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Fotos: Tom Ehrlich : Melon with Pedrito
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The Roots of Timba, Pt I - 1945-No hay yaya sin Guayacán
notes: This is the first bass tumbao we've studied that uses a different rhythm for each side of the clave, an incredibly important breakthrough which was, far as I know, first recorded by Arsenio and may well have been invented by him as well. As we get closer and closer to timba, we'll find that the bass increasingly assumes the responsibility of marking the clave, but in this early example, the pattern doesn't strongly indicate where the 2-side and 3-side are -- it simply differentiates them. This results in a longer pattern, and Arsenio used the extra length to make the bassline more melodic. David García's Arsenio treatise contains an extremely revealing quote from Arsenio's brother Raúl Travieso which sheds light on the inspiration for this and other bass tumbaos, explaining that "Arsenio insisted that his bass players make the bass 'sing'." This idea of a bass tumbao with a melodic identity unique to a specific arrangement was critical not only to timba, but also to Motown, Rock, Funk and other important genres.
This excerpt also gives us a taste of Arsenio's amazing tres playing and - more significant from a timba perspective -- of one of his most important arranging innovations, which he called the diablo. As you can hear at the very end of this excerpt, it consisted of short, rhythmic, repeating horn figures juxtaposed against a syncopated bass tumbao and a coro. In the late 40s and early 50s, this became the basis for the extremely popular mambo genre associated with such artists as Pérez Prado, Machito, etc. Later, in salsa, the term was adopted to describe the horn interludes between the coros of an arrangement, but in salsa there was usually a strict alternation between these "mambos" which featured just the horns, and "coros" which featured just the singers. One of the big advancements of the timba arrangers was to blur the distinctions between mambo and coro sections by pitting the coro, lead singer, and horns against each other in various creative ways.
To look at it another way, it took 50 years for Latin music to catch up with what Arsenio was doing in the 1940s.