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If you want to pretend that you know anything about Salsa and Cuban music, these are the very essential words you just have to know.


Ahí-namá/Ahí Na' Má - Spanish, short for "ahi nada mas". Literally means 'only there', 'just there' or 'that and no more', but used more as 'that's it!' or 'right on!'. Called out by musicians in salsa bands as a sign of enthusiasm, a way of highlighting a particular musical expression that feels good, etc. It was made popular by La Lupe, a Cuban singer of the 1970s as a call to the musicians and the audience to 'go to it.' "Ahí Na' Má" is also a tune by Ismael Rivera con Cortijo y su Combo from the early sixties.

Casino: Cuban term for the salsa dance.

Cha-cha-chá: A rhythmic style derived from the early Cuban danzón-mambo, created by violinist Enrique Jorrín (who named the style upon hearing the scraping sounds of dancers' feet). The cha-cha-chá eventually became a separate musical style from the danzón. Charanga: A specific style of instrumentation consisting of rhythm section (contrabass, timbales, and güiro), strings (from two to four violins, or any number of violins with a cello), and one wood flute. The piano and conga drum were added in the 1940s. This term (and style of instrumentation) evolved from the charanga francesa, developed in the early 20th century. Also characterised by unison singing.

Clave: A five-note, bi-measure pattern which serves as the foundation for all of the rhythmic styles in salsa music. The clave consists of a "strong" measure containing three notes (also called the tresillo), and a "weak" measure containing two notes, resulting in patterns beginning with either measure, referred to as "three-two" or two-three." There are two types of clave patterns associated with popular (secular) music: son clave and rumba clave. Another type of clave - 6/8 clave - originated in several styles of West African sacred music.

Claves: Pair of polished, hardwood sticks struck together to produce to the clave patterns.

Conga (drum): A Cuban drum derived from several African predecessors - also known as the tumbadora - originating as a solid, hollowed log with a nailed-on skin. Eventually, tuneable hardware was added and today, conga drums are made out of fiberglass as well as wood. Conjunto: Cuban orchestra with vocals, trumpets, piano, bass, percussion.

Cumbia: The most typical Colombian form, fusion of Andean Indian, African and European musical styles.

Danzón: A Cuban musical and dance form developed in the late 19th century, which is derived from the European Court and Country dances, as well as the contradanza and the danza. The instrumentation which generally interprets this style is known as the charanga orchestra, featuring strings and flute with a rhythm section. The danzón form consists of: an introduction called the paseo (A), the principal flute melody (B), a repeat of the introduction (A), and the violin trio (C). Innovations by several composers led to the addition of a fourth section (D) called nuevo ritmo, later known as mambo. This section added elements of the Cuban son, and established an open vamp over which the flute, violin or piano would improvise.

Descarga: "Unloading" (lit.); a jam session, as well as an improvised tune.

Mambo: 1. The section added to the danzón form (in the 1940s) which featured an open vamp and instrumental improvisation. (Mambo also refers to an instrumental section of a salsa or merengue tune.) 2. An up-tempo dance style, developed through the 40s and 50s, which blended several elements of North American instrumentation and harmony with elements of the Cuban son.

Merengue: A rhythmic style and high-energy dance beat from the Dominican Republic, very popular throughout the Latin world. Essential percussion instruments are a tambora and guira, with congas added in modern bands. Originally featured accordion; today's bands have keyboards and brass with fast repeated saxophone patterns.

Mojito: Cuban drink, a must in the breaks when playing/dancing salsa. Recipe: Mix the juice of 1/2 a lime (fresh), 1 tablespoon sugar or simple syrup and mint leaves. Add ice cubes and 2 ounces / 4 cl white rum (preferably Havana Club). Fill with soda water. Montuno: Section of an Afro-Cuban dance tune using call and response between improvisations by the lead singer and repeated phrases by a vocal chorus.

Rueda de casino: (normally just called Rueda). Salsa (or casino) with a group of people in a circle all doing the same moves in response to a caller's commands.

Salsa: [Spanish = sauce]. Contemporary dance music of Afro-Cuban origin which incorporates jazz and rock elements. Developed by Puerto Rican immigrants in New York and became popular during the late 60s. The concept is disputed among musicians and other 'experts', some saying that what's called salsa is really son or mambo, others saying that salsa is not a specific style or genre but a concept to denominate a wide range of Afro-Latin/Caribbean genres, and yet others claim the term Salsa originated as a musical marketing ploy, a commercial term, intended for the sale and distribution of music that was much more than what "Salsa" means today.

Salsa gorda: Refers to the heavy bass and driving percussion sound of the 70's and early 80's of such bands as Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Larry Harlow, Hector Lavoe, Eddie Palmieri, and Fania All Stars. Normally including instrument solos and in many cases with a strong influence from jazz. Also referred to as salsa brava.

Salsa romantica: Romantic lyrics, emphasis on the singer, with few solos on the part of the musicians, and less influenced by jazz than the salsa gorda. Artists given as examples are ao. Luis Enrique, Gilberto SantaRosa and Marc Anthony. Also referred to as salsa monga.

Salsero/salsera: Used in to designate a person who is crazy about salsa and normally dancing or playing salsa, thus having a wider definition than 'sonero'.

Son: A style of popular dance music of the peasant or working-class, combining several Spanish and African elements. The son began to take shape in the latter half of the 19th century in Cuba's Oriente province, and gave birth to several hybrids including the afro-son, guajira-son, son-pregón and son-montuno. The son is perhaps the most important form at the root of today's popular salsa music.

Son caribeno: Fusion of Caribbean styles including salsa, soca, reggae, zouk, merengue.

Son montuno: An extension of son created by Arsenio Rodriguez which is the direct antecedent of modern salsa.

Sonero: According to Luis Tamargo, senior editor of Latin Beat magazine and music historian, at first, anybody who played the son, whether singer or instrumentalist, was a sonero. However, he says that "in recent decades, particularly since the 1960s, people have identified the word 'sonero' with the singers." (Quote: Abel Delgado: Soneros: A Dying Breed?.)

Songo: A contemporary, eclectic rhythm which blends several styles, including rumba, son, conga and other Cuban secular as well as sacred styles, with elements of North American jazz and funk.

Sources: Descarga Catalogs glossary, Afropop Worldwide, and rec.music.afro-latin.