Why Salsa Music is like a French Pastry!

Salsa Music and Pastry Copyright:123RF Stock Photo
Delicious strawberry Mille feuille with fresh strawberries and Salsa Music!

What pastry is that?

Introducing the Mille feuille, the classic French pastry that consists of layers of razor-thin puff pastry and cream filling. The name translates to a thousand sheets or layers. I found Mille feuille at a local cafe (La petite Four) very yummy!

What does Salsa Music and Mille feuille have in common?

Well, one evening at a party I was talking to a very good friend Ernesto Zuñiga, highly trained Cuban musician from Accent Dance School and Ashe Cuba, current living in Auckland. Yes, there was Rum involved! However we were discussing Salsa music, Ernesto described salsa music as being made up of many layers, and I’ll admit that my mind went to my favorite pastry, you guessed it the Mille feuille .

Wait -what, there are layers in Salsa Music?

Yes, there are layers, lets consider the four main layers from the bottom up, but remember within the layer there may be several instruments in that band:
The first is the Percussive layer which is made of instruments with limited melodic line used for constructing the rhythm layer – instruments like the Conga Drums, the Clave (sticks or block), timbales, drum kit, güiro, maracas, bongó and campana (cow bell).
Base layer is next, which are the melodic instruments that also have percussive role in constructing the rhythm layer such as bass, double base, sometimes the piano and tres can also play in this layer.
Harmonic layer is mainly made up of the Piano and then the Melodic layers are the melodic instruments that play on top of the the rhythm layer which we tend to focus on when listening to music; voice, guitar, tres, brass, woodwind, strings etc.
So when you get a 20 piece band that is a lot of sound and layers playing all together delivering a very full or fat sound.

So why is this like a mille fuellie?

The layers are the sections of pastry,with each instrument be a layer within that puff pastry and the cream is the flavor and attitude (sabor) that hold it all together. You can even think of the trumpets or brass as the strawberry or coulis being the dribble decorating and enhancing the whole thing, making the whole greater than the individual parts.


Great, but how does this help me with finding the beat?

Lets get a bit technical – Salsa music is polyrhythmic. Polyrhthym is when there are two or more rhythms played simultaneously while moving at the same linear tempo. So something playing on the 1, 3, 5, and 7 (campana) and then say the clave on 2, 3, 5, & (between 6 & 7) and 8. Not surprisingly given to origins and influences on salsa music, traditional African music is known for its use of polyrhythms. Salsa music uses different drum lines and other musical instruments, as well as dancing and voices (oh the layers!).

So its this very complexity that can be the hurdle that many struggle with when trying to dance on time and the thing that provides salsa music the characteristics that many of us love to use when we are dancing!

Because western music tends to have less polyrhthymns, many of us grow up listening to music that has an obvious beat played on a big drum, which makes it relatively easy to find the beat. However, we often don’t have that obvious beat in salsa music. So if some of us have difficulty “picking out the beat” its not because we have missing something genetically or cultural its just practice and exposure to the polyrhthmic magic that is Salsa music.

So, I’m sorry to say that there is no real aha! moment, the only way to understand and get better at finding the beat is practice with someone who will correct your timing and listening to more music trying to identify those layers.

Do you listen to Salsa music when you are not at class or at a party?

No, well this is the easiest thing to change to help you with your timing when dancing. Get Spotify or any of the free streaming apps – even youtube and start listening to this amazing music.

So lets get listening and dancing… click here for the Salsa ¡Agua! beginners Salsa music playlist on spotify.

For more info or if you have further questions, do not forget to attend Ernesto’s musicality lectures at Bay Salsa festival 21-23 October, 2016

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