Trying to understand Timba

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by Ron Snijders, Nov 9, 2014.

  1. Ron Snijders

    Ron Snijders Tumbao

    So, I'm trying to understand timba a bit better. Mostly with regards to the rhythms and the dancing options
    When asked about the difference between timba and salsa, most people will talk about the gears, and maybe the full drum kit that is often part of timba bands.

    When I take Leo Garrido's 'Candela' as an example, I can hear many rhythm changes, but I have no idea what the rhythms are called, and for many of them no idea what to dance to them. If I split the song up by where I think switching styles would make sense, I get a list like this:

    0:00 - ???
    0:14 - Salsa
    0:33 - Rumba?
    0:43 - Salsa
    1:02 - Rumba?
    1:11 - No idea
    1:18 - No idea
    1:28 - Ehhh? Sounds like reggaeton?
    1:37 - Salsa (but the groove feels different)
    3:12 - Reggaeton'ish again?
    3:21 - Salsa again

    Could someone more familiar with timba tell me what the rhythms are called, and what they would dance to it?

    Another thing I'm struggling with is that bands like Los Van Van are also often called timba bands. But when I listen to Sandunguera, for example, I don't really hear any gear changes as obvious as with more modern timba.

    Lately, I've been taking Cuban style classes, so now I want to understand the music a bit better, so I can try to properly reflect it in what I'm dancing :)
  2. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    If no one else gets back to you first I'll write more later about the song above, but just in reference to the definition of timba - if you haven't watched the 24 minute documentary "Que suena la timba" I recommend it. I subtitled it specifically because people ask "what is timba". What is interesting to me about the documentary is that each of the band leaders defines timba their own way. Formell essentially says that all the post-revolutionary dance music is timba. I find that to be a bit "broad". Adalberto Álvarez is IMO correct in terms of the original use of the term which later was applied to Cuban salsa if we want to call it that. The musicologist at the beginning refers to it more or less in the way most of us probably think of it which is in reference to the advanced polyrhythms.

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  3. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    The song by Leo is not a regular timba, it is a timbaton/cubaton - whatever we want to call it. If this is the type of music they are playing on Cuban nights in your area then you would be well-served to learn reggaeton. The song doesn't contain any of the "traditional" timba gears. the sections that you have marked for dancing rumba I would probably do despelote or maybe dance in closed position or of course you could do rumba but since the percussion drops out it doesn't feel very rumba to me. The salsa sections I would agree are suitable for salsa dancing.

    The intro is not something I would dance to at all LOL Maybe just some general tembleque or reggaeton.

    For 1:11 I would still dance salsa and at 1:18 it sounds salsa to me.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
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  4. Ron Snijders

    Ron Snijders Tumbao

    Thanks for the clarification :) When I Googled around a bit, I couldn't really find any videos that show despelote or tembleque in a social dancing context. Mostly some people shaking it in their bedroom in front of a webcam... do you happen to have any decent footage?
    And what would be some good tunes to check out to get more of the traditional gears?
    There aren't many Cuban nights in my area, so listening to what they're playing there doesn't help that much :( The interest is more out of personal enjoyment than immediate use on the floor :)

    When I'm at home, I'll check the documentary. I think I've seen it before, but that was too early in my salsa journey to properly understand it :)
  5. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    I don't know if you saw the thread I started about timba versus timbaton - the some of the artists seem to refer to it as cubaton themselves. It seems to me that in some places the music that DJs play on Cuban nights is mainly timbaton but people just call it timba. There is a clear difference between the two and most of the timberos I know do not like timbaton or reggaeton. It is popular with the teen-30s crowd in Cuba so a lot of the young artists do that when they start a new band or do solo recordings like Leo. That doesn't mean that Cubans only like timbaton/cubaton. Havana D'Primera was voted the mots popular band this year and they don't do timbaton. The last post I did there shows one song in two versions. the first is a more "contemporary" Cuban sound although maybe not quite cubaton. The second is the same song with Havana D'Ptrimerta arrangement and I loe it. the first song would rate a 3 for me and the HdP version a clear 5 stars.

    Kevin did a great gear break down of a Paulo FG song both the studio and the live version of "Y San Toma Qué" from "Con la conciencia tranquila" inculding a dancer's breakdown atht lists the number of basics steps each section lasts as well as what gear it is. It has audio samples.

    4 - Piano Tumbao
    16 - Marcha (coro 1)
    8 - marcha de mambo
    4 - Pedal (coro 2)
    4 - Bomba
    8 - marcha de mambo
    8 - Pedal (coro 3)
    8 - marcha de mambo
    8 - Breakdown
    4 - Marcha (coro 4)
    6 - Bomba (still coro 4)
    8 - Pedal (coro 5)
    8 - Marcha (still coro 5)
    4 - Breakdown (reprise of coro 2)
    2 - Marcha (still coro 2) -- into coda

    But if you've already checked out all his stuff and are faced with a lot of songs like Leo's or like Sandunguera that don't do the same type of "traditional" timba gears then we can look at those specific cases. I don't think anyone has really done and sort of study of timbaton yet because no one likes it LOL.

    I have just added a couple of gear breakdowns below form e-mail conversations I have had previously. It's easier that way LOL

    Van Van is sort of a special case in that they sometimes use gears and sometimes not. Here is Me mantengo for example. In Kevin's terminology the marcha gears are the ones used both in timba and salsa.
    I tried to set the timestamps after the video times not the album so you need to subtract about 14 seconds if you are listening to the CD plus I think they cut one section in the video.

    00:15-00:55 charanga (note the use of the cha bell)
    00:55-01:19 marcha abjao (cáscara, no bells, bass playing some kind of tumbao)
    1:19-1:49 charanga
    1:49-1:57 marcha abjao
    2:12-2:24 charanga
    2:24 coro 1 - marcha arriba (bells, bass playing some kind of tumbao)
    3:05 puente - special section to transition
    3:12 coro 2 - marcha arriba (bells, bass playing some kind of tumbao)
    4:30 masacote gear - bass drops out piano and toms playing maybe congas too? (this is a timba gear because the bass drops out)

    And Mi música by HdP just a listing of the timba gears. You should be able to clearly hear when they start and end. Both salsa and timba usually have marcha abajo in the cuerpo and marcha arriba when the coros start. Between the gears they generally play marcha arriba after the montuno. As a dancer you would normally dance casino during the marchas and then do something different during the gears anything from rumba to despelote to just dancing in closed position. Although when you watch dancers they don't stick 100% to it and may just do turn patterns during the gears.

    1:58 presión (Kevin said that if the conguero does a simple no-tone pattern it's still presión not masacote)
    2:58 presión with efectos
    3:39 - big presión with efectos for 4 claves
    3:50 - congas come in at the 5th clave so now it's masacote
    4:30 - masacote ends with cool bloque
    5:10 - masacote that increases in intensity with each clave until it has heavy congas by the end
  6. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    I also find it hard to find a good video with despelote. In the bailar casino days people didn't do it because it wasn't really acceptable to dance in official contexts. What you mainly see online is people switching to rumba. There are some women dancing on stage types of despelote videos as well but I don't remember really seeing a good couple dancing video...wait...maybe there was one with Osbanis dancing to Esto te pone la cabeza mala - although being Van van it isn't standard gears.

    Here's more Osbanis and even dancing to Mi música. He does a lot of rumba stuff but also some despelote. What is also interesting here is to see how he marks the efectos as well. That is something you get a lot more of in Cuban music than in regular salsa and it is really cool when people do something about it and don't just ignore it.
  7. estrella

    estrella Tumbao

    Check this out it will give you a better understanding of Timba!
  8. Ron Snijders

    Ron Snijders Tumbao

    Woah! I just noticed that I missed Timberamayor's big post! I'll have to check it later, as I'm not at home a lot between dance classes and work. But I want to say thanks to both of you already :)
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  9. jcarru

    jcarru Changui

    There should be a thread that clarifies the definitions of each gear, although that's probably already in Kevin's books. From what I can gather, the difference between presión and masacote in HdP's case, anyway, is that congas determine which gear it is.

    Presión has no open tones and masacote uses open tones, although in all masacote gears, timbales start playing claves as if presión and then they go with a different pattern that uses the snare and playing the efectos. Very interesting. I always assumed presión and masacote were the same. Of course, if for some reason the bass player decides to play long, low notes in the presión gear, then it becomes pedal, or if in the masacote the bassists starts sliding his fingers it becomes bomba.

    It varies from band to band though, and even then, band members themselves have a huge impact in the sound. The Klimax that recorded the first 3 albums had its own set of gears and efectos and when most of them left after Oye Como Va, those gears were revamped or updated, and they changed significantly in feeling and execution.

    As for Van Van, Sandungera is like the worst song for timba gears explanation as it is pretty much a descarga/son. There's not much to dissect there gear wise (clave wise though, better watch out for the transition between verses!) Van Van in the 80s changed their sound significantly and they kinda played straight up son for a couple albums. (I'd say 83-86. By 87 they're mixing up with "caribbean" rhythms but back on songo as well) that featured important innovations in lyrics and arrangement, but rhythm wise it's more relaxed) But

    I think "timba" Van Van starts with the entrance of Samuel and Lo Ultimo En Vivo, which is a huge quantum leap in the gear department. They revived the bota gear for a bit there. But a lot of the gears used in that album/concert changed immediately for the next album, just a year away.

    It should be noted though, that while about 50% of the timba bands use bomba, nobody was more stubborn and just flat out refused to slide his hand down a bass string than Formell himself. If you've ever seen videos of him doing some slap and pop, you might figure he was likely watching his back.
    In fact, I'm pretty certain the only recorded bomba slide in LVV's entire discography is in "Yo No Le Temo A La Vida" and that was in 2011! Recently though, Arnaldo Jimenez was bombing pretty furiously in the recent-ish videos I've seen, but he's out of the band now and who knows what Juan Carlos Formell might be up to. My guess is bomba and LVV: not meant to be.
  10. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    Here is a distillation of Kevin's definitions from his books if it will be helpful to people.
    a timba gear typified by intense, funk-influenced drumming and sliding, thumping bass interjections in place of a normal bass tumbao.

    Note:For me bomba is the easiest to tell but it also seems to me that bands are using it less now than they used to.

    A family of timba gears characterized by the absence of a bass tumbao and the presence of a conga marcha - usually a creative or soloistic conga marcha often with minimalistic bell parts.

    Timba gear family characterized by the absence of a bass tumbao, the absence of a conga marcha, and usually the absence of bells.

    a subset of presión which features long sustained bass tones and bloques.

    Songo con efectos
    a subset of masacote featuring bloques and a very improvisational conga marcha based on the bota rhythm of Changuito.

    Note: Used by Paulo FG. I'm not sure if other groups have a simliar gear and just say masacote. @jcarru maybe you know?

    As for Van Van, what do you think of Arrasando and la Maquinaria? Neither one of them has captured my interest much. The songs aren't bad, they are enjoyable enough, but nothing I am crazy to listen to. I think my favorite would be Si no te quieres tú. I like CDs that make me listen obsessively. Chapeando was the last Van Van album that did that for me.
  11. Ron Obvious

    Ron Obvious Shine Officer

    I tried listening to the song and analysing it (with the disclaimer that I'm probably rusty doing that: nowadays I just dance to the songs and don't bother with petty details).

    I think think most of the song is a fast 2-3 clave salsa, but at 1:28 the clave changes to 2-3 rumba clave, which maybe makes it feel 'reggaetonish'. It was maybe covered in that other thread too, but it's not uncommon for Cuban artists to mix in the rumba clave in some parts of a song and it doesn't make the song a rumba, but I think it's a nice variation.

    As to how to dance to it: you can dance in whatever way that you feel fits to the music. A normal salsa pattern throughout the song is not wrong but you can also fill it with other stuff.
  12. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    So one of the things that was important to me with subtitling "Que suene la timba" was that everyone be able to see how each of these great bandleaders has a different way of explaining what timba is. There is a good interview in French with Alexander Abreu and his explanation of what timba is - "It's a mix of urban poetry with afro-cuban rhythm and a base that come from son". I like that definition.

    here's the article
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  13. Marcos

    Marcos Son Montuno

    Timba got started around 1990 and Van Van was formed in 1969. Van Van transitioned their style in the 90s, Sandunguera precedes the transition. For more timbified Van Van listen to El Negro Esta Cocinando or Timbop. There's a few other innovations that came with timba that have now made it into son and even salsa such as the two clave or greater lenght tumbaos, whereas before timba they were always a single clave long.

    The timba period peaked up to 2005 when the market became saturated and a bunch reggaeton started showing up in Cuba. Many Cuban/Cuban-American reggaeton artists use sampled timba instrumentation, and some Timba artists started playing reggaeton rhythms with their bands. Tirso Duarte who was known for hard timba even went so far as to release a straight up reggaeton album, so you can say there's a spectrum between timba and reggaeton in Cuba.

    Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of great timba, but tastes have changed and it's not the same market share with such a volume of great album after great album as it was between 1992-2005.

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