Monday, September 16, 2013

Implied Clave in Non Latin Music

Seems like every time I turn around another commercial tune has an implied clave. You'll find it in Hip-hop, R&B, pop, and all sort of commercial music nobody would consider "Latin". There is no actual clave instrument in the tune, but the clave feel and influence are very obvious.

The clave feel may be playing in the drums, the piano, bass or sometimes spread between a couple instruments. Some tunes are very obvious and some glam the clave up, making it harder to find, but the feel is there if you know clave basics.

Modern salsa music is often without a "real" clave as well. In many cases the clave isn't actually played, or it's played at points and drops out for parts of the tune, even if the feel is there from beginning to end. Sometimes it's there, but it's very hard to hear in the overall mix because of the rich complexity of the percussion instruments.

In commercial tunes, it's everywhere but often not so obvious. Nobody would think of the tunes as "Latin", but the clave feel is just part of our music culture outside the "Latin" category. It's been happening for years and I could link to a hundred other tunes with this same concept.

My latest discovery is from MJB (Mary J Blige), a really catchy tune called "Good Love" from the CD "Stronger with Each Tear". (Side note: Another great tune named "I Am" from the same CD also has an obvious implied clave.)

Check it out below and you'll see the bass drum is playing an implied clave throughout this tune. The drums drop out at points, but the feel is still obviously clave influenced from beginning to end.

"Good Love (Ft T.I.)" by Mary J Blige (MJB)

This is a great groove tune with a ton of depth (have to love that bass line...); there isn't anything about this song I don't like! Love the horns (especially the 3rd phrase they play each time around), the drum and bass tracks, and her singing is so "on" the time.

After I had the song less than a week, iTunes told me I had listed 67 times. (I still can't totally nail the bass part every time, but I'll get it.) Over the first couple weeks I heard it a few hundred times. So many things to hear in the background.

For those of you who know about my "implied pulse" concept, note that the time (pulse) starts in the beginning and never stops, even though there are plenty of music breaks and partial breaks. (See "Related Articles" below for additional details.)

Let me know what you think.

(The question of the day: "Is the implied clave a 3-2 or 2-3?)


Related Articles:
Musical Pulse: Explicit and Implicit (Part 1)
Musical Pulse: Explicit and Implicit (Part 2)
Clave: More Than Most People Want To Know
Clave and the Every Changing Salsa Dance

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils ...
- Louis Hector Berlioz 


  1. Don,

    at the danger of making a fool of myself in front of you (a drummer and dancer) and the rest of the world :-).....
    The "feeling" i get from this music and its (admittedly very catchy) bassline is more a zouk (fast kind zouklambada??, not zouk-love.
    is it because there is a very strong first measure and then a "weaker"second measure in which the bass is only implied?

    I love this type of article, getting into the musicality aspects...

  2. Tom,

    Questions are always welcomed!

    I agree the baseline doesn't provide a conventional latin/salsa feel. The implied clave is primarily in the bass drum. (I didn't mean to discuss the bass line directly, but it's a GREAT part.)

    The bass line goes back and forth between a simple and complex feel, working directly with the bass drum (28 seconds into the tune), playing the same rhythm and laying out (being quiet) the second measure.

    Then there are points where the bass line is almost a counter melody (starting at 37 seconds) and establishing a secondary groove both with the bass drum in the first measure and then playing an extended line way beyond the drums.

    I suspect you're hearing the "zouk" feel in the extended bass line, and I can buy your feeling. (I'm not an expert in zouk, and I'd suspect that bass line has other influences as well.)

    Both the bass and drum tracks also use lots of space (quiet) and it's a fascinating study of "less is more". (Many social dancers could use a stronger grounding in that concept.)

    Gee... I suspect I should write an article on that ;-))

    Let me know if I missed anything!

  3. Don,

    thx, you understood what i was trying to say, and I get your answer..

    about less is more:
    There are some dancers out there who do not "dazzle"with a million turns and complicated moves (although i also like that sometimes) but simply dance beautifull. I especially like that on the "Salsa romantica". In an evening of dancing I like a good mix between fast music and the slow sensual music. In both, I observe that there are people who loook very good, by doing nearly nothing at the right time (timing is everything).
    There are also very few followers (at my level at least) who have the patience and body controll to do a slow dance without being "too quick".(which does not mean that I am very good at this, just that i can observe when it it is not right)

    Ah...., so many things to learn, its good that learning is fun :-)

  4. Tom,

    Dancing to slower music is a real challenge and as a musician playing slower music is similar.

    With a slow tune, everything you do is very exposed and obvious. When moving faster I can be a little less precise and it's harder to see if I was sloppy or miss some details.

    One of the signs of a more mature dancer is the ability to handle slower songs well.

  5. Listen to Blondie's 'Heart of Glass'. There's a very clear 3-2 clave pattern at the start.

  6. I think sometimes we tend to contextualise things to match our perspective. I see how you can find a clave in the song, but would suggest this particular rhythmic device has been around long before afro-cuban.
    Having said that it's probably helpful for someone with great interest in Salsa music to think about syncopation in other genres as relative to "their" rhythm.

  7. Anonymous: I agree the clave rhythms have been around hundreds of years or more and is not something new.

    Learning "new" things are often easier when related to something we already know. That educational principle also has a very long history.

    Your comments are appreciated!


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero