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As a dance music genre, cha-cha-chá is unusual in that its creation can be attributed to a single composer, Enrique Jorrín, then violinist and songwriter with the charanga band Orquesta América. (Orovio 1981:130)
As to how the cha-cha-chá came about, Jorrín said:
"I composed some danzones in which the musicians of the orchestra were singing short refrains. The audiences liked it, so I kept it up. In the danzón 'Constancia,' I inserted some well-known montunos and when the audience joined in singing the refrains; it led me to compose more danzones in this style. I asked all the members of the orchestra to sing in unison. This accomplished three things: the lyrics were heard more clearly and had greater impact and also the [poor] vocal quality of the [instrumental] musicians (who were not actually singers) was masked. In 1948, I changed the style of 'Nunca,' a Mexican song by Guty de Cárdenas. I left the first part in the original style and I gave a different feeling to the melody in the second part. I liked it so well that I decided to separate the last part, that is to say, the third trio or montuno, from the danzón. Then I came up with pieces like "La engañadora" (1951), which had an introduction, a part A (repeated), a part B, a return to part A and finally, a coda in the form of a rumba. From nearly the beginning of my career as a composer of dance songs, I watched how the dancers danced the danzón-mambo. I noted that most of them had difficulty with syncopated rhythms, owing to the fact that their steps fell on the upbeat (contratiempo), or in other words, the second and fourth eighth notes of the (2/4) measure. The dancers dancing on the upbeat and the syncopated melodies made it very difficult to coordinate the steps with the music. I began to compose melodies to which one could dance without instrumental accompaniment, trying to use as little syncopation as possible. I moved the accent from the fourth eighth note- where it was normally found in the mambo- to the first beat of the cha-cha-chá. And so the cha-cha-chá was born- from melodies that were practically danceable by themselves and a balance between melodies on the downbeat and the upbeat." (Orovio 1981:130-2)
From its inception, cha-cha-chá music had a symbiotic relationship with the steps that the dancing public created to the new sound.
"What Jorrín composed, by his own admission, were nothing but creatively modified danzones. The well-known name came into being with the help of the dancers [of the Silver Star Club in Havana], when, in inventing the dance that was coupled to the rhythm, it was discovered that their feet were making a peculiar sound as they grazed the floor on three successive beats: cha-cha-chá, and from this sound was born, by onomatopeia, the name that caused people all around the world to want to move their feet..." (Sanchez-Coll 2006)
Odilio Urfé (1994:72) describes the cha-cha-chá as follows: "...monodic choral vocal style with accents from the chotis madrileño [see Spanish Wikipedia article "Chotis"] and rhythmic elements from the mambo-style danzón; but with a novel structural conception: introduction-verse-bridge-coda in double time." However, he notes that, "Incomprehensibly, Jorrín and his imitators did not maintain this structural formula in later compositions, so strictly speaking, we can say that 'La Engañadora' was the only cha-cha-chá based on this novel idea."
Olavo Alén (1994:87-8) emphasizes the inheritance that the cha-cha-chá received from the danzón:
Actually, the cha-cha-chá appears to be a variant of the danzón. The former maintains a structure very similar to that of the danzón, since, in spite of dispensing with the rondo form [of the danzón], it does so only by an internal transformation of the melodic and rhythmic elements used in the composition of each of its sections. Also, in the cha-cha-chá, the interpretative function of the flute is retained. That is to say, its role as a soloist and the characteristics of its manner of improvisation in the danzón reappear in the cha-cha-chá with hardly any alteration.
Another important debt that the cha-cha-chá owes to the danzón is the allocation of timbres in its instrumentation. The melodies of the violins alternate with those of the flute and those of the voices in the way that had become standardized in the danzón and the danzonete.
The principal element that differentiates the cha-cha-chá from the danzón is the rhythmic cell that gives its name to the genre. Cha-cha-chá is an onomatopoeic representation of two rapid beats followed by a longer (two eighth notes followed by a quarter note).It is also significant that the cha-cha-chá abandons the elements from the son that had been incorporated into the danzonete and returns to the strict utilization of elements of musical style that arose and were developed in the context of the danzón family of musical genres.
During the 1950s, cha-cha-chá maintained its popularity thanks to the efforts of many Cuban composers who were familiar with the technique of composing danzones and who unleashed their creativity on the cha-cha-chá. Such was the case with Rosendo Ruiz, [Jr.] (above all for "Los Marcianos" and "Rico Vacilón"), Félix Reina ("Dime Chinita," "Como Bailan Cha-cha-chá los Mexicanos"), Richard Egűes ("El Bodeguero" and "La Cantina") and Rafael Lay ("Cero Codazos, Cero Cabezazos").— Alén 1994:88
Although the rhythm originated with Orquesta América, writers including Santos (1982) consider the Orquesta Aragón of Rafael Lay and Richard Egűes, and the orchestra of José Fajardo to have been particularly influential in the development of the cha-cha-chá. The coincidental emergence of television and 33⅓ RPM LP discs were significant factors in the sudden international popularity of the music and dance of the cha-cha-chá. (Santos 1982). The cha-cha-chá was first presented to the public through the medium of the charanga, a typical Cuban dance band format made up of a flute, strings, piano, bass and percussion. The popularity of the cha-cha-chá also revived the popularity of this kind of orchestra (Alén 1994:87).
A single guajeo can be defined as a syncopated melodic figure lasting four to sixteen beats before repeating in a continuous loop. The idea of creating music based on [guajeos] began in Africa centuries ago, with the pitches being produced by drums. Changüí was the first genre to apply this concept to a [Western] melodic instrument—the tres. The son sextetos added the concept of clave, but only in the percussion and voices. In the 1940s, Arsenio Rodríguez and others began to combine the two concepts by creating clave‐aligned tres, piano and bass tumbaos. By the 1950s this practice had become standardized and groups like [Orquesta] Aragón added the next level of complexity by creatively juxtaposing two or even three distinct [guajeos] in the same passage. [The following example], based on the Aragón classic "No me molesto" (1955), is an exquisite example of this innovation— Moore (2009: 35).
- Orquesta Enrique Jorrín; "Todo Chachacha"; Egrem CD-0044
- Johnny Pacheco; "Early Rhythms"; Musical Productions MP-3162 CD
- Various orchestras; "El chachachá me encanta"; Egrem CD-0503
- Alén Rodríguez, Olavo. 1994. De lo Afrocubano a la Salsa. La Habana, Ediciones ARTEX.
- Orovio, Helio. 1981. Diccionario de la Música Cubana. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas. ISBN 959-10-0048-0
- Sanchez-Coll, Israel (February 8, 2006). "Enrique Jorrín". Conexión Cubana. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
- Santos, John. 1982. The Cuban Danzón (Liner Notes). New York, Folkways Records FE 4066
- Urfé, Odilio. 1974?. Del Mambo y el Cha-cha-chá. In Bailes Populares Cubanos (1974). Fernández, María Antonia. La Habana, Editorial Pueblo y Educación.
- Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
- Moore (2009: 35) Beyond Salsa Piano; The Cuban Timba Piano Revolution v.2 Early Cuban Piano Tumbao (1940-1959) Santa Cruz, CA: Moore Music. ISBN‐10: 144998018X
- Moore (2009: 40).