This time around with Conjunto Laloma, I wanted to take a Slow Food approach; making sure we took the time to build on and assimilate properly each concept in Cuban music-making. I figured that the best way to do this was with a relaxed workshop format: with heavy emphasis on practice, concentrating on a small number of points, principle variation-based learning; rich in example; time to be discursive; and most of all, highly contextual. People who benefit most from this model of learning are those who are patient and exacting, which fits the four of us down to a T.
The mark of good Cuban music is a deceptive simplicity brought about by a mastery of rhythm played at a temperate speed. Indeed during Arsenio Rodríguez's time, tempo was a defining characteristic of Cuban popular music: mid-tempo requiring more control and having more opportunity for expression was consumed by blacks; up-tempo was favoured by the then social elite who were predominantly white.
So I set out our first session with three opening entries into conjunto's rhythm library: an arpeggiated cinquillo-based form; a classic guajeo; and son clave. These are the building blocks that distinguish between a type of son and the son montuno; and being able to interpret a song in either form, or a middle point thereof, would be our earliest anticipated milestone.
For context, we've started with four songs:
- Yo soy el sonero
son original, 2-3 clave, A minor, 2 chord progression, rhythmic cycle of 2 clave phrases.
- Chan chan
son cover by Francisco Repilado, 3-2 clave, E minor, 4 chord progression, rhythmic cycle of 2 clave phrases.
- El carretero
son cover by Guillermo Portables, 3-2 clave, A minor, 2 chord progression, rhythmic cycle of 1 clave phrase.
- Tributo al son
son montuno original, 2-3 clave, A minor, 2 chord progression (+2 optional), rhythmic cycle of 1 clave phrase.
My role on guitar was to provide the broadest possible stream of notes (as described by Marty Sheller) as well as lead vocals; the skeletal structure of conjunto. Jeremy on tres, Catie on flute, and Jan on violin explored their way through, getting a handle of the rhythms and how they interact with one another. We covered a lot of ground today.
Slow Music is like Slow Food: relaxing, comforting, made for sharing.
From personal experience, music is most appreciated when endowed with a sense of time and of place. The three of them left clutching my DVDs of Trio Matamoros and Septeto Nacional, and a CD of the former - a starter course in the genre that I've grown to love in all its guises be it singing, writing, playing, or dancing. And I would never have presumed to call it homework.