Around the World
Building a Bridge Between Two Rhythmic Cultures
by Pete Lockett
Every piece of music has a story to tell, and the one we’re looking at this month, “Indian Clave,” started at a festival in Croatia, when I performed with Horacio “el Negro” Hernandez for the first time. It was during a long ride to dinner one night of the festival that the music came into being.
“I have a rhythmic idea I worked on with [master conguero] Giovanni Hidalgo,” Hernandez recalled. “Giovanni had been shown it by the percussionist Sikiru Adepoju. It has a cool 6/8 vibe with a very syncopated and illusory time feel.”
When Horacio showed me the pattern, it got me thinking of a comparison between it and some of the time structures you find in South India, especially in a style called Pallavi, which involves modulating a rhythmic idea from 8th notes to 8th-note triplets to 16th notes to 16th-note triplets and finally to 32nd notes. I showed these compositions to Horacio, and he started clapping various bell patterns over them. The rhythms seemed to fit together in a way that sounded very fresh. In South India, they would always clap a straight pattern, so it was really interesting to hear Indian-style phrases over an Afro-Cuban-style bell pattern. This first exchange inspired me to come up with a rhythmic structure that would fall halfway between Cuban and South Indian styles.
As I was writing the piece, I decided to take it out of a normal 6/8 or 4/4 feel and instead went for something that sat nicely in five. I also decided not to have a formal structure, as found in Pallavi, but to pick a couple of time shifts and gear changes that I felt reflected the intent of Pallavi while also incorporating some of the flavor of the improvisation that Horacio and I originally explored.
The main theme (A) is played over two bars of 4/4. This is the motif that gets expanded and contracted in the following sections.
For section B, we shift to a triplet base. Traditionally, the theme would be repeated verbatim three times at this level, but I’ve altered the gaps in the fourth and fifth phrases to force it into a two-bar cycle. I wanted to keep this first modulation a little more grounded and locked into the Afro-Cuban bell-style feel.
In section C we go to 16ths and contract the theme into one bar of 5/4. We also dropped the third phrase of the original theme (section A) and reduced the gaps in all of the other phrases.
In section D, take section C and repeat it verbatim at one and a half times the speed. Section C is four phrases long and section D comprises twelve phrases. This gear change is a really interesting time modulation and has an offbeat feel.
Finally, for section E we generate a feeling of acceleration by switching back to 16ths. This is basically a repeat of section C, with an altered ending. The ending is known in North India as a tihai and is a rhythmic cadence created by repeating a phrase three times and calculating it to end on beat 1 of the time cycle.
Horacio and I had great fun performing and recording “Indian Clave.” It provided a few rhythmic challenges, including some of the other sections that appear later in the track.
You can check out the complete recording, which also features Bernhard Lackner on bass, below: