Mambo Con Son 

From Son, Mambo to Salsa 

The first Mambo Con Son weekend connecting music and dance, from the music of Son Montuno to Mambo / Salsa, from the dance of Son, Palladium Mambo On2, to Modern day New York On2. We have brought together some of the leading dancers in world of Cuban and New York Dance which includes Adolfo Indacochea and Maykel Fonts and Osbanis Tejeda etc,  who will be teaching workshops using live percussion to aid understand of the rhythms and timing, we have also added information on this page to help with the understanding of The Clave and Conga rhythms as well and the development of these dances in Contra Tiempo and On2 timing to help connect the dots…..
The Son-montuno started as a couples dance in Oriente,  a Cuban province. The accompanists were typically composed of Spanish-based folk guitarists and Afro-Cuban percussionists. As it moved westward to Havana, the music and dance styles grew and evolved with more percussion, especially in the final montuno section. It became very popular in the 1930s, Its Spanish and African musical elements form the basis of today’s salsa as well as urban dance music around the world, including French-speaking areas of West and Central Africa and the Caribbean, and Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

What is Cuban Son Music

"Cuban ``Son'' music is to salsa as roots are to a tree. Salsa has many roots, but the style that gave rise to and shaped it more than any other is Cuban Son.
To read more, select from the menu below.....

What is Cuban Son Dance

Since the mid-nineteenth century, Cuban popular music has played an important role in urban western culture. From the habaneras danced in the salons of New York City in the 1860s to the congas, rumbas, cha-chas, son-montunos and mambos of more recent vintage, Cuban dance has exerted a powerful international influence.
To read more, select from the menu below.....

What is the Clave & Tumbao

In salsa music, the clave rhythm establishes the key or structure to the song. Directly or indirectly, all the other instruments and the singers in the band are guided and structured by the clave rhythms.  The Tumbao refers to the rhythms accented by the conga drum player in mainstream salsa music.
To read more, select from the menu below.....

Son, Mambo & Salsa

Answers to some of the questions asked about Son, Mambo, Salsa, Clave and the Tumbao


“Cuban “Son” music is to salsa as roots are to a tree. Salsa has many roots, but the style that gave rise to and shaped it more than any other is Cuban Son.

Son is the most important and influential music to have evolved in 20th Century Cuba. Armando Sa’nchez, leader of Conjunto Son de la Loma, states that the Son “is a people’s music-a true expression of the Cuban people’s history and life.” This music, more than any other, expresses and identifies the ethos of the Cuban people.

“Son originated in the 1800’s in the mountClass-Yanet-2ains of Oriente, a Cuban province. It evolved from the “changui'”, a form of music rooted in African music brought to Cuba by the African slaves in the early 1900’s and carried on by their descendants.

As the Africans moved to Havana, the Son became a popular music style of the working class. Musicians began to incorporate African and Spanish music styles, such as the rumba and the music of “santeri’a,” “decima” and “guajira.” By the 1920’s, Son was the most popular music and dance for Cubans at all levels of society.
By synthesizing African and Spanish music styles and appealing to all Cubans, Son essentially became Cuba’s national music.

After World War I, many wealthy tourists and white upper class Cubans flocked to Havana, creating a demand for night life. Son was played in the night clubs but Sa’nchez commented, “The whites couldn’t understand the African rhythms and the musicians had to adjust. …
We had to accept their standards and “whiten up” the music.” Two of the most typical “conjuntos” (ensembles) at this were Sexteto Habanero and Septeto Nacional By 1918, Sexteto Habanero developed the “Son conjunto” sound: three voices, string bass, “tres” (6 or 9 string guitar), maracas, bongos, claves (wooden sticks struck together for the time-line rhythm), trumpet, and guitar. In the late 20′, Septeto Nacional expanded the Son style, by using tighter vocal harmonies, rhythmic complexity, and a faster tempo. This faster, more complex style became internationally popular. However, in the late 30’s, Arsenio Rodri’guez (one of Cuba’s greatest musician and composer) began reconnecting Son with its African roots. “Arsenio brought us back to our roots, and in doing that, he moved us forward,” states Sa’nchez.

Through his many innovations in style and instrumentation, Rodri’guez expanded the Son sound to emphasize or re-incorporate many of the African elements which many of the earlier son conjuntos omitted or simplified. He synthesized and maintained the integrity of African and Spanish elements.Some of his innovations were

1) adapting the Guaguanco’ to the Son style;

2) adding a cowbell and conga to the rhythm section;

3) expanding the role of the tres as a solo instrument, and

4) introducing a “montuno” (or mambo) section for melodic solos.

Arsenio’s songs made philosophical statements about Cuba, community life, and ethnic pride. His style became known as “Son montuno” and formed the basis of the mambo craze in the 40’s, influencing Latin popular music in New York for years to follow. By the 30’s, the popularity of Son and mambo spread to Puerto Rico where musicians incorporated the style with their own.
As Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians emigrated to the US, especially New York, they took that style with them, forming Cuban/Puerto Rican Son conjuntos. “Since the 1960’s Arsenio’s sones and his conjunto sound have been reinterpreted by Salsa musicians.
While Salsa has many roots, and its primary exponents are Puerto Rican, the Cuban Son is clearly the primary foundation of Salsa.” “Salsa” is primarily a commercial tag for contemporary Latin pop music. It connotes a feeling as well as a variety of redefined/reinterpreted styles and traditions. African-American big-band jazz stimulated the formation of Latin big-bands in the late 40’s.

Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and African-Americans joined to play a style which integrated the compositional concepts of the big-band horn sections with the Afro-Cuban rhythm sections, eventually evolving into the New York Latin sound, mostly played by Puerto Ricans. Big band leaders, such as Puerto Rico’s Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez and Cuba’s Machito, expanded the mambo section of the Son, creating its own style and form, the first major “cross-over” from Afro-Carribbean music.

The Cha-Cha-Cha and the Mambo, both internationally popular, were also incorporated into this style, forming the foundation for “Salsa.” Until the US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1962, the New York and Cuban musicians continually interacted, forming parallel Latin music styles. After 1962, New York-based music began incorporating the inspiration of the world around them, forming a distinctively New York style. One result of the Latino and Black communities interaction was Latin “bugalu”, adapted from the popular African-American dance of the mid 60’s.

Latin bugalu used the standard Latin musical instruments, added a set of trap drums, and had lyrics sung in Spanish and English. Another result of the interaction was the incorporation of the cumbia, merengue, and bomba, plena, “jibaro” (from the mountains) music styles from Columbian, Dominican, and other Puerto Rican peoples living in New York.
“The influx of Cubans in the early 1980’s and the visits of some Cuban bands, have resulted in a reconnection with and influence of Cuban music. But salsa remains a uniquely New York phenomenon whose primary exponents are still New York Puerto Rican musicians, although musicians form all over the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as European Americans, also participate in its performance.”

by Dr. Roberta Singer

Music By Arsenio Rodriguez

Since the mid-nineteenth century, Cuban popular music has played an important role in urban western culture. From the habaneras danced in the salons of New York City in the 1860s to the congas, rumbas, cha-chas, son-montunos and mambos of more recent vintage, Cuban dance has exerted a powerful international influence.Cuban Dance
” Most of Cuba’s culture, including its dances, resulted from what Fernando Ortiz termed “Cuban counterpoint,”, the balance of Cuba’s Iberian and African components. One of the best examples is that of “son-montuno.” Depending on where one lived in Cuba, the main cultural influence on music and social activities was either Spanish or West/Central African. In those regions where tobacco was grown, many of the farmers were from Spain or the Canary Islands. Whereas, in the sugar cane growing regions, many workers were slaves brought from West and Central Africa in the mid 1800s.

As the slaves were brought to Cuba, they formed “cabildos” (religious brotherhoods) and kept alive the religious and secular dances of Yoruba, Fon, Ejagham, and Kongo-Angola. The Yoruba and Fon religions worshiped many gods, summoning them in various dances, often possessing the dancer so that the gods “danced in

their (the dancer’s) heads”. The Ejagham men formed secret societies, Abakua’, whose members danced in secret society rites or carnival parades. The members wore masks, “i’remes” (or “diablitos”, little devil in Spanish), representing ancestral figures. The Kongo-Angolans brought their music and dance, profoundly impacting Cuban culture. Their non-ritual celebrations, “congueri’as”, featured their “makuta” and “yuka” dances.

The yuka, similar to the modern rumba, is composed of the “ronquido” and the “campanero”. The former is a series of lateral steps, while the latter’s steps form a figure-eight pattern. The dancers also performed a Kongo ritual combat dance, the “mani'”, similar to the Brazilian “capoeira” and congueri’as. The “yambu'”, “guaguanco'” and the “columbia”, all imitative dances, collectively form the “rumba” and are related to older Kongo forms.

The yambu’ is a slow tempoed danced, often associated with older people, mimicking their motions and difficulty performing every day tasks. The guaguanco’, a modern version of the rumba, includes the “vacunao”, a pelvic movement. In this form, the dance has two sections:

The first simulates the man chasing a female partner as they dance apart;

The second, the vacunao, symbolizes his conquest of her.

Although the vacunao is similar to the “zapateo”, a European couples dance, and the “umbigada”, another pelvic thrust in early Angolan influenced samba dances, it is clearly from the Kongo dance styles.

The columbia, started in rural areas, is a male solo dance featuring acrobatic and mimetic forms, making it the most complex of all the rumbas.

The dancer may imitate a ball player, bicyclist, cane-cutter or cripple or perform some of the Abakua’n ireme’ steps. The dancer and the main drummer challenge each other throughout the dance.

“Comparsas”, on the other hand, are collective street rumba dances. Neighborhoods would form a comparsa and perform in carnivals and other occasions. The dance is similar to the Brazilian samba using dramatic or allegorical themes.

The “conga” is a simpler form of the rumba made popular in the United States in the late 1930s.”Cuba’s two most important dances, the “danzo’n” and the “son-montuno”, emerged from radically different social environments. Both changed dramatically as they moved from eastern to western Cuba, from a more Iberian zone to a more Afro-Cuban one.” The danzo’n, descendant from the French “contredanse,” was brought to Cuba by French planters fleeing Haiti in the late 1700s and eventually evolved in the mid 1800s into the simpler “danza” or “habanera.

“In the late 1870s, the danza evolved into the danzo’n and is now considered the national dance of Cuba. Until the late 1920s, the danzo’n was limited to the upper classes at their private clubs and societies. Then, the danzo’n incorporated a more syncopated final section. In 1938, Antonio Arcano created the “mambo” a new rhythm danzo’n composed of a more swinging, riff-based section played by the charanga orchestras of flute and violins. Soon, the black and working-class Cubans began dancing the mambo. Pe’rez Prado in Mexico and Machito in New York City popularized the mambo in their big bands. The “cha-cha” evolved from the mambo, and thus is also a descendent of the contredanse.

The son-montuno started as a couples dance in Oriente, a Cuban province. The accompanists were typically composed of Spanish-based folk guitarists and Afro-Cuban percussionists. As it moved westward to Havana, the music and dance styles grew and evolved with more percussion, especially in the final montuno section. It became very popular in the 1930s, often mistakenly called the rumba.

Its Spanish and African musical elements form the basis of today’s salsa as well as urban dance music around the world, including French-speaking areas of West and Central Africa and the Caribbean, and Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.  

Rene & Estela from Cuba in 1938, this is possibly one of the earliest recordings of the influence of Son in New York

Rene & Estela from Cuba in 1938, this is possibly one of the earliest recordings that demonstrates a Crossbody Lead

The Clave is traditionally a wooden instrument consisting of 2 sticks which are struck together to make a clicking or tapping sound. Nowadays, sometimes it is a plastic hollow rectangular “box” which may be hand-held or mounted on the drum set – the timbales, cowbell, cymbal, woodblock, etc. And sometimes the clave rhythm sounds come from other sources, such as the drummer tapping the side of a drum. In Spanish, the word “clave” means a “key”, like a “key word” or the “key to a code”.

In salsa music, the clave rhytSocial-5hm establishes the key or structure to the song. Directly or indirectly, all the other instruments and the singers in the band are guided and structured by the clave rhythms. While it cannot always be heard in some salsa music, the clave’s beat always underlies the rhythmic structure of good salsa. While there are various clave rhythm patterns, the “Son Clave” is the one used in the classic, mainstream New York Caribbean-style salsa music preferred by New Yorkers for ON 2 dancing.

This clave is played within 2 measures of 4 beats each, a total of 8 beats. But it is only tapped on certain of those 8 beats in the 2 measures. There are two son clave rhythm patterns: the 3/2 clave and the 2/3 clave. The 3/2 clave is struck on the following beats: 1, 2 1/2, 4, 6, 7. The 2/3 clave is struck on the following beats: 2, 3, 5, 6 1/2, 8.

The clave creates a complex, syncopated, unevenness in the rhythmic structure that builds a tension in the group of 3 taps, and then releases or resolves that tension in the group of 2 taps, once in each of the 2 measures. It does this by going against, and then rejoining, the regular 8 beats, a little like one instrument playing in 4/4 time, and another playing in 3/4 time simultaneously.

This syncopation fascinates and inspires those more experienced ON 2 dancers who are particularly in tune to the music, and affects the way they feel and move when they have reached the level of the dance where they are truly “dancing in the music”. You may have heard the expression “Dancing on Clave” to describe New York On 2 mambo.
This needs some clarification. Actually, this 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. But we do not literally step to ALL the beats that the clave instrument taps out. For example, the 2/3 clave instrument taps out 2, 3, 5, 6 1/2, 8, while we step on 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7. So we are only stepping on the 2, 3 and 5 taps of the 2/3 clave. And the 3/2 clave taps out 1, 2 1/2, 4, 6, 7, while we step on 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7. So we only step on the 1, 6, and 7 of the 3/2 clave.

As an example of how the clave makes us feel and move, we break on 2 and 6, but the 6 break feels much more emphatic and part of the body than does the 2 break when we are dancing to a song with a 3/2 clave, because the 6 break is “On Clave”, at least when it’s audible in the music. In contrast, when the song we are dancing to has a clear 2/3 clave structure, the 2 break feels stronger than the 6 break. Many intermediate and advanced ON 2 dancers feel this difference, particularly those who are closely attuned to the music.

The clave always has one measure with 2 beats, and one measure with 3 beats.

The 2/3 clave has 2 beats in the first measure, and 3 beats in the second measure.

The 3/2 clave has 3 beats in the first measure, and 2 beats in the second measure.

It is in the nature of the clave rhythmic structure that the 2 beats always stand out more emphatically than the 3 beats. That is, they feel stronger in the rhythm. Partly this is because the 2 beats resolve the syncopated unevenness or tension of the 3 beats. When we are breaking on 2 and 6, we are actually changing our body direction in conjunction with the strongest rhythmic emphasis in the clave’s beat. So although we don’t literally step on every clave beat, we do make a major body movement (a change of direction) on the major beat of the clave, the 2 beat which resolves the tension. It is in this sense that we “dance on clave”.

This style of dancing accents the clave’s emphasis on the 2 in the way we move our bodies in the dance. Other timings, such as breaking on 1 or 3, do not accent the clave’s emphasis on the 2 in this way. There is another use of the word “clave” you may hear.

“Finding the clave” – referring to when we take our first step, on the 1: “finding the clave” in this usage means finding the first beat of the 8 beat measure. Also, you may hear someone describe a DJ “mixing the songs on the clave” – This usage means going from one salsa song to the next keeping the tempo/timing of the 8 beats. Both of these uses of the “the clave” have to do with the regular 8 beats, and do not literally refer to the rhythms created by the tapping of the clave instrument.

I would like to express my thanks to Jimmy Anton, Addie Diaz, Carlos Koenig, Frankie Martinez and Eddie Torres, for their help in clarifying and putting into words the role of this fascinating and complex rhythm instrument, the clave, and how it forms a foundation unique to salsa and ON 2 mambo dancing.

And also my thanks to Manny Siverio, host of SalsaWeb.com/NY , for launching us into trying to explain the timing and the clave in a way that would be helpful to the viewers of our two web sites.

Article Copyright © 2000 Steve Shaw from: www.salsanewyork.com/ourdancemusic.htC

 Youtube Video of 2-3 and 3-2 Clave from Dance Papi.

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 8 1/2, and on 4 and 4 1/2. These 2 quick beats serve as a lead-in to the 1st and 5th beats of the measure, the 2 heavy downbeats that we step on when dancing ON 2.Poncho-Sanchez
In fact, when the 2 quick beats of the tumbao are very clear, they have the effect of “rushing us” into the 1 and 5 steps, making us hit them more emphatically and, sometimes, slightly early, which gives this style of dancing a snap and quickness in the look and feel.
Sometimes the “slap”, or the “slow” hit of the tumbao is not audible. But when it can be heard, it is often the heavier and more emphatic sound coming from the conga drum. That sound comes on the 2nd beat of the measure.
This means that if the Tumbao sound can be heard during both 4 beat measures making up the 8 beats we dance to, then the strongest points of emphasis are on the 2nd and 6th beats, which is where we “break”, or change our body movement direction, when we dance ON 2.

We Start On The Major Downbeat, We Break On The Clave And The Tumbao When Eddie Torres says that this On 2 timing and style of mambo dancing “logically fits the rhythm of salsa music”, he is referring to the fact that the strongest beats in the rhythm, the 1st and 5th beats, are where we begin our moves: we begin our basic step, our cross-body-lead, our turn patterns, our shines. In other words, the beats with the greatest rhythmic thrust (1 and 5) are what power the “On 2” dancer’s moves. The greatest “push” or “action” in the music’s rhythm (the 1 and 5 downbeats) empower the greatest “action” in the dancer’s body (the initiation of a move).
In addition, as noted above, we do our 2 strong body motions, the 2 and 6 breaks (change of body direction), on the major rhythmic beats of the clave, and the strongest sounds of the conga drum, the 2 and 6. So in all three ways (the strongest downbeats, the clave and the tumbao), this particular mambo dance style and timing expresses in its strongest body movements what the structure of salsa music expresses in its strongest rhythms.

We start on 1, we break on 2: This distinguishes standard New York On 2 timing from those which break on 1, 3, etc., and those which don’t begin their moves on the 1st beat, such as timings where the dancers step on 2, 3, 4, and 6, 7, 8, for example Razz M’ Tazz and some Palladium, ballroom and international styles. Cuban Pete’s Personal Opinion – Quoting Fernando Lamadrid, “Cuban Pete, one of the greatest dancers of the Palladium era once explained it like this: “Dancing “On 1” is dancing “TO” the music. Dancing “On 2” is dancing “IN” the music. And at a panel discussion at the World Salsa Congress, he said “….Dancing “On 1” is like dancing to the melody of the music, while dancing “On 2″ is like dancing in the rhythm of the music.” It might actually be more precise to say “…….dancing “On 2″ is like dancing in the rhythm of the clave’s tension-resolving and dominant 2 beat”. While these statements are only an opinion, they are not uncommon. They do reflect many On 2 dancers’ belief and feeling, especially those who danced on another timing previously, that this particular method connects them more to the rhythmic percussive elements in the salsa music. And, by the way, most of us also love the melody and the words in the songs, not just the rhythm. The major point here is that the New York On 2 timing connects very well to the rhythmic structure of classic salsa music.

Please note, however, as mentioned in our Welcome & Introduction to this web site, that nothing here is meant to suggest that different ways of dancing to salsa music are any less legitimate or less enjoyable. No offense is meant, and none should be taken. There is no right or wrong way to dance. One can dance in many ways, and in connection with many different aspects of the music: rhythm, melody, mood, meaning of the words, tempo, harmony, intensity, etc. What matters most is what each dancer prefers…..and that they don’t smash into their neighbours on the dance floor.

Youtube Video on the Tumbao by Dance Papi.

Close Menu