©2014 Neeraj Mehta

The Roots of Salsa and Latin Jazz

Mario Bauza, Arsenio Rodriquez, Juan Formell and king of Mambo Tito Puente are just a few of the important figures in the history and development of the musics we now call Salsa and Latin Jazz.  This lecture and demonstration takes participants through the historical progression of music from the Afro-Cuban folkloric drumming and the Orquesta Tipicas of the 19th century to the modern Timba bands playing in the hottest clubs of New York and Havana.  Along with a discussion of important recordings and groups, the lecture/demo also includes a hands-on and introduction and analysis of the how the rhythms of in the latin percussion section have evolved over time, and how they fit with the foundational rhythm of “clave”.

Drums of Power: Batá Drumming of Cuba

Throughout history the drum has been used for expressions of power and dominance.  On the battlefield, the Janissary drums of the Ottoman Empire helped to shape European political and cultural history.  In Africa, the Fontomfrom drums were (and still are) used to show the courtly wealth and dominance of Akan Chiefs in Ghana.  These power dynamics crossed the Atlantic and manifested themselves in many ways, often subversively through cultural and religious practices of the African Diasporas.  Through an examination of the relationships between Master Drummers and their religious, cultural and national communities, this lecture and musical demonstration will explore the power of the batá drums within the Afro-Cuban religious traditions of the Lukumí people.  The lecture will also explore the ritual, cultural and social powers vested in these drums of worship, and how this power is realized in both religious and secular performance contexts in Cuba and throughout the world.

Conga de Comparsa: The Carnival Music of Cuba

Carnival music from the Caribbean can be viewed through the lens of Sin, as it relates to what many might consider the typical activities involved with such a celebration; often images of tourists in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Mardi Gras come to mind.  But to many people, especially those in the African Diasporas of the Caribbean and South America, the Carnival is a unique opportunity to express a hybridity that exists in their art, culture and music. The story of the Cuban Carnival continues to change and evolve as this celebration has been adapted to fit the current political climate in Cuba, and provides a unique opportunity to understand issues of race, class and culture through the lens of art and music. This presentation will provide a brief history and evolution of the Carnival in Cuba, followed by an in depth look at how the songs and percussion rhythms work together to create the heartbeat of the Carnival procession in Cuba. Throughout the presentation, the social and cultural issues related to the Afro-Cuban experience will be raised. The final portion of the presentation includes a hands on demonstration/clinic in which participants learn the basic rhythms of the conga de comparsa.

Fractal Mathematics in Danish Music: Per Nørgård’s Infinity Series

Early in his career, many critics hailed composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) as the mantle bearer of Danish nationalism after Carl Nielsen. But the political and cultural changes that followed World War II motivated Nørgård to travel beyond Europe for musical inspiration. Some of his early experiments dealt with the avant-garde and minimalism, but he soon began developing compositional styles and techniques of his own, which continued to change and evolve over the last half-century. The one compositional development that has arguably had the most influence on Nørgård’s musical output is his “Uendelighedsrækken” or the “infinity series” which he discovered in 1959. A mathematical sequence with fractal properties used as a way to create pitch material for his compositions, this music draws upon his experiences with Eastern cultures, philosophies, and music, including travels to Bali from 1975–1980. Interestingly, Nørgård’s infinity series predated mathematician Benoît Mandelbro’s work with fractals in his chaos theories of the nineteen-eighties.  The rhythmic incarnation of the infinity series, which Nørgård calls “Sun and Moon Music”, is the basis for much of Nørgård’s percussion writing. 

In this lecture, I will demonstrate how the infinity series is constructed through an integer model of mathematical operations, how fractal properties permeate the series, and how transposed and inverted iterations of the series can be generated. I will then demonstrate how Nørgård employs the infinity series in musically creative and intriguing ways to create structure, energy and drama in music.  This lecture also has the option of a hands-on performative exercise for percussion students.

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