Groove in Cuban Dance Music: An Analysis of Son and Salsa

Poole, Adrian Ian (2013). Groove in Cuban Dance Music: An Analysis of Son and Salsa. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

The rhythmic feel or 'groove' of Cuban dance music is typically characterised by a dynamic rhythmic energy, drive and sense of forward motion that, for those attuned, has the ability to produce heightened emotional responses and evoke engagement and participation through physical movement and dance. No single work on groove in Cuban dance music considers together the cognitive, cultural, socio-musical and emotional dimensions of the music-making practices and aesthetics that characterise groove production. This study integrates these perspectives into a single theoretical framework with the aim of gaining fresh insights into the nature of groove in two prominent styles of Cuban and Cuban-related dance music: son and salsa.

Methodologically, this study blends ethnography and the analysis of timing data extracted from real-world performances to explore the shared cultural knowledge, socio-musical processes, aesthetics and emotional dimensions of groove. Ethnography facilitates the detailed investigation of how performers talk about the music-making practices that characterise aspects of musical culture while the use of timing data, recorded in situ, facilitates the investigation of the real-time nuanced micro-timing relationships that shape effective groove production.

The findings of this study paint a picture of groove that is rich, complex and multidimensional, one that is built upon the expressive performances, socio-musical interactions and collectivist attitudes of rhythm section musicians as well as powerful cultural models and intersubjectively shared knowledge. When rhythm section musicians engage in expressive and interactive dialogues and work effectively as a synchronous collective, the resultant groove embodies the dynamic rhythmic, communicative and emotional energies of the individuals that comprise the group. In performance situations, when the groove of the rhythm section spontaneously finds union with the kinaesthetic and emotional energies of dancers and audiences, the cumulative energy possesses the power to inspire, excite, energise, invite participation and unite people in joyous celebration.

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