Charting rhythmic energy in Nuyorican salsa music



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There are many statements from members of the salsa community (including scholars, musicians, and dancers) that mention the presence, gaining, or waning of metaphorical rhythmic energy. Since many salsa sources employ ethnomusicological, biographical, or performance approaches, however, any text briefly mentioning musical energy would not require validation for energetic claims. Adopting a music-theoretical approach, this report focuses on how the rhythm section contributes to energy perceptions. Syncopation--or metrical dissonance--underlies metaphorical energy in salsa. This syncopation appears in individual rhythmic patterns and layered polyrhythms called rhythmic profiles, which correspond to energy-level associations with particular instruments and formal sections. Additionally, rhythmic changes on the larger formal scale as well as on a smaller motivic scale can account for the perception of changes in energy levels. This report presents a method for analyzing metrical dissonance in Nuyorican salsa, after reviewing the relevant theoretical tools by Harald Krebs and Yonatan Malin and surveying the core features of this subgenre. The last step of my method merges its earlier steps into a comprehensive energetic trajectory, a charted visualization of the temporal flow of rhythmic energy. I then apply the analytical method to a complete recording, Ray Barretto's version of "El hijo de Obatalá." This analysis demonstrates how the energetic trajectory mirrors distinct musical events and how rhythmic parameters directly contribute to the perception of energy flowing across an entire recording. This music-analytical approach, I hope to show, provides an answer to how salsa’s rhythm motivates energetic perceptions and associations of musical energy. While rhythm is never the only parameter contributing to perceived energy, it seems to be the primary contributor in salsa music. This report could also inspire further related research on salsa music, including topics such as style analysis and applications to dance.