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La Clave




A percussion instrument of West African origin, the agogó is essentially a two-note clapperless double-bell, joined by a curved piece of metal and struck by a stick. Used in the African-derived religions of Brazil, it is one of several new percussion instruments introduced to the U.S. by Brazilian musicians during the 1970s.


General name for modern, popular music from Bahia, Brazil. A blend of samba, baião, reggae and pop-rock.

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From the Dominican Republic, a slower, more romantic dance music than Merengue.

One of many rhythms of the African-influenced Northeast of Brazil, the baiáo became popular in Rio de Janeiro around 1950 as a reaction against the increasingly international popular music of the time. Its most famous exponent, Luis Gonzaga, made the accordion-led regional group extremely popular. A few U.S. jazzmen experimented with the baiáo in the early 1950s, but it was too unsuccessful to be called a bridge between the samba and the bossa nova.

Bajo Sexto
A form of 12-string guitar used as an accompanying instrument by Chicano singers.

Batá Drums
Double-headed drums shaped like an hourglass with one cone larger than the other. Sacred to Yoruba religion in Nigeria, they are also necessary to Cuban and U.S. lucumí worship. A number of salsa musicians have recently began using batá drums in secular music.

Iya Itotele Okonkolo


A Brazilian musical bow of Congo-Angolan origin. An open gourd resonator is held against the chest, and the instrument's string is tapped with a stick.

Authentic Berimbaus from Bahia. Berimbaus come with verga (bow), cabasa (gourd), baqueta (stick), caxixi (shaker) and arame (wire).

Bolero (Clasico)
The Cuban bolero, originally a mid-paced form for string trios, became very popular internationally, usually in a slower and more sentimental form. The modern bolero is a lush romantic popular-song form, largely distinct from salsa, and very few singers are equally good at both.

Bolero Son
The Cuban bolero, originally a mid-paced form for string trios, became very popular internationally, usually in a slower and more sentimental form. The modern bolero is a lush romantic popular-song form, largely distinct from salsa, and very few singers are equally good at both.

Bolero Pirateado
The Cuban bolero, originally a mid-paced form for string trios, became very popular internationally, usually in a slower and more sentimental form. The modern bolero is a lush romantic popular-song form, largely distinct from salsa, and very few singers are equally good at both.

Bolero Vals
Bolero influence by the rhythm of Vals. It can be dance with Waltz steps.

Orginally a Puerto Rican three-drum dance form of marked west central African ancestry, the bomba is especially associated with the Puerto Rican Village of Loiza Aldea. In its old form it is still played there at the festival of Santiago, and New York Puerto Rican folk revival companies also perform it from time to time. Even in the dance band form introduced by Rafael Cortijo in the late 1950s, the bomba's melodies, as well as rhythmic pulse, are strongly African.

Small double-drum played resting on the claves of a seated musician, called a bongosero. Its heads are tuned a fourth apart. Widely used in Cuban music of many sorts, especially the quartets and sextets playing sones, and an integral part of the salsa percussion section. In salsa, as in earlier string-based groups, the bongó tends to be played more ad lib than other drums and to provide a complex counterpoint to a number's main rhythmic pulse. The basic toque for the bongó, called the martillo, can be rendered onomatopoeically as "Dicka-docka-dicka-ducka."

Bossa Nova
A Brazilian fusion of cool jazz elements with various Brazilian rhythms, including the baiáo but particularly the samba. Often wrongly considered Afro-Brazilian, it is a sophisticated and recent form developed by hip musicians and avant-guarde poets. Most were white, though Bola Sete, a leading bossa nova guitarist, is an exception.

Bugalú, Latin
The Latin bugalú was a somewhat simplified and more sharply accented mambo with English lyrics, singing that combined Cuban and black inflections, and r&b influenced solos. For a few years the bugalú, and a less known Puerto Rican rhythm, the jala jala, were staples of the "Latin soul" movement.

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Caja vellenata
Hand drum mainly used in vallenato orchestration.

A cow bell attached to the timbales-statnd or held in one hand, played with a wooden stick. In salsa, it often plays a very steady rhythm (1st and 3rd beat of the measure).

Cascara (see Palitos)

Catá (see Palitos)

Large hand-held cowbell played with a stick, producing two notes according to where it is struck. In Cuban music and salsa, usually played by the bongó player when the band goes into the "ride" or mambo, after the main vocal sections.

Cha cha chá
The chachachá is said by some to have derived from the second section of the danzón, by others to be a slower mambo. It was sometimes called a "double mambo" in New York, because its basic dance step was the mambo with a double step between the fourth to first beats. The chachachá developed around 1953 in the hands of Cuban Charangas, most notably the Orquesta Aragón.

A Cuban dance orchestra consisting of flute backed by fiddles, piano, bass, and timbales. Charangas tended to play different dances from the Afro-Cuban conjuntos, the most characteristic being the danzón. Charangas ranged from large society units to small street-bands. Modern charangas use bongó and conga in the rhythm section and have taken on many more Afro-Cuban elements than their predecessors.

A small mandolin-like instrument from the Andes made from the shell of an armadillo.

A Brazilian instrumental genre fusing European dances such as polka, waltz, and schottisch with African-derived rhythms. It is characterized by virtuosity, improvisation, and counterpoint. Choro first emerged as a playing style in Rio de Janeiro during the second half of the 19th century, performed by small groups incorporating flute, cavaquinho, and guitar.

Essentially a break, the cierre ranges from a two-note bongó phrase to a complicated pattern for a full band more like a bridge-passage. Good cierres are fundamental to salsa structure, but they are so varied and used in so many ways that closer definition would be misleading.

An offbeat 3/2 or 2/3 rhythmic pattern over two bars, the basis of all Cuban music, into which every element of arrangement and improvisation should fit. Clave is an African-derived pattern with equivalents in other Afro-Latin musics. The common 3/2 Cuban Clave varies in accentuation according to the rhythm being played. Clave seems to be part of the inspiration for the two-bar bass patterns in modern black music. 2/3 reverse clave is less common, though the guaguancó uses it.

Two strikers of resonant wood used less frequently in salsa than in earlier Cuban music. The claves player usually plays the basic clave pattern (q.v.), which is normally implied rather than stated by modern bands. Many variants of claves exist throughout Latin America.

Conga Drum
A major instrument in the salsa rhythm section, the conga is literally the "Congolese drum," and it began life in the Afro-Cuban cults. Arsenio Rodriguez is said to have introduced it to the conjuntos on a regular basis, and Machito's Afro-Cubans were the first to use it on New York bandstands. There are several types of conga, including the small quinto, a solo improvising the instrument; the mid sized conga; and the large tumbadora. Played by an expert, the conga is capable of a great variety of sound and tone, not only from the different ways of striking or rubbing the head, but through raising the instrument from the ground when it is played held between the knees. A conga-player is called a conguero or congacero.

Conga Rhythm
The Cuban conga was originally a carnival dance-march from Santiago de Cuba, with a heavy fourth beat, but the rhythm is common to carnival music in many parts of the New World. The conga rhythm is more easily simplified than most Cuban rhythms and was a natural for nightclub floor shows. It never became permanent in mainstream Latin music, though Eddie Palmiere introduced a modified version called the mozambique in the late 1960's.

Conjunto (lit. "combo")
Cuban conjunto sprang from the carnival marching bands and combined voices, trumpets, piano, bass, conga, and bongó. Arsenio Rodriguez ran a seminal Cuban conjunto that used the smoky tone of the tres (q.v.) to balance the brass, and over the years conjuntos began adding a trombone or even in New York substituting trombones for trumpets. The Chicano conjunto consisted of an accordion lead, guitar and/or bajos sexto (q.v.), often bass, and sometimes spoons, with the addition of bongó or other Cuban-derived percussion during the 1960s. Used strictly for instrumental dance music until the 1930s, during the 1940s it became the standard backing for corridos, rancheras, and other vocal forms. The Puerto Rican conjunto, the basic group of jibaro country music, consisted of cuarto, guitar, and güayo scraper, though trumpet and/or clarinet were added at various times, and accordion-led conjuntos playing danzas and waltzes for dancing were not uncommon. Contradanza 17th and 18th century dance of french origin from which many Latin American ballroom dances derive via mainland Spain, including the danzón and the danza.

The "chorus." In salsa, the two or three-voice refrains of two or four bars sung during montunos. The lead singer improvises against the refrains. Coros are used in various ways in arrangements; as reprises or, by an alteration of the refrain, to establish a change of mood.

This Mexican and Chicano ballad form developed during the 19th century and reached its peak during the first half of the 20th. Pure folk ballads in their simplicity, their detail, their deadpan performing style, the corridos were the history books, news reports, and editorials of the illiterate. They chronicled the whole of the Mexican Civil war, almost all notable crimes, strikes, and other political events, and a hundred other subjects besides.

A small ten-stringed guitar, one of the many guitar variants to be found in Spain and Latin America. The cuatro is a major instrument in Puerto Rican jibaro country music.

Cuica (or Guica)
A small Brazilian friction drum with a tube fastened to the inside of the drumhead, which is rubbed to produce a squeaky sound on the same principle as children use with a wetted finger and a window pane, but infinitely more varied. The cuica became a familiar sound in 1970s disco music, jazz, and salsa.

The most popular dance rhythm of Colombia, and the one that has been the most widely spread throughout Latin America. Cumbia is not a clave-based rhythm, but as with many rhythms, can be played "in clave."

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A Cuban ballroom dance derived from the contradanza in the late 1870s. It was regularly played by flute-and-fiddle charangas until the early 1950s. The danzón bears the mark of Europe and its first section was usually a promenade, but its charm is not merely nostalgic. Its melodies echo from time to time in modern salsa.

The word means "discharge" and is a Latin musician's slang term for a jam session. Descargas occupy a position midway between salsa and Latin-jazz, since they tend to preserve the Cuban structures yet contain far more jazz soloing than does salsa.

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A dance oriented music that emerged in the Northeast of Braizil (Recife) at the end of the last century. It uses military band instruments, and can be described as a highly syncopated up tempo march.

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Guagua (see Palitos)

The mid-paced guaguancó has African roots and was originally a drum form related to the rumba. Though often played 4/4, it has strong 6/8 feel. The basic rhythm is traditionally carried by three congas and usually includes a good deal of solo drumming. The theme of a modern guaguancó is a somewhat loose melody line. It is one of the few 2-3 reverse clave forms.

A riff in the charanga style, especially for violin. Functionally, guajeos tie the melodic and rhythmic elements of a number together, acting as a sort of trampoline for the flute and other solos. They are melodic patterns firmly based on the basic clave and tumbao.

The slow guajira came from the Spanish-Cuban music of the guajiros. Much of its feeling comes from Hispanic melodies and guajeos that were originally, and often still are, played on the tres. The guajira is similar to the slow son montuno but is more delicate and less driving. Its lyrics frequently deal with rural nostalgia.

Guajiro Music
The Spanish-derived idiom of the Cuban farmers. The main instruments are the tres guitar and percussion, and the main form includes the décima, a ten-line verse from the 17th-century Spain.

The original Cuban guaracha was a topical song form for chorus and solo voice, with improvisation in the solo. It was presented in 3/4 and 6/8 or 2/4 time signature. The guaracha developed a second section, employed for much improvisation, as in the son montuno. It appeared to have almost died out in Cuba by the 1930s, yet it is now one of the forms commonly used by salsa groups; a fast rhythm with a basic chicka-chicka pulse. Its last section is the probable source of the instrumental mambo. The guaracha is said to have originated in 18th-century maisons d'assignation and its lyrics are still often racy and satirical.

Guica (see Cuíca)

Güayo (See Güiro)

A scraper. The Cuban and Puerto Rican güiro, often called güayo in Puerto Rico, is made from a notched gourd and played with a stick. Poor players produce a steady ratchet-like sound. Skilled ones provide endless, crisp counter-rhythms against the rest of the percussion section. The güiro, like maraccas, is usually played by a singer. In the Dominican Republic, the güiro, also called the güira there, is made of metal and played with a kind of metal fork. The metal instrument's harsh sound adds a zest to country merengue playing, but it is rarely used in salsa.

Percussion instrument similar to the guiro, but generally smaller and with thinner ridges. It is played with a metal fork-like scraper. It is used primarily in Puerto Rican music.

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Cuban dance of Spanish origin, the first major Latin influence on U.S. music around the time of the Spanish-American War. Provided the rhythmic basis of the modern tango, which makes its influence in 20th century American music difficult to trace. Hembra The bigger drum of a pair of bongos.

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"Inspiration," an improvised phrase by a lead vocalist or instrument.

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Jíbaro Music
The jibaros are the mountain farmers of Puerto Rico, and their music is the most strongly Hispanic part of the island's folk tradition. Mostly string-based, jibaro music uses many Spanish-derived forms, including the ten-line décima verses-which a good singer must be able to improvise. A notable instrument is the small cuatro guitar. Many fine jibaro musicians, including singers Ramito and Chuitin, and cuatro player Yomo Toro, live in New York. Though various Puerto Rican salsa singers had used occasional jibaro inflections, Willie Colon brought the style into salsa by hiring Toro for a Christmas album in 1972.

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Latin Jazz
A hybrid of jazz and Latin music. The term could cover anything from a Cuban number with a couple of Louis Armstrong phrases to a straight jazz number with a conga, but is best confined to crosses with a more or less full Latin rhythmic section, or one combining several Latin and jazz elements, and an instrumental frontline.

Latin Rhythms
The basic meter of salsa is 4/4, organized by the two-bar clave pattern. The individual forms, of which the most common are listed below, are not simply "rhythms" that can be tapped with a pencil, but combinations of rhythmic pulse, melodic phrases, speed, song forms, and so on.

Latin Rock
A hybrid of rock and Latin elements. Most commonly rock-oriented guitar and keyboard solos are played over salsa-derived rhythms, but often rock and salsa rhythmic elements are blended; bands may use sections with a salsa coro, and build rock solos out of Latin guajeo.

Latin Soul
Hybrid style from the late-l960s, combining salsa and rhythm and blues elements. Latin soul, which was based on early rhythm-and blues and the bugalú, grew up among East Harlem and Bronx teenagers, who used both Spanish and English lyrics over a music that was somewhat more Latin than black.

Cuba's most widespread African-derived religion. Its theology is based on the faith of the Nigerian and Dahomeyan Yoruba people, and Yoruba is the liturgical language of Cuban lucumí. In Latin-American terms, luccimí is one of many African-derived faiths, and is widespread in Puerto Rico (and the Latin U.S.) under the general name of "santeria." Lucumí gave important elements to modern salsa, including much of its rhythmic basis, several songs,and a great deal of African melodic flavor. Many modern salsa musicians, especially in New York, are adherents of lucumí, or santeria, and the sacred batá drums are coming back into use in secular music. Macho The smaller drum of a pair of bongos.

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An Afro-Cuban form that came out of the Conolese religious cult. The big band mambo of the 1940s and 1950s developed characteristic contrasting brass and sax riffs, which many musicians regard as stemming from the last section of the guaracha.

Mambo Section
A section of contrasting riffs for salsa frontline instruments, setting trumpets against saxes or trombones, for example, sometimes under an instrumental solo. The section was said to derive from from the guaracha, and got its name during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

A tuned pair of rattles made from gourds filled with pebbles or seeds, one of a wide range of America-derived rattles. A skilled maracca-player such as Machito plays a subtle role in the polyrhythmic counter-point.

Mexican strolling groups of (usually) semi-professional musicians. Originally string orchestras, since the 1940's they have become trumpet-led ensembles. Their name stems from a corruption of the French marriage, since they were frequently hired for weddings.

A form of xylophone with wooden slats over resonators. The name is African, but the marimba is widespread in western Columbia, parts of Mexico, and in particular Guatemala. Marimba groups were very popular in the U.S. during the 1920's.

A bass descendant of the African finger-piano, the marimbula consists of a wooden box with prongs of metal fastened to it, tuned to play a series of bass notes. The marimbula was common in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as in several non-Latin Caribbean islands.

An old Brazilian dance derived from an earlier local ballroom dance heavily influenced by the early 20th century tango, It was briefly popular in the U.S. around the First World War, but never caught on to any permanent extent.

Though dances by this name are found in many countries, the merengue is originally from the Dominican Republic, where it dates back at least to the early 19th century. The modern merengue has a notably brisk and snappy 2/4 rhythm, with a flavor very different from the somewhat more flowing Cuban and jaunty Puerto Rican dances. The country form, for accordion, tambora drum, metal scraper, and voice, is heard everywhere in the Dominican Republic. The big band version of Dominican bands like johnny Ventura's and Felix del Rosario's is often heard at New York concerts.

Montuno Section
A vehicle for improvisation in Cuban and salsa numbers, based on a two or three-chord pattern repeated ad-lib under the instrumental or vocal improvisations. The piano often maintains a repeated vamp of guajeos, a process known as montuneando.

A musical style from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, similar to a Brazilian choro without the percussion. Cesaria Evora is the most well-known singer of this music.

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Norteno (see Tex-Mex)

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Orquesta Típica
A "Typical Orchestra." In Cuba, a now extinct type of group combining a flute and two clarinets, with timbales prominent in the rhythm. In Mexico, a group organized by "trained" musicians to present cleaned-up versions of folk and popular music.

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The pachanga was a rage among New York Latin teenagers around 1961, as played by the then hugely popular charangas. There is some dispute as to its origins. It seems to be Cuban, but it never reached the popularity there that it enjoyed in the eastern U.S. It had a fast, syncopated ta-tum ta-tum pulse. The pachanga died out because the dance involved proved to be too energetic for most.

Two sticks played against the side of a drum in rumba. Other terms are guagua, cascara, and catá. The rhythms they play are slight elaborations on clave. They serve the same purpose in that they play the same two bar pattern without variation for the whole tune.

An Afro-Puerto Rican urban topical song form said to have been developed in Ponce during World War 1. The plena has four or six-line verses, with a refrain. Lyrical content is social comment, satire, or humor. Instrumentation has ranged from percussion through accordion or guitar-led groups to various dance band formats. Its most famous composer and exponent was Manual Jiménez, known as Canario. It has been a minor influence on salsa through the work of Rafael Cortijo in the late 1950s and Willie Colon in the 1970s. Quinto Smallest drum in the Conga set with the brightest sound.

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The ranchera, developed in the nationalist theater of the post-1910 revolution period in Mexico, became very much the equivalent of U.S. commercial country music. Professional singers developed an extremely emotional style, one of whose characteristics is a held note at the end of a line, culminating in a "dying fall" that could drop a third or more. Rancheras became an important part of Chicano music from the 1950s onward as moved from a folk-popular form to a greater professionalism.

Most of what Americans call rumbas were forms of the son which swept Cuba in the 1920s. The Cuban rumba was a secular drum form with many variants, including the guaguancó and the Columbia, though modern musicians tend to regard all theses as separate. Its descendent variations can be heard in New York parks any summer weekend played by groups called rumbas or rumbones. By analogy, a percussion passage in a salsa number, or a percussion-only jam session, is sometimes called a rumba or rumbón.

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Salidor (see Tumba)

A contemporary word for hot, up-tempo, creative Latin music, it means "gravy" or "sauce." Originally it was used as a descriptive such as "swinging" or "funky." The origins of the current usage are obscure, but it began to circulate in the late 1960s.

An African-Brazilian dance with several variations in different parts of Brazil. The best-known are the urban sambas, said to derive from the maxixe and the highly persuasive sambas of the carnival "schools" of Rio. The characteristic shuffling 2/4 rhythm, fused with jazz, was part of the bossa nova.

Septeto or Sexteto
The Cuban septetos and sextetos of the 1930s played mostly sones and boleros. They were trumpet-led string groups, usually with tres, guitar, maraccas, bass and bongó. Famous groups included the Septeto Nacional and the Sexteto Habanero. The music they played fell somewhere between the guajiro string groups and the brassier conjuntos. Septeto trumpet style is singularly lyrical, moving between 19th-century brass-band cornet and jazz in its inspiration. The Septeto syle as a whole is subtle, crisp, and charming.

An African-derived rattle made of a large gourd with bead held by a string net on the outside. It is one version of a rattle common in Africa and African-Latin America and works on the opposite principle from maraccas.

The son is perhaps the oldest and certainly the classic Afro-Cuban form, an almost perfect balance of African and Hispanic elements. Originating in Oriente province, it surfaced in Havana around World War 1 and became a popular urban music played by string-and-percussion quartets and septetos. Almost all the numbers Americans called rumbas were, in fact sones. "El Manicero" ("The Peanut Vendor") was a form of son derived from the street cries of Havana and called a pregon. The rhythm of the son is strongly syncopated, with a basic chicka-CHUNG pulse.

Son Montuno
A reverse clave (2-3) form, usually mid-paced or slow, with a pronounced CHUNG-chicka feel. The son montuno developed as a separate form from the general con tradition. It was, like the guaracha, one of the first forms to include a second, improvised section, the montuno. Though it is not fast, the Afro-Cuban son montuno has an intense, almost relentless quality.

In the strict sense, a man who sings or plays the Afro-Cuban son, but now the improvising lead singer in the salsa style. A good sonero improvises rhythmically, melodically, and verbally against the refrain of the coro. The word guarachero is a synonym, though less used.

A low tom played with heavy mallets. Used to keep the beat in sambas.

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A double-headed drum, basic to the Dominican merengue. It is played with a single stick, while the other head is damped by hand to give tonal variety.

Probably the world's best-known dance after the waltz, the modern tango developed in Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century. It took its rhythm from the Cuban habanera and the Argentinian milonga, and its name probably from the Spanish tango andalúz.

Tejano (see Tex-Mex)

Also known as tejano, norteno or banda, this is the music of the Mexican people living in Texas, and shares the accordion as their common instrument.

A percussion set-up consisting of two small metal drums on a stand, with two tuned cowbells, often a cymbal and other additions. The timbales descended from a small military dance and concert bands. They were originally confined to the charangas and orquestas típicas, to which they imparted a distinctive, jaunty, march-like rhythm, but during the 1940s they came into wider use. The timbales are played with sticks, with the player striking heads, rims , and the sides of metal drums. All this plus cymbal and cowbells make for a varied instrument. A standard timbales beat, the abanico, is a rimshot-roll-rimshot combination.

An imprecise but extremely important concept in modern salsa. Literally it means "typical" or "characteristic," but it is more generally used to identify the downhome, rural, popular styles of the Latin countries. Thus, the Cuban tipico music that became so important in New York in the 1960s and 1970s was basically conjunto and charanga music. But the septetos are also tipico, since their style is simple and popular rather than bourgeois.

A "beat," but essentially a standard rhythmic phrase for percussion. Many toques derive from African religious drumming, in which particular rhythmic patterns were used to summon individual gods. A Latin percussionist is judged not by his energy level, but by his knowledge and use of standard toques and variations in his improvisations and in support of the band.

A nine-string Cuban guitar; a mainstay of guajiro music and of the Afro-Cuban septetos. The tres was established as an important part of the Cuban conjunto by Arsenio Rodriguez, himself a fine player. The instrument came into New York salsa during the Cuban típico revival of the late 1960's and early 1970s.

Tumba (or Salidor)
Largest drum in the Conga set with the deepest sound

Cuban term for congas

A repeated rhythmic pattern for bass or conga drum. Based on the fundamental calve, the bassist's tumbaos provide the scaffolding for the constant rhythmic counterpoint of the percussionists.

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Its origin is from the Atlantic coast of Colombia. Vallenato actually refers more to an orchestration than a specific rhythm. A traditional vallenato group consists of an accordion, a guacharaca, and a caja vallenata. Vallenato groups traditionally play four rhythms called son, paseo, merengue, and puya.

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A Brazilian drum

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