A Cross–Cultural Grammar for Temporal Harmony in Afro–Latin Musics: Clave, Partido– Alto and Other Timelines

Vurkac, Mehmet

Clave is the widely recognized outward manifestation of a regulative system governing all temporal aspects of Afro-Cuban music. It is generalized in this article to a cross-cultural framework applicable to various musics from the African Diaspora, through a simple yet powerful analysis technique called wide-sense clave, demonstrated via simplified examples of traditional and popular music from several cultures.
Common patterns such as the son clave are used as stepping stones for analyzing more complex rhythms like partido-alto and son montuno in order to provide deeper insight into clave.
Wide-sense clave is a culturally validated alternative to the standard approach (consisting of template-matching, syncopation and halves-partitioning) for discerning clave direction. It is more consistent with tradition and avoids the shortcomings of the standard approach, enabling a general understanding of how clave direction manifests itself in virtually any circumstance.
It is proposed that for consistent recognition of clave direction absolute onset counts are to be abandoned, upbeats and downbeats are onbeats, the inner/outer demarcation is to be preferred over the approach of the first and second halves, and that it is relative offbeatness that determine the sense of clave.
Armed with these introductory notions, the interested reader can broaden their understanding of the manifestations of clave in other cultural idioms of the African Diaspora.
In the interest of brevity, ternary timelines are not included in this introductory account; chord progressions are not addressed; and clave-neutrality is only briefly discussed. All rhythms are in idealized attack-point format, discounting durations and releases.



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Columbia University
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September 29, 2014