terms (pedal, bomba, marcha, songo con efectos) from Tomás Cruz and made up others myself (marcha de mambo, breakdown, piano tumbao). The musicians rely on the hand signals and rarely use the terms. For example, the signal for what I call Breakdown is two fingers, like a victory or peace sign. I once asked Paulito's arranger Juan Ceruto about a gear Tomás had taught me called "songo con efectos". Ceruto didn't know what I was talking about until I explained the gear in detail, at which point he said "Oh, you mean ...", and demonstrated the hand signal for songo con efectos. Many of the fundamental concepts of Cuban music are so ingrained into the culture that the need to verbalize about them never comes up, explaining why I, among others, spent several years listening to and loving Timba before even realizing that this intrinsic concept of gears even existed! I just thought everybody in the rhythm section was jammin' up a storm and it fell together so beautifully because they all had some sort of musical ESP!

7 - Breakdown Gear

San Toma qúe is one of the few studio tracks to use the Breakdown gear, but in concert you'll hear it in almost every song by almost every band. The most obvious feature is that the volume and intensity come way down. It's also the only gear where the piano (sometimes) stops playing tumbao. Many bands have a trademark bloque which is played just after the Breakdown begins. In the case of Paulito it's just two hits.


8 - Breakdown bloque (Paulito)

9 - Breakdown bloque (Issac Delgado)

10 - Breakdown bloque (Bamboleo)

11 - Breakdown bloque (Charanga Habanera)

In the studio version of Y San Toma qué, the Breakdown allows space for Paulito to sing a free form lead vocal without coro, and to introduce the next coro, "Qué te pasa, te veo lento, éntrame con eso". As we'll see later, Breakdown gear plays a much more extensive role in live performance and is crucial to the approach that has earned Paulito my vote as the greatest Timba singer.

Before getting to these live performances, let's review the studio track in full. The number at the beginning of each line in the following chart is the number of basic steps that each section takes up. Click the Dancers' Guide link and start dancing in place.

12 - Dancers' Guide to the Gears of Y San Toma qué (studio version)

4 - Piano Tumbao
16 - Marcha (coro 1)
8 - marcha de mambo
4 - Pedal (coro 2)
4 - Bomba
8 - marcha de mambo
8 - Pedal (coro 3)
8 - marcha de mambo
8 - Breakdown
4 - Marcha (coro 4)
6 - Bomba (still coro 4)
8 - Pedal (coro 5)
8 - Marcha (still coro 5)
4 - Breakdown (reprise of coro 2)
2 - Marcha (still coro 2) -- into coda

Tuesday, 22 March 2011, 07:31 PM