Among the instruments used by the Cuban traditional orchestras, we find the Cuban clave.
They are easy to recognize: it consists in two separate cylinders made of wood and strike enough for use with each other. The aim of this instrument is to mark the rhythm of the music in the orchestra.
The importance of the Cuban clave in Cuban music is evident knowing that Don Fernando Ortiz gave his time to the study of its origins. The Cuban scientist locates the emergence of the Cuban clave in the shipyards of Havana, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Since then it is a fundamental part of Cuban music.
The order in the orchestra
Workers who came from Africa brought their rhythms, and his music made the hard work easier when they arrived to Cuba. African music mixed with Hispanic dockworkers.
In the shipyards cylindrical pins were used to join wood planks. The slaves, in the absence of drums, began to use the remaining pegs to mark the rhythm of their songs. The primary function of the keys was to order the music of slaves, which was transmitted orally or improvised at work.
The cylinders forming the keys are made of solid wood with a length of 25 cm and about 2 cm in diameter. The performer, also called “Clave”, has to hold the cylinders using the least possible area; otherwise you can “choke” the sound.
The benefit of the keys led to happen to the popular bands that emerged in the colony. These orchestras also grew in complexity, and thereby increased the importance of the Cuban clave. Not only they ordered the rhythmic pattern, but all the music itself. Gradually the keys became more important in popular music.
The famous Cuban clave
Over time the complexity of the rhythms produced with the Cuban clave was increasing. In this way more than the instrument, the rhythmic patterns that were achieved were really important. The evolution in the use of this rhythm caused the appearance of another of the distinctive elements of national music, the rhythmic pattern called Cuban clave.
The scheme of the Cuban clave is represented by five notes in a measure of two by four. This scheme is linear, complex and elaborate; however it works effectively to achieve stabilization of rhythm. Maybe this is the reason for the spread of Cuban clave to different genres of Cuban music.
During the nineteenth century the Cuban clave was kept in the circle formed by the rhythms originated in Cuban rumba or point. It was after the 20s of last century became the Cuba clave genre from the Cuban son.
The use of the Cuban clave did not stay in Cuba, versatility and simplicity led the musicians of the entire Caribbean region incorporate their orchestras. Currently they can be found in different rhythms orchestras throughout Spanish America.