WHAT IS MAMBO?

No discussion of this topic would be complete without first going to the roots of the music. From Salsaroots.com: "Mambo is deeply rooted in African drum rhythms and spiritual practices brought to Cuba by the slaves. Historians suggest that mambo maybe derived from Congolese sacred music and means “conversation with the gods”. Over the years, mambo was transformed by fusion with Bantu,Yoruba, Spanish and Afro-American jazz musicians." In the years following the war, Mambo witnessed a revival in the United States, particularly New York, played by big band orchestras. Musicians and band leaders such as Machito and Tito Puente carried this musical tradition during a combined span of 50 years, in legendary venues such as the Palladium in New York. This Mambo tradition tradition was now expressing itself with the local flavor of one of its adopted home. Dance greats such as Cuban Pete, Mambo Aces and, more contemporarily, Eddie Torres, were the ones physically interpreting this music, which now has been absorbed in the commercially-created umbrella term "Salsa". Just like "Salsa", Mambo is danced within an eight-beat measure, accenting, or breaking on, the "2" and the "6".

What is this mystery called the clave? The term could be loosely translated as a "key" or "code". From Justsalsa.com: "On 2" dancing is often referred to dancing "on clave". Though what this exactly means is hard to understand and almost impossible to explain. It is like trying to explain "feeling" in jazz." Furthermore, Steve Shaw of Salsanewyork.com states: "You may have heard the expression "Dancing on Clave" to describe New York On 2 mambo. This needs some clarification. [It] is a loose expression to mean that the clave contributes to the 8 beat rhythmic structure of salsa, and also effects how we feel and move to the music." As you can see this can require quite a complex explanation and controversy rages over whether we really dance "on" or "within" this instrument. There are also many variations and derivatives. We'll put those discussion aside for now.

The roots of the clave, as with Mambo in general, are found in the tradition of the West African bell patterns brought to Cuba during the 19th century via the slave trade ("Clave: The African Roots of Salsa" reprinted by Christopher Washburne, www.lafi.org/magazine/articles/clave.html). From this are derived two rhythmic patterns of the clave: : the 3/2 clave, which marks "1, 2 1/2, 4, 6, 7" and the 2/3 clave which marks "2, 3, 5, 6 1/2, 8".

Again from Salsanewyork.com: "The tumbao refers to the rhythms accented by the conga drum player in mainstream salsa music. Specifically, the conga is struck with 2 quick beats and then a 3rd "slap", usually on the outer edge or rim of the drum, in the pattern of quick-quick-slow. Sometimes this is audible in both 4 beat measures, and sometimes only in the first measure. The 2 quick beats are on "8 and..." (actually, 8 and 8 1/2), and on "4 and ..." (actually, 4 and 4 1/2)." This "slap" indicates your break step or change of direction within the music.

Two types of step patterns developed. The Eddie Torres version accents the "2" in at "1, 2, 3 - 5, 6, 7" patterns. The more traditional style breaks on "2" on the first step, which gives it a "2, 3, 4 - 6, 7, 8" step pattern (if you didn't count numbers, it would look similar to the step pattern "on 1"). This is more commonly known, not surprisingly, as "Classic Mambo" or "Palladium Style", which conjures up memories of the dance palaces of yore. From our experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, the Eddie Torres version seems to be the more popular version, although classes are still taught in both timings.

Note: any opinions stated are not equivalent to preaching a type of Mambo gospel. They are opinions and facts, many culled from various sources and is not meant to disparage any other timing(s) one chooses to dance on. As long as you respect each other on the dance floor, that's fine with us!

From all at MamboCrazy, I hope you enjoy your new Mambo home on the Web!


Back to main