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Online Akustik Travels

Cuban Guitars - part 2

by Claude Samard Polikar
Compay Segundo

Page 2 of 3

The "Chan Chan" hit track by Compay Segundo is a good example of the cuban country music "sound", the ancestor of the salsa. However, unlike the salsa that favours brass and percs, the "son" emphasises the guitar, which is an ideal opportunity for us to learn more about latin american music.

In Part 1 we were able to take a closer look at the "Chan Chan" score, based on a 4-bar cycle, alternating vocal and instrument. The ideal set-up for an improv! Three parts divided between vocal, instrumental theme, and instrumental solo. When the vocal ends, the solo guitar steps in, first playing the main theme, then playing an improv cycle supported by the rhythmic guitar for 2 additional cycles leaving room enough to develop a solo.


As it is often the case with acoustic guitars in other World Music musical genres, the right hand strums a lot of downstrokes, a little like the gypsies’ "sweeping" effect. Cuban musicians are famous for their sense of rhythm, they all play percussions and then major in guitar, piano, brass or vocal. Which is probably why they enjoy playing around with their rhythms, never loosing track, when anyone else would probably be totally lost! As for their choice of chord patterns, nothing "wild" going on there, just a basic spanish phrasing and a few "swing" step-outs from the 30/40s, slightly weird on certain chords (arpeggios in Dm on F or Bb# on Gm6). The chromatic range is enhanced with Compay Segundo's use of his customized small 7-string guitar (an armonico, with the G string doubled at an octave). But the general impression is very charismatic, a guitar stripped of any effect, but totally inspired, fresh and inviting. Before we reach part 3’s additional rhythmic tips in order to build your own "home-made" improvs "Segundo-style", treat tourself to a copy of the "Buena Vista Social Club" album produced by Ry Cooder if you don't have it already, or Compay Segundo's solo album "Yo Vengo Aqui".