Cha Cha vs Son Montuno – Part 2

Latin Tracks for April 2015

Song (iTunes)




Mas Bajo – El Rey  Tito Puente Cha-Cha USA
Lindo Yambu – Leyendas De La Fania Vol III Eddie Palmiere Son-Montuno  USA
American Sueño  La Excelencia Guajira*  USA
Regalito de Dios – La Vuelta al Mundo  Havana d’Primera Timba  Cuba
Tu Loco Loco y Yo Tranquilo – La Herencia Roberto Roena Salsa  Puerto Rico
Las Nenas Lindas (Version Salsa)  Jowell y Randy Salsaton Puerto Rico
Quiero Estar Contigo – Single – Ivan Venot  Ivan Venot Bachata Italy
Me Enamore – Lo Mejor de Lo Mejor  Kiko Rodriguez Bachata Dominican Rep.
Ma meilleure amie – Ma meilleure amie – Single  Kaysha Zouk Zaire

*Depends who you ask (see link)

cha-cha vs son montuno3

Recognizing Cha Cha and Son Montuno

In my last blog post I introduced the idea that some of the music that people like to dance cha-cha to is, musically speaking, not actually cha-cha.  In that post I highlighted the origins of cha-cha music and that of another genre commonly used for dancing cha-cha, son montuno.  In this post I am going to dig a little deeper into the musical differences between these two genres.  Now, I am not a musician so I’ve focused on musical traits that I think are relatively easy to understand and that the casual listener can identify.

I’ve included in this month’s play list a cha-cha by Tito Puente called Más Bajo.   A great track for dancing cha-cha and a great track for highlighting the musical characteristics I’m going to describe below.  If you really want to hear these traits in the music, I highly recommend getting a copy of the song and listening to it a few times with a pair of good headphones. Ok that said, let’s get to the details.

  1. Cha-cha music does not typically make use of the clave rhythm.

  2. Traditionally, cha-chas are always played in a major key (Más Bajo for example is in the key of C)

  3. Cha-cha music features the standard conga tumbao pattern, which typically uses open strokes on beats “4 &”. This is also common in other Latin genres. However, in cha-cha music these beats would often be emphasized by additional instruments such as the piano, bass and possibly horns.

  4. The basic pulse of cha-cha is double that of a Son Montuno. This rhythm is emphasized by a bell (campana) on the 8th notes (dancer’s count) and is potentially played by the timbalero (timables player)

  5. In addition to the basic pulse mentioned above, another common rhythm found in cha-cha is the following one, which usually starts on the first beat of the bar.

    1. (1)daaaa – di daaaa – di di (1) daaaa – di daaaa – di di etc.

  6. In cha-cha the piano often plays repeated short, simple passages of music (also known as vamps).

There you have it, 6 basic characteristics that you can listen for in a song to see if it’s cha-cha. Again, take a listen to the song I mentioned earlier, Más Bajo by Tito Puento, to see if you can identify any of those traits in the music.

Son Montuno
Let’s move on to son montuno.  For this discussion, as our point of reference we’re going to be listening to a song by Eddie Palmieri called Lindo Yambu.  Here are some of the characteristics that you are going to listen for.

  1. Unlike cha-cha, son montuno makes use of the clave rhythm (either implicitly or explicitly).

  2. The basic pulse of a son montuno is emphasized by a bell (campana) which tends to play beats 1, 3, 5, 7

  3. You may hear the piano or bass or conga accenting the “4 &” beat, but not as much as in ChaCha. The default emphasis will be just on beat “4” (as is typical for son).

  4. The dominant bell pattern, often played by the bongo player, goes something like this

    (1)daaa – dee – daaa – di di (1) daaa – di di – daaa – di di

  5. The piano player will play a syncopated pattern during the montuno section of the song.  These can be quite elaborate piano riffs.
  6. Like cha-cha, son montuno can be found in a variety of tempos – including tempos typically used for salsa dancing. So, as a point of clarification, the tempo of a song does not distinguish it as either cha-cha or son montuno.

Ok, now that you have the details take a listen to the Eddie Palmieri track I mentioned above and see if you can hear any of these is the song

There you have it, a few of the musical differences between cha-cha and son montuno.  But a warning, these differences are rough guidelines at best.  The fact is that they only seem to apply some of the time.  It would appear that musicians are not too concerned about paying attention to the rules that define a genre.  They may borrow elements from on style or another and end up with a composition that resembles cha-cha or son montuno.  They may even go as far as to label a song as one particular genre or another. Case in point, the song Llegó Miján by Tito Puente (which appeared in last month’s playlist) has in the lyrics repeated references to ‘cha-cha’ so you could easily be forgiven in thinking it was a cha-cha. However, in the track listing on at least one album where this song appears (Tito Puente’s Dance Mania), it has been classified as son montuno.  So the question is, does it really matter? Composers will write what ever the like and dancer will dance steps that best fit that music. At the end of the day, there is not right or wrong.  

One final note, much of the information I’ve presented in this post came from two sources.  One was  a multi-page thread over at where people were discussing the differences between cha-cha, son montuno and some other genres.  It is very entertaining and at times heated discussion that is worth reading if the topic interests you.  This other was this discussion over at the newsgroup.  

Questions, comments, requests? Send me an email

– clavecito


Two Flavours of Bachata

May Playlist Highlights






Dame La Luz Dame la Luz - Arrasando Los Van Van Salsa Cuba
El Barrio El Barrio - La Sonora Libre 01 La Sonora Libre Salsa Ecuador/Spain
Anoche Soñé Contigo Anoche Soñé Contigo - Ecos del Barrio La Excelencia Salsa USA
Mambo Yo Yo Ricardo Lemvo Salsa Angola/USA
Que No Pase El Tiempo Pedrito Calvo Jr Salsa Cuba
Puerto Rico 2006 Puerto Rico 2006 - Decisión Unánime Victor Manuel Salsa USA
Que no Se Te Olvide Que No Se Te Olvide (Bachata Version) - I Love Bachata 2011 (16 Bachata Hits) Issac Delgado Bachata Cuba
Las Cosas Pequeñas Las Cosas Pequeñas - Phase II Prince Royce Bachata USA
Vocales de amor Vocales de Amor - El Duque de la Bachata Joan Soriano Bachata Dominican Republic
Dajabon Dajabon - Todo Exitos Luis Vargas Merengue Dominican Republic
Ahora Soy Yo Ahora Soy Yo (Album) - Viviendo Al Tiempo Eddy Herrera Merengue Dominican Republic
Quand tu n’es pas la Quand tu n'es pas la - Kizomba Summer 2011 Soumia Zouk France
Ay Que Rico Ay Que Rico (Oh How Good) - La Perfecta II Eddie Palmieri Cha Cha Cha USA


Two Flavours of Bachata

 Bachata is guitar based music from the Dominican Republic that has been around since the early 1900’s and has origins in Cuban bolero, Puerto Rican jibaro and West African and Caribbean rhythms.  Like many other Latin genres, it is made up of many sub-genres.  That being the case, for the sake of this article I am going to group bachata music of the last 20 years into two main sub-genres: classic and modern.  Classic bachata has a more traditional guitar heavy sound and features a lead, rhythm and bass guitar along with a güira and bongos.  Modern bachata on the other hand may feature the guitar but also draws on synthesized sounds and other musical styles such as hip-hop and reggaeton.  Also, modern bachata will often contain Spanish/English lyrics whereas classic bachata is sung mainly in Spanish.  These sub-genres share the same roots but can sound worlds apart.  Below I have highlighted a couple of artists and their recent work that typifies this.

Phase II by Prince Royce:  Geoffrey Royce Rojas aka Prince Royce, the 22 year old native of the Bronx, New York exploded on to the modern bachata scene with his self-titled debut album, Prince Royce, in 2010.  He is one of the poster boys of modern bachata, a group that includes such teen heartthrobs as Romeo Santos (Aventura), Toby Love and the members of Xtreme.  His first album, co-produced by Sergio George , reached number one on the US Billboard Latin Album chart.  It contained two smash hits “Stand by Me” and “Corazon Sin Cara” and sold enough copies to go double platinum.  Phase II, released in April of this year, is Prince Royce’s second offering and is starting to enjoy similar success.  Not quite as amazing as his first, it still has all the polish and is just as danceable as his debut album.  Phase II contains a collection of bachata songs that typify the modern bachata style: sexy, easy to listen to and easy to dance to.  The first single from the album, Las Cosas Pequeñas, is included in this month’s play list.

El Duque de la Bachata by Joan Soriano:  A native of the Dominican Republic, Joan Soriano was born in a rural area just outside Santo Domingo and is the 7th of 15 children.  Despite an inability to read music he is an exceptional bachata guitarist who has been lending is guitar and arranging talents to other artists since the early 1980’s.  In 2008 he began making music for himself and El Duque de la Bachata, released in 210, is his first international release.  Joan’s music would be considered progressive by traditional bachata standards but his sound is definitely classic bachata and it comes through in this album.  His steel string guitar playing is beautiful and the songs are a pleasure to listen to.  The album is not as polished as most modern bachata albums but this only adds to the music.  A documentary by the same name is also available and provides a window into Joan’s humble Dominican roots and the making of the album.

These two bachateros and their albums are literally worlds apart.  That said, both albums are fantastic in their own right and great examples of bachata music in general.  If you are a fan of bachata I highly recommend checking them out.

Questions, comments, requests? Send me an email.

Hasta la próxima




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